With the current pandemic forcing many businesses to reduce their budgets in order to stay afloat and pay their employees, it’s more important than ever to know that you’re putting your time and money into a search strategy that works.  

Running paid and organic search campaigns is common practise for many businesses these days, and we are asked for specialist candidates in both those areas from our clients. But does this combination always mean that you’re getting a larger portion of available traffic? Oare you in fact competing against yourself for a finite number of visitors and paying for clicks that you should be getting for free? 

To prevent you from spending your valuable budget on an ineffective paid strategy, we’re going to be taking a closer look at the relationship between paid and organic and how to tackle cannibalisation head on. 

 

A brief history of search cannibalisation 

 

The debate about the cannibalisation of organic search results is nothing new.  In fact, it all started back in 2000, when Google AdWords was born. However, it’s been brought back to the forefront of many marketer’s minds in recent years, particularly after Google made changes to the layout of its search engine results pages (SERP) in 2016. 

This SEM algorithm featured the removal of right-hand column ads, the addition of paid ads below organic results and the addition of another paid ad above organic results, with four ads appearing instead of three. This SEM algorithm updates shook the world of search whilst also signalling Google’s shift towards a mobile-first format. 

This created growing concern for search professionals who predicted that having fewer visible ads above the fold would increase competition, despite there being an increase to the total number of paid spots. This concern was also shared by SEO marketers who began to see their organic listing being pushed further down the SERPs. 

When the new changes came into effect, many advertisers were pleased to see that their Google Ads didn’t take a hit, whereas those with organic search saw their traffic and click-through rates (CTR) take a significant decrease.  

 

How to spot cannibalisation 

 

If you want to start tackling the cannibalisation you have between the two, you firstly need to find out where it is happening. Diagnosing cannibalisation has become trickier since Google introduced a “not provided” key word category into its analytics platform, which means you’re unable to see data of which specific keywords bring people to your website organically. 

Using Google Search Console (GCS) can be a useful alternative that enables you to discover which keywords your web pages are ranking for organically. You can then cross check these keywords against the keywords you’re running your paid campaigns with. This should give you a strong place to start looking for cannibalisation trends within your search campaigns.  

 

Collaboration between paid and organic search 

 

While there are instances where paid can most certainly cannibalise organic search, they can work in cohesion too. Here are just a handful of way you can use paid and organic search collaboratively in 2021, that can also help to reduce cannibalisation. 

 

Share keyword intelligence 

For most businesses, paid and organic search campaigns are usually kept apart and often managed by entirely different people or teams. Aside from some overlap in keyword research during the initial stages of a campaign, they aren’t generally part of a larger, more joined up strategy.  

 

But to tackle cannibalisation, sharing keyword intelligence from both your paid and organic search teams should become a regular occurrenceCertain types of keywords can sometimes have such subtle differences that they end up aligning with the wrong search intent. By sharing and combining keyworintelligence from both of your teams, you can gain a greater understanding of the intent behind your search terms. 

 

This can also prevent you from falling into paid keyword traps. This is when words and phrases seem like they are relevant and will be successful in a search campaign, but they have dual meanings or mismatched intent which makes them ineffective. 

 

Use paid campaign insights 

When your organic search team decides to try a new keyword, it can take some time before you start to see measurable results. If it increases your click-through-rate (CTR) and engagement, this isn’t a big deal. However, if it doesn’t perform successfully, even if it is on page one of Google, you’ve wasted valuable time and money. 

 

However, your paid search is the exact opposite, and you’ll know whether your ad copy is working usually within a few days and without spending a fortune. This is why it can be worthwhile to consider using the fast, short term results from your paid campaign to bring insights into your larger organic and SEO strategy. 

 

To do this, you’ll need to test as many ad copy variations as possible until you have all of the data you need to support your organic campaigns. You could test headlines, title tags and description copy, as well as keywords, topics and landing page variations. 

 

Your paid campaign should reveal your headline’s impact on clicks, time spent on page, bounce rate and keyword demand fluctuations from month to month. This will help you to set more accurate expectations of your organic search team, whilst also helping you to optimise your headlines and meta descriptions so they better align with your audiences’ requirements.  

Paid Search and Organic search are very different beasts. One is not a substitute for the other and each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses. By bringing them together rather than keeping them working in silos, you can prevent cannibalisation and create a stronger strategy that gives you greater results long term.  

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