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Does SEM add value to existing SEO efforts? Here’s how to tell

Published: February 26, 2015

Author: Caitlin Halpert

On March 3, I’ll be speaking at SMX West on the panel “Better Together: SEO & SEM.” I wanted to give you all a quick preview of my presentation as we get prepared for a great conference. Following SMX, we’ll have two more posts diving into how SEO & SEM already work together and exploring a couple of tactics that you can use to co-optimize search.
Today we’ll cover the first step in evaluating your SEM & SEO efforts: determining if SEM is adding any value to SEO. Google has every incentive to convince you that SEM matters, so they have published a series of studies that show that “over 89% of ad clicks are incremental,” and that “50% of the ad clicks that occur with a top rank organic result are incremental.” But since this is Google, and their revenue is driven from ads, we have to take their data with a grain of salt. These studies are also meta-analysis; actual site-by-site performance will vary.
Thankfully you don’t have to rely on studies; you can evaluate the impact of SEO & SEM in your own account by using the Paid & Organic report in AdWords. While the data is still from Google, I find it to be far more compelling simply because it’s specific to your performance. This report is available in the Dimensions tab once you’ve linked AdWords to Google Webmaster Tools.
The fastest way to analyze if SEM is adding value to existing SEO is to export this report and create a pivot table to review the aggregate performance of “Ad shown only,” “Organic shown only,” and “Both shown.” We’re looking for a higher Click/Query when both the ad and organic results are shown. In one sample client account, we have seen 236% higher Click/Query when both are shown vs. Organic shown only. If your Click/Query is lower when both are shown, then that warrants further investigation to determine what might be going on.
Caveat on the Paid & Organic report: if you have ~100% impression share on your paid search keywords, the data may not be meaningful, as the Organic shown only data will only show data for people who are using ad blocking software.
Keep an eye out for upcoming posts on how you can take advantage of the interplay between SEO & SEM. And if you’ll be at SMX West, please stop by and say hello!

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