PPC Myth Week Pt 1: Organic Search Traffic is More Qualified Than Paid

Welcome to PPC Myth week! Today is the first installment of a 3 part series challenging common misconceptions about search marketing and analytics.

Myth #1: Organic search more qualified traffic than paid

I was surprised to see in print one of the most respected search marketing gurus state “Organic searchers who click on your pages are highly qualified visitors to your site. They are much more likely to make a purchase than some other kinds of visitors you receive.”

In fairness, the guru went on to explain that banner ad clickers are less qualified than searchers actively looking for a product in a search engine. Nevertheless — to claim that organic searchers are highly qualified is false. It also implies that organic search converts better than paid search, comparison engines, email traffic, affiliate leads and so on. This just ain’t so.

1. SOME organic traffic is better “qualified” than others.

Remember, in this context “qualified” means more likely to purchase. If you look through your organic search referring keywords, you’ll find a number of non-transactional terms, and transactional terms that are not necessarily close to purchase or even relevant to what you offer.

Examples from the 2010 Olympic Store:

  • Non-transactional: “vancouver 2010 schedules”
  • Transactional, not relevant to our offer: “how do i get tickets for the 2010 winter olympics”
  • Transactional, too general: “business card holders” (may like our offering but is likely in research/comparison mode)
  • Qualified: “vancouver 2010 sterling silver heart charm bracelet”

Also, organic conversion can vary by search engine. It’s possible for your market, traffic from Yahoo, AOL or MSN sends you more shoppers and Google sends you more information hunters.

2. SEO vs. PPC – it depends on the keywords.

PPC traffic “quality” also depends on which keywords get clicked – especially if you’re using the broad match type. In fact, broad match can trigger some really un-qualified traffic. If you were only bidding on a certain number of close-to-purchase keywords with the exact match type – you *could* argue PPC is more qualified than SEO if your conversion rates also confirm so.

3. Other channels – it depends…

Comparison engine traffic is *typically* closer to purchase since visitors have already evaluated your offer against competitors and the product against other alternatives, comparison engine traffic should convert better in theory. Your results may vary.

Similarly, email and affiliate referrals have been exposed to your brand and offer before clicking through – you’d expect better results for these channels than search. Again, your results may vary.

Type in traffic (no search engine or other site referred the visit) indicates brand awareness, and perhaps preference. Repeat customers, brick-and-mortar customers or people responding to offline advertising may convert higher than SEO/PPC traffic that’s also clicking on several other results to compare. But direct traffic can also indicate you should filter out your own staff’s IP address or you have missed Javascript tags on some pages (causing a null reference).

So what’s the point of this rant? I don’t want anyone making decisions to invest more into SEO than other channels because they heard that organic search is the most qualified traffic. I don’t want you to set the wrong expectations on organic search, and set goals like “increase organic visits” or “increase conversion for organic visitors.”


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10 Responses to “PPC Myth Week Pt 1: Organic Search Traffic is More Qualified Than Paid”

  1. Great post! I was just writing a blog post about qualified visitors and this was helpful reminder to not be prejudice towards PPC in terms of qualified traffic.

  2. James Dorans says:

    I have been arguing this point for years and have stats from my work place to back it up.

    Last month

    Google PPC earned my company $19765.32 and I spent $7001.22 so the total profit was $12,764.10. I also had 298 people join my email list from paid search on top of buying products

    Google Organic I earned 5,322.94, I only had 3 people join the email list on top of joining products.

    I have had months that dwarf these for PPC and this is the highest I had for Google organic in 4 months.

  3. Linda,

    Valid points as always.

    An overseas client in the financial sector gets much, much better conversion rates from Google PPC than he does from Yahoo. Same keywords, same ads, same Landing Pages, different results.

    Googlers are nearly twice as good as Yahooers. Of course YMMV.

  4. LCD Frame says:

    it all depends on what people use to do their shopping,which will vary from search engine, comparison shopping, or else.

    But compared with others,SEO may last long for traffic and you need only pay one time and low fees for maitainning your rank.

  5. This is a great post! I’m so glad to see that someone out there gets this!

    I know from my experience a lot of business owners, directors, etc. get excited about SEO because the first thing they think of is that it’s free. What they don’t realize is that by making an investment they can actually convert qualified leads using PPC.

    Love your blog!

  6. James Dorans,
    Thanks for the information. I’m in the process of starting my adwords campaign as well and your numbers were very inspiring.

  7. This post really resonates with me. Depending on where the user is in their buying cycle will determine what type of key phrases they are using. The further down the buying cycle the longer and more niche the key phrases will be.

    So I agree, organic traffic doesn’t always mean more targeted traffic.

  8. Mike says:

    All James Dorans stats prove this that his website has poor SEO results and he is having to pay into adwords for customers to find his site.
    SEO drives 75%+ of all search traffic, yet garners less than 15% of marketing budgets for search engine marketing (SEM) campaigns.
    PPC receives less than 25% of all search traffic, yet earns 80%+ of SEM campaign budgets.

  9. Seo Firm says:

    The right choice for website depends on particular needs and desires. Most websites benefit most from utilizing a combination of these two approaches. Using PPC marketing can help quickly identify your best performing keywords, while implementing a longer-term SEO strategy will increase chances of ranking well in the organic listings.

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