Why Do Organic and Paid Search Traffic Have So Much Crossover?

I started writing for Search Engine Watch in July 2009. It has provided me some incredible opportunities to meet new people and learn new things, as well as a forum to write something each month that hopefully helps others get better in the space. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

One of my favorite topics during this time has been watching the paid and organic search space, and how they interact with one another. I’ve been tracking various keywords and their percentage of overlap with paid search listings by the same brands since 2010. Other than updating some keywords in tech that are no longer relevant – I’m looking at you, iPod Touch – this year is no different.

The data this year suggests that the total amount of brands that have listings in both paid and organic search is at its highest in six years.


Why is that? What is the driving force? I think this increase is due to two things:

1. Increased Awareness of the Value That Both Paid and Organic Search Have on One Another

You often see paid and organic search operating as a cohesive team. This is happening due to three factors I highly recommend:

  • Attribution. Many brands are now looking beyond last-touch measurement and into multi-touch attribution. What this means is a deeper understanding of what tactics are valuable and how they interact with one another. Our benchmark data says that about 8 percent of purchase paths contain both paid and organic search, and about 80 percent include at least paid or organic. This Think with Google tool can be a way to help benchmark some data.
  • Consumer Insight. Research shows that consumers don’t differentiate between paid and organic search. They don’t say, “I’m going to organically search for what new car to buy” or, “I’m going to find the best paid search ad to find what restaurant to go to tonight.” They simply search. To differentiate between the two listings is almost an industry insider piece of information that drives the curse of knowledge.


2. Various Algorithm Updates That Have Removed Less-Valued Content Players

These are the content players or aggregators who gamed organic search rankings, often out-ranking brands and selling that traffic back to them. These updates have provided a more wide open playing field for brands and aggregators who are adding value to the search results page: additional real estate benefitting both consumers and brands.

Are ads from the same brands in both paid and organic search a good thing for consumers? I think there is an argument to be made for some sentiment of monopoly in some ways; however, that’s the beauty of the Google system. If consumers aren’t responding positively to the listings that are provided, signals like Quality Score will change the rankings.

For now, consumers are responding well to these improved synergies between PPC and SEO programs. I’m excited to watch this space as first-party data enables search results to be more personalized. Each specific user will increasingly have a different experience with both Google and brands, creating all kinds of opportunity and challenges as search marketing professionals. The keys have been, and will continue to be, putting the consumer first and using data to provide the best possible optimization across channels.

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