6 steps to prioritizing organic and paid search in your overall search strategy​​​

The synergy between paid search (SEM) and organic or organic search (SEO) remains a hot topic as businesses can reap many benefits from their synergy.

From relying on organic results to offset paid search costs, to using paid search targeting settings, to tailoring results for different audiences, opportunities abound for organic and paid search synergies.

Google’s move to prioritize broad match in paid search this year has created greater urgency for the synergy between organic and paid search.

With less control over paid search results, paid search campaigns are more likely to cannibalize organic search efforts.

Marketers who don’t regularly look at both organic and paid traffic share will be surprised to learn that paid search has expanded to capture more traffic from new query results that may not convert well and need to be excluded.

With this shift in the paid search landscape, develop a holistic search strategy. Follow these six steps to ensure you address the impact of all new paid search on organic search.

Before developing a strategy to prioritize organic and paid search efforts, it’s important to take a few basic steps and analyze your website analytics trends.

1. Restructure your paid search campaigns

First, make sure your paid search campaigns are using the latest keyword best practices.

Specifically, adjust your work to take advantage of broad match, keeping an eye on negative keywords.

On the one hand, your campaign may reduce the number of groups and active keywords.

At the same time, the number of negatives should increase. Negative keywords are more important than ever to prevent budget leakage and ensure paid search ads only show when they are needed.

2. Establish new performance benchmarks

Before you can design a strategy for organic and paid co-design, a new baseline of performance in paid and organic search must be established.

Obtain statistically significant data

Once you’ve restructured your paid search account, make sure you get statistically significant data across your entire campaign to understand new performance dynamics. The longer your website’s conversion cycle, the longer it will take.

However, it’s well worth it. First, you get clean and reliable paid search data.

Second, this calibration period will double as a reset time for organic searches and adjustments for your organic presence.

Keep Adjusting Your Paid Search Negatives

During the above calibration period, keep an eye on your Paid Search Query report for other negative keywords to mine.

It is highly recommended to utilize scripts to automate at least some of the steps. Using negative keyword lists in shared libraries will help reduce heavy manual work.

Monitor changes from previous baseline

In addition to “before and after” (i.e. comparing to the period before the change), look at the change compared to the same period a year ago, so you want to account for any seasonality.

3. Use multiple success metrics

Consider which metrics are important to monitor and most actionable for your team.

If it’s hard for your team to influence a KPI, it becomes secondary.

Use a weighted multi-metric approach rather than fixing your analysis to any single success criterion.

  • Conversion rate, cost/conversion event: The most intuitive metrics take into account the success and cost of exploiting each site visit. Additional metrics will explain why a given performance is observed and how it can be improved.
  • Click or visit: This is a useful guide for prioritizing opportunities. Any identified opportunity or insight should pass a test that is scalable enough to impact your business. Given the small impact on the bottom line, opportunities with limited traffic impact are ultimately not worth the resource investment.
  • Bounce Rate: Often used in SEO and overlooked in paid search, bounce rate is a good indicator if your users’ intent is aligned with the message of the search results (more on this later) and landing page content.
  • Time on site, page views, pages/visits: Along with bounce rates, knowing how long users spend on a site and how much content they consume provides much-needed context for conversion metrics. Do people have low conversion rates after seeing a lot of content? Maybe they didn’t bounce and still didn’t find what they were looking for, or conversion rates were high and page views were high. This is an opportunity to review the landing page content and shorten the website journey.
  • Click-through Rate (CTR): If the traffic opportunities are much larger than your visits, CTR is a great metric to keep those seemingly insignificant opportunities on the radar. Here, even a small SERP language optimization can significantly increase website traffic.
  • Rank/Position: No organic versus paid search analysis is complete without considering SERP ranking or position. It can explain a lot about performance, but prioritizing organic or paid results should not just focus on rankings. Maximize conversions and website traffic even without ranking in top organic or paid search rankings. It’s still something to be excited about within striking distance of a few listings.

4. Analyze the contribution of organic and paid search to driving site engagement

As the organic and paid search trends stabilize, analyze how users interact with various parts of your site, and to what extent organic versus paid search drives these activities.

Armed with this information, you can determine whether paid search complements organic search.

Consider how each channel drives engagement with each site area, and to what extent the cost of paid search traffic and organic search resources is worthwhile, based on how engagement in each channel supports business goals.

Since organic search costs are indirect, there is often a tendency to view organic traffic as “free.” However, this is no accident, but the result of thoughtful content creation and website optimization efforts.

It also effectively saves on paid search by offsetting expensive paid search activity. Therefore, it is fair to take into account the cost of natural search resources and programs.

This will lay the groundwork for how to adjust your organic and paid search strategies to fully support your business needs.

If paid search costs are rising (start saving), or paid search activity is stagnant, consider increasing organic search.

Alternatively, paid search is worth prioritizing when organic search traffic is difficult to obtain or grow.

While paid or organic search may end up being the protagonist, don’t choose one channel at the expense of the other.

As the search space evolves and audience behavior changes as a result of being deprioritized, it’s best to maintain a basic presence. If needed, it can be upgraded without the need to start from scratch.

5. Understand the complete SERP landscape

A truly comprehensive search strategy would be incomplete without considering the competitive landscape.

Comparing your own organic and paid search performance is helpful, but without the context of who it appears with, you miss valuable insights into why the results are the way they are.

Combining competitive and generic search insights is essential for a thorough organic vs. organic search analysis.

  • Ranking gets tricky When the first organic result in the SERPs is much lower than its high ranking might suggest. The first organic search result usually appears below metasearch, shopping, and paid search listings, so it’s not the implicit first place a user might see.
  • Information in ads and organic descriptions is key Find out what’s going on at the scene. The underperformance may be due to a competitor having a more compelling organic description or multiple assets appearing in the SERPs, rather than a misstep in its own organic or paid search strategy.
  • Landing page experience is misplaced What users see in the SERPs is another dynamic to watch out for, especially given the mobile device experience. Organic search results are heavily dependent on organic algorithms, and it may take several rounds to achieve the desired visibility.

6. Establish a regular review cadence with scalable reporting processes and common ownership

Finally, establish a scalable process that allows for consistent data collection, measurement, and insight sharing.

Close monitoring is key to spotting emerging trends and ensuring that any changes are quickly addressed.

During this process, ensure that organic and paid search results are jointly reviewed under a single ownership.

Often, paid and organic search performance is reported separately without an easy way to align them for joint analysis.

Ideally, the success of organic search and paid search performance belongs to the same team and the same leadership.

In addition to promoting a joint search vision, a single stakeholder in both organic and paid search strategies will ensure that neither channel is favored by the other, and that paid and organic strategies truly complement each other.


By updating your paid search execution to take into account the latest broad match dynamics and complementary approaches between organic and paid search, you can leverage organic and paid search most synergistically.

Setting up scalable joint reporting and single ownership for organic and paid search success will ensure your organization has the right processes, tools and people in place to most effectively prioritize organic and paid search efforts.​​​

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Featured image: Constantin Stanciu/Shutterstock

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