5 ways to prioritize organic and paid search

We often talk about the benefits of holistic review of natural and paid search performance.

After all, anyone outside of the search industry may not even notice the difference between organic and paid results within seconds of completing a search and clicking on it.

For the average searcher, the SERP is a list of choices, each sending signals of varying relevance to the searcher’s immediate needs.

As the researcher is simultaneously evaluating the usefulness of visiting paid and organic search listings, you should strive to adopt a holistic search strategy with joint optimization of organic and paid search.

When considering the impact of SEO on SEM, thoughts often turn to comparing keyword rankings and site engagement for each channel.

These are no doubt useful benchmarks for a comparison of “apple to apple” performance.

However, before embarking on the calculation of the numbers, it is useful to do another level of analysis to ensure that all quantitative results are interpreted in the correct context.

Below are five considerations for the synergy between organic and paid search. Together, they create the basis for a holistic research strategy.


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1. It is not always organic search versus paid search

The notion of comparing one channel to another can lead you to prioritize one or the other for various search queries. But does it always have to be a compromise?

If the intention of the user is not clear (for example, on some branding or very general unbranded queries), it is desirable to have visibility on both.

Natural search aligns well with users in the awareness phase.

Paid search can complement this well, focusing on users with the same queries but who are ready to transact or make a decision.

Set the stage for your organic and paid search synergy. Develop additional coverage to reach all relevant audiences or pursue the same audience in the most effective way.

2. Understand the full SERP landscape

Comparing your own natural and paid results is helpful, but doing it without the context of who appears next lacks a valuable perspective on why the results are what they can be.

The integration of competitive and universal search information is important for in-depth analysis of organic vs. natural search.


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  • Ranking gets tricky when the first organic results actually appear much lower in the SERP, as their high ranking might suggest. Likewise, if meta search results, purchases, or other paid listings appear next to paid search results, standard paid search ads no longer control the supposed preferred position.
  • Messaging in ads and organic results is essential to understanding what is happening on site. Poor performance may be due to a misalignment of the landing page experience with what users see in the SERP, and not the dynamics of organic search versus paid search.

Consider the results of generic searches for hotels related to the destination (e.g. [paris luxury hotels]).

As you might expect, online travel agencies (OTAs) dominate sponsored search results, leading many to focus their efforts on organic search instead. However, the poor paid search performance here could be due to Google’s hotel price ads and / or search meta results appearing just below paid search.

Not only does this keep users away from paid results, it also pushes organic results a long way down. Natural search is no longer the only alternative to clicking on paid search ads.

Plus, what might be a top organic result on a ranking report isn’t really so anymore. The first organic search result may well be below the waterline and technically the sixth result someone sees.

This analysis will vary depending on the engine. Bing, Yahoo and others have their own landscape and need a different approach than Google.

For paid search, they often offer great opportunities for more expensive games on Google. For organic search, their SERP often contains different listings compared to Google calling for a separate crawl.

3. Divide the analysis by device

With a rapidly growing mobile traffic share, it’s worth dividing any paid vs organic analysis by device.

Mobile is, or is rapidly becoming, the largest traffic generation device in many verticals. However, the desired level of engagement on the site often lags behind on mobile versus desktop, or even tablet.

With the relatively higher short-term cost of mobile search ads compared to organic listings, this is a good argument for SEO to take more of the lead.

Engines are increasingly improving to build mobile SERPs around micro-moments, and mobile results increasingly vary from the desktop where historically many have focused their analysis on organic search versus organic search. .

With us at the first mobile search tipping point, it’s worth breaking away from desktop-centric analytics.

4. Use multiple indicators of success

Before launching the analysis, reconsider which metrics are not only important to monitor for comparison, but which will also be the most actionable for your team. If a KPI is difficult for your team to influence, then it becomes secondary.


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Use a weighted, multi-metric approach rather than pinning the analysis on a single success criterion.

  • Conversion rate, conversion cost / event: The most intuitive metrics consider how efficient and expensive it is to leverage each site visit. Other metrics will give clues as to why a given performance is being observed and how to improve it.
  • Clicks or visits: This is a useful guide for prioritizing opportunities. Any opportunity or idea identified must pass the test to be scalable enough to have an impact on your business. Opportunities with a limited impact on traffic are ultimately not worth the investment of resources given the low impact on the bottom line.
  • Rebound rate: Frequently used in SEO and overlooked for paid search, bounce rate is a good indicator if your user’s intention aligns with the search result message (we’ll get to that later) and the content of the search. landing page.
  • Time spent on the site, page views, pages / visit: Along with bounce rate, knowing how long users are spending on the site and how much content they have consumed provides much-needed context for conversion metrics. Do people convert poorly after seeing a lot of content? Maybe they don’t bounce back, but still can’t find what they need. Or maybe conversions are high with a high number of pageviews. This is an opportunity to review the content of the landing page and shorten the site journey.
  • Click-through rate (CTR): If the traffic opportunities outweigh your visits, CTR is a good metric to use to keep those seemingly few opportunities on the radar. Here, even a small optimization of the SERP language would significantly increase site traffic.
  • Rank / position: Any analysis of organic search versus paid search would be incomplete regardless of rank or SERP position. This can explain a lot about performance, but prioritizing a natural or paid result shouldn’t just focus on ranking. Maximizing conversions and site traffic can be achieved even without ranking in the top organic or paid search positions. Being at the striking distance of a few announcements is always worth getting excited.

5. Categorization of keywords

With the above considerations in hand and the data available, identify groups of actionable terms to prioritize:

  • Organic coverage without paid presence, or vice versa: They are prime candidates for testing on the channel that sees no activity from it. Research shows that site traffic and conversions are highest when a site is covered by both channels. You may also be surprised at which chain is doing better.
  • Searches with presence in both organic and paid search, where one channel outperforms: Use a combination of metrics to prioritize one channel over another. Sponsored search tactics, especially for generic terms, are often under budget constraints, making strategic unbranded search heavily dependent on organic search tactics. Natural search results are not as easily influenced as paid results, which makes sponsored search optimization a perfect complement (for example, when examining location-specific results or location-specific results). device or efforts impacted by short-term seasonality of user behavior).
  • Both paid and organic presence is achieved, although unsatisfactory on both fronts: While they are often the least expected, often neither channel is a clear winner.


After you understand your landscape, set different goals for both paid and organic channels, recognizing that none can do it on their own. Having complementary strategies, well-aligned tactics, and processes to regularly monitor metrics will position you for success no matter what changes the search engines make in us next.


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Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock, edited by editor

Brandon D. James