Yes, Virginia, there is a natural and paid search synergy

“Does running a natural search campaign and a paid search campaign together create more value than running them in a non-integrated manner?” In other words, does one plus one equal three?

Back in August 2003, I spoke at Search Engine Strategies San Jose on a panel about “Balancing Organic and Paid Listings.” I presented a case study from the University of the Pacific, which indicated that getting top ranking in both organic and paid listings had tripled our click-through-rates (CTRs). I surmised that finding both an organic and a paid listing from the same site was like getting a second opinion.

This case study quickly became an urban legend and I was frequently asked for a copy of my marketing research. When I explained that the “3X effect” I had seen was based on anecdotal evidence, people would invariably say, “Please let me know if anybody ever does such a study.”

Well, now I can.

iCrossing recently published a Search Synergy Report, which found a “symbiosis” between natural and paid search. The report “conclusively demonstrates that running an integrated natural and paid search campaign leads to improved online performance over running either a natural search or paid search campaign alone.”

iCrossing used a random sample of approximately 200 keywords, including branded and non-branded terms spanning both natural and paid search. According to the digital marketing agency, “These 200 keywords are representative of 2,000 unique keywords, engines and medium (natural, paid, or both) data point combinations used in paid search as well as ranked in the first three pages of natural search results on the major U.S. engines (Google, Yahoo!, Ask, MSN, and AOL).”

So, what did they find?

iCrossing found “online performance is dramatically improved if keywords purchased for a paid search campaign are also ranked in natural search.” For example, when the digital marketing agency incorporated natural search into an existing paid search campaign and compared its performance to the performance of the sole paid search campaign:
— Clicks in creased 91.80%
— Actions increased by 45.00%
— Orders increased by 44.92%
— Page views increased 43.63%
— Visitors increased 40.69%
— Time on site increased by 38.91%

Go to to download a PDF version of the full report.

Okay, so the “search synergy effect” isn’t quite as dramatic as the “3X effect” I reported seeing four years ago. Nevertheless, these results strongly support the theory that a positive synergy exists between natural and paid search.

Yes, Virginia, there is a sanity clause.

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