You Already Have Great Organic Search Results. Is There a Halo Effect From Running Paid Search?

Is there an advantage to running paid search when you already have great SEO? Is there a halo effect? Your hard work is already paying
dividends in organic search. This is true on Google’s Adwords platform, the Bing/Yahoo Ad Network, and other search result pages. Bing/Yahoo and Google both rely on relevancy and recency to bring great organic results to their end users. Over 90 percent of searches are followed by an organic click. So why pay to play?
SEO is still king and we’re not advocating Paid over SEO, but the first rule of great SEO is not to rely completely on SEO. One king doesn’t make for a good poker hand. You need more cards to win.

What is Halo Effect?

The search results page halo effect gives higher click through rates than either paid or organic alone. It’s like a multiplier that amplifies your click through rate when both a paid result and an organic result are stacked on the same page. It occurs in both Bing and Google and occurs on average about 20% of the time on their results. Companies with great SEO increase the percent of occurrence. Companies with poor SEO don’t have an organic search result to work with.

Why does the halo effect improve results?

Because we are primarily emotional people, the way we feel overrides logical conclusions. SERPs are thought of as a place to find a solution to a problem. Showing up more than once reassures that you’re a valid solution. It provides the perception of competence and trust. You’re more attractive.

The term halo effect comes from the statistical side of marketing research. Here we discuss the idea of attractiveness equaling goodness. The link at the end of this sentence is a deep dive for non-statisticins, but if you’re interested, here’s the full definition from Lionel G. Standing with SAGE Research Methods.

Take a look at the infographic created by google that describes the correlation between ad position and click through rate.  What they are describing is the percentage of ad clicks that are incremental to the organic result as the organic result moves further down the page. This is commonly referred to as Incremental Ad Click or IAC. When you’re in the organic SERPs first spot, half the time your clicks goes through the ad. In spots 2-4 82% are incremental. and 96% are incremental for spots 5 and down.

Infographic from Google depicting that organic results and paid results together on a page result in incremental gains in click through. 50% increase in Position 1, 82: in positions 2 through 5 and 96% in positions 6 to the end.
Source: Google Think Insights, March 2012 – Organic Search Results and Their Impact on Paid Search Ads

Use the Halo Effect to Incrementally Build Your Own Ad Clicks

Search providers continue to reduce the screen area shown before a user has to start scrolling down. Organic results return only one or two listings above the fold on most screens. So, naturally paid search listings are always visible first. Search providers also have reduced the distinction between paid and organic results. They’ve removed distinct labels and borders and background colors for subtle nuances.

Statistics as recent as 2012 demonstrate that those who increase their Google search ad spend from a zero basis experienced a median average increase in incremental ad click of 79%. Those who decreased an existing ad spend to zero lost 85% IAC which was not made up by organic alone. What does this mean?

Updated AIC 2012
Source: Google Think Insights, March 2012 – Organic Search Results and Their Impact on Paid Search Ads

If you only run ads and have no organic results, you loose out on the halo effect. If you run SEO and have no ads running you loose a 79% increase (on average) in IAC. If you stop running ads, you’ll never make up the difference with organic results and will actually loose, again on average, 85%.  Running both acts as a multiplier when both organic and paid ads display on the same page.