The War on Free Clicks by Google

A recent study by SEO Software company, WordStream has revealed some interesting results of Google’s recent intense focus on web spam and the effectiveness of pay-per-click advertising as opposed to organic SEO. These were based on a study of 1000 Google Ads accounts over a period of 60 days. Some auxiliary data was also taken into account.

It seems that sponsored links, whose effectiveness have been heavily debated in the past may account for more web activity than originally thought, particularly for commercial queries. In addition, they painted an ominous picture for the future of SEO at the hands of Google.

High Commercial Intent Keyword: Organic vs. Paid

The most surprising result of the study, particularly for marketers, was that sponsored links accounted for 64.6% (around 2/3) of clicks for high commercial intent keywords.

High commercial intent keywords indicate they are ready to buy. They come in a variety of forms, such as: using a keyword in conjunction with terms such as ‘buy’, ‘review’, ‘comparison’, ‘company’ or ‘best’. If they use specific brand and model names, these are also considered high commercial intent.

Organic results still heavily dominate informational queries, which are 80% of search queries. But these have low direct financial value. On a positive note, buying keywords for paid search that your site is already well optimised around, will only result in an 11% cannibalisation of existing web traffic.

Pandas and Penguins Attacking Web Spam

Google used to value SEO over PPC because being able to offer value as a website meant more to the user than just paying your way to the top, which required capital but no web design expertise. But now Google blocks almost all organic referrer data so optimisers have to go off the analytics data from paid search, literally starving the industry of organic search data.

If anyone can be blamed for the shift, it’s black-hat SEO practitioners. Webmasters constantly trying to game the system has resulted in the Penguin and Panda algorithm, which, apparently, targets over-optimising and spamdexing but have also been accused of marginalising SEO as a whole, in lieu of PPC.

And free clicks aren’t really free anymore. With more sophisticated indexing practices, it’s become more necessary to make use of broad SEO services rather than just a single SEO specialist, to get meaningful boosts in rank.

The Changing Face of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP)

Many are saying that this shift isn’t necessarily the result of consumers being more attracted to sponsored links because of their more interactive format, but rather that the change in structure of Google’s SERP has encouraged it. In fact, a survey showed that 45.5% can’ tell PPC results and organic results apart, if the advertisements aren’t placed on the side.

On some high commercial intent keywords, the number of organic results account for only 15% of the above the fold results (before you scroll down the SERP). This is ironic seeing as Google penalises webpages for similar practices. In these instances, PPC links get the top 3 spots, which on average account for nearly half of the overall clicks on search engines.

It’s a big movement in one area and soon we may find Google favouring this commercial model across broader sets of keywords, with potentially serious implications for future SEO.