Does Your Google Ad Spend Buy Better SEO?

Surely spending more on Google Ads will get you better placement in organic search also, right? That’s the claim that one Google sales representative allegedly made to a prospective client recently. But is it true that higher ad spend equals better organic results?

Ever since Google Ads launched as AdWords on October 23, 2000, digital marketers have speculated that there must be a connection between dollars spent on pay-per-click (PPC) ads and performance in the free organic search results. Twenty-one years later, it’s still a common question that clients ask: “Can I buy better organic search performance by increasing my ad spend?”

The answer is, unequivocally: “No.”

Google Ads spend does not affect organic search performance in any way. Nor does participation in or purchase of any Google product from GSuite to the $150,000-per-year Google Analytics 360.

In Google’s words:

“While advertisers can pay more to be displayed higher in the advertising area, no one can buy better placement in the search results themselves.”– Google

“Search listings are free, and no one can pay for a better ranking, because Google is committed to keeping our search content useful and trustworthy. … Running a Google Ads campaign does not help your SEO rankings, despite some myths and claims.”– Google

To many, it seems like a logical connection: Giving Google more money should come with fringe benefits. But Google’s product isn’t search results, it’s the attention of human searchers. The search results are just bait to lure the searchers to Google so their attention can be sold to the highest Google Ads bidders. 

Searchers will only continue to give their attention to Google freely if Google’s search results are relevant and unbiased. Therefore, it’s in Google’s best interest to keep a distinct separation between church (organic results) and state (paid results).

It’s such an important aspect of Google’s business model that Googlers in all roles are educated about that separation when they’re hired — including, in theory, the errant sales rep.

“If any of our ad reps are saying that, I would expect they’ll get a very firm reminder they should never say that. I also expect they’ve already been told to never say something like that, as all Googlers are told.”– Danny Sullivan, Google Search Liaison

That said, there is a correlation between participation in Google Ads and stronger organic search performance, which only stokes the notion that there must be a monetary connection between organic and paid performance.

Always remember that correlation is not the same as causation. Two things can coexist without one causing the other, as is the case when organic performance improves with investment in paid advertising.

Businesses that run higher-spend or more effective PPC advertising programs are also increasing their brand awareness, and exposing potential customers to their unique selling propositions or promotions. There’s a symbiotic relationship between SEO and PPC that improves performance for both channels.

For instance, After repeated exposure to a brand and messaging, searchers are more likely to search for that brand again. And since 55% of the actions taken on Google’s search results page result in an organic click, searchers are likely to click on an organic result after their exposure to PPC ads.

Running paid ads is also a marker of higher digital marketing sophistication, which means that the business is probably also participating in and managing other digital channels better. When searchers see a brand in multiple channels as they traverse their digital universe — search, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok, Twitter, email blasts, and more — the likelihood that that searcher will click on an organic search result for that business increases exponentially. 

However, before the searcher can click on your search result, your pages must rank in organic search. You have to show up before you can go up.

Only an actively managed search engine optimization (SEO) program will improve your organic search performance. To learn more about SEO, start with our quick-read SEO 101 series:

Back to the Google sales representative that allegedly claimed — in writing in an email — that there was a causal link between ad spend and organic performance: Google’s organic search liaison, Danny Sullivan, has set the wheels in motion to resolve the issue, once again contradicting the claim.

“It will be addressed. I’ve already [sent] some emails about it now. I’m guessing that maybe the rep was referencing some studies I recall that sometimes, users might click more on either ads or unpaid search results when both are present. Which is NOT a way to boost SEO ranking…”– Danny Sullivan

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