SEO Kiddie TableA year or so ago, the guy in charge of local search for a fairly big brand wanted to see if we were interested in a project to research if the vendor running their Adwords campaign was “stealing” their local organic traffic by spending millions each month running PPC ads on all of their branded local queries (e.g. “[BRAND] [CITY]”, “[BRAND] near me”, “[BRAND] [CITY] hours”, etc.). I told him he could save his money because the answer was almost certainly “yes”.

I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of bidding on your branded keywords (well maybe a con or two). Kirk Williams does a great job discussing the subject on YouMoz.

I am going to get into the reality of what can happen when your PPC team/vendor operates in a silo and likely has an incentive to increase its PPC spend (e.g. their commission/bonus is based on a % of the media spend and/or total clicks,  there’s a big buying event, like a holiday, coming up and they want to increase visibility, trying to increase quality scores, etc.), but they fail to take into account the other marketing channels – which typically means the SEO channel, which is often seated at the corporate kiddie table and thus is not included in the grown ups’ big important marketing plans.

So your trusty SEO vendor checks your organic traffic regularly and notices there has been a sharp drop in organic traffic for branded queries in the past few days. Nothing has changed on the site or with its rankings over that time. There’s nothing that suggests seasonality is a factor.

You tell me what you think happened…

Natural v Paid Search Clusterfuck

Now it’s quite possible that Google updated how ad units display on Local SERPs, taking over more real estate and killing organic traffic, but it’s also possible that this particular brand appears to have increased its ad targeting against branded keywords recently and that the in-house team responsible for SEO had no clue (or played dumb…) when their SEO consultant asked about any recent changes in PPC tactics or performance.

If my hunch is correct, what we have is a case of a PPC team spending thousands of dollars more per week for whatever reason and making a nice dent in branded organic (aka “free”) traffic, leaving the SEO team holding the bag.

But hey, we’re all on the same team right?…

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4 Response Comments

  • Jono  September 9, 2016 at 10:58 am

    When I work with customers regarding brand-specific Adwords campaigns, I’ll check to see if competitors are advertising on their brand terms as well. In those cases, it’s a nominal fee but knocks one more competitor out of the results, which seems like a net positive to me.

  • Marc Poulin  September 13, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I generally don’t mind paying AdWords for my branded terms. For one thing, I have great Quality Score for these keywords so the cost is small. Second, any competitor bidding for my keywords will pay more which means less budget for the rest of their campaign.

  • Andrew Shotland  September 13, 2016 at 4:28 pm

    Marc, as mentioned above my issue is not with whether or not it makes sense to buy branded terms. My issue is with doing so with zero consideration of the effect this will have on organic traffic and revenue. In the case above, the site lost about 15% of its organic traffic and even worse, about 25% of its organic revenue, as a direct result of PPC.

  • Surpolfed  September 20, 2016 at 3:45 am

    I dont use adwords, I find it a waste as the ability to rank a website organically can be done with the right strategy. Why would you use adwords to rank for Branded terms? surely you should rank for that anyway?