For fans of the long-running SEO Death series, this isn’t really a new issue. About two years ago I posited Is Your Adwords Campaign Hijacking Your SEO Traffic?

The answer of course was “yes.” Here’s the graph that illustrated the problem:

Natural v Paid Search Clusterfuck

I am re-upping this because we just got a new client that hired us because their organic traffic had started tanking, but when you looked at the data in Google Search Console, it only showed brand queries were tanking. And said tanking started pretty much when the paid traffic started increasing.

We did some back of the envelope calculations on SEMRush CPC data available for their brand queries and we calculated this client is spending an additional $20,000/day to buy $50,000 in revenue*. This isn’t such a bad deal until one considers that until the increase in paid search traffic, the client was spending ~$0 to achieve that revenue. So their margins just took a 40% haircut.

So, next time your organic traffic tanks, before you panic try this:

  1.  Look at the Performance report in Google Search Console for your site (for all variants)
  2. Filter the report by “Queries containing” a proxy for a brand query. It may not always be easy to do when you have a generic brand name, but try different phrases to see what captures the most traffic that is properly bucketed
  3. If you see the traffic for queries containing your brand term going down while traffic for queries not containing your brand term is flat or going up, move on to step #4
  4. Look over at the paid search team. If they are high-fiving each other, we have a winner…

The site in question turned off most of the PPC ads targeting their brand a few days ago. On the first day after they did this, PPC revenue was down $90K. SEO revenue was up $170K.

*Data has been changed to protect the innocent

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9 Response Comments

  • Cody Baird  July 30, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    I call this the yp hat trick.
    1. Sign client.
    2. Target brand terms on Google and Bing (they are cheaper than non branded traffic) and for the most part, ALL READY CLIENTS OF SAID BUSINESS, calling with service issues.
    3. Set attribution model to last click vs first click.
    4. Report to client ALL THE CALLS WE ARE SENDING YOU. ‘Look – Phones are ringing from our awesome campaign mr customer.’

    • Cody Baird  July 30, 2018 at 6:13 pm

      How do I know as a SMB if my marketing firm did something similar? Is there a sniff test for someone unfamiliar with PPC and SEO data?
      A suggestion for sniff test;
      1. Is your agency publically traded? Shareholders are the priority more than CAC or LTV. IMO.
      2. Is your firm ‘scaling’ or must scale due to size of company mission/vision.

      • Andrew Shotland  July 31, 2018 at 8:04 am

        Hey Cody, this is a tried and true tactic for SMB marketers of all stripes dealing with uninformed clients. The case I am specifically referencing though deals with a multi-billion-dollar bricks and mortar business that presumably got where it was by being operationally excellent and customer-focused. It’s always surprising to me that these types of companies fall down so often in the transition to digital.

  • Miguel Salcido  July 31, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Great post and insights.

    This reminded me of another PPC vs SEO issue, and that is when a significant drop in PPC ad spending results in losses in organic traffic even though rankings have remained stable.

    So no significant losses in rankings, yet good sized chunks (20%+) of organic traffic missing all of a sudden.

    Of course there is the flip side to this where increased PPC spending boosts organic.

    • Andrew Shotland  July 31, 2018 at 9:18 am

      Hey Miguel, I can’t say I have ever seen this case, other than perhaps a lower CTR on ads when they are not accompanied by organic results that reinforce the brand. We have investigated this issue for several clients who believed it was happening and in every case, the drop in organic could be explained by SEO issues. If you have some specific evidence on this kind of thing, I’d love to check it out. If you’d like to keep it anonymous, hit me up via our contact form. Thanks.

    • Aaron  July 31, 2018 at 3:46 pm

      If you were advertising on a bunch of keywords beyond your core brand term where your organic rankings were below the fold then perhaps after pausing the AdWords ads eventually you would have fewer repeat visitors who searched for your brand explicitly after clicking an ad on their cell phone or work computer or such. You also might not benefit as much from search personalization where in the past Google ranked your website higher after a user visited it earlier through channels like paid search.

      Any form of traffic can lead to other latent traffic streams be it from web browsers that auto complete the user’s typing from their history, brand awareness created by the traffic stream, any links visitors create on social media sites or other websites, etc.

      Between laptops, desktops, work vs home & cell phones it is not uncommon for a single person to have 3 or 4 computers where they can visit your site from. Mix in different web browsers, mobile apps, cell phones that change locations, etc. and sometimes a single person could seem like a dozen.

  • Ryan Garrow  July 31, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    There is no right or wrong in this argument, and no one answer that will be for every brand. We work with some of the most power brands on the planet and the answer varies. Competition on brand terms plays a huge role. Google SERPS also has a large impact. Most often looking at brand and brand+ terms differently are needed. As well as controlled blackout tests with paid search.

  • David Kyle  August 9, 2018 at 5:43 am

    There are certainly bad PPC players like the ones mentioned above who obfuscate things by muddling generic and brand data.
    Competent PPC pros will do everything they can to attribute performance of brand in a transparent manner, and be aware of things like cannibalization of organic.
    Most of my clients are city based services. Most do not need a brand campaign, but some do. One example is an industry leader with 4-5 competitors bidding on their name. Turning off paid brand is not an option for them. For some businesses, there is also value in being able to craft custom messages instantly, and not have to wait for the index to update. This is not a black and white, one size fits all scenario. The data relevant to the scenario should dictate, not a blog post.

    • Andrew Shotland  August 9, 2018 at 10:38 am

      Thanks for stopping by David. As with everything SEO & PPC, YMMV.

      As mentioned in this post and my previous post on the subject, the data relevant to the scenario dictated the blog post.