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May 4, 2009 | 2 minute read

PPC Myth Week Pt 1: Organic Search Traffic is More Qualified Than Paid

written by Linda Bustos

Welcome to PPC Myth week! Today is the first installment of a 3 part series challenging common misconceptions about search marketing and analytics.

Myth #1: Organic search more qualified traffic than paid

I was surprised to see in print one of the most respected search marketing gurus state "Organic searchers who click on your pages are highly qualified visitors to your site. They are much more likely to make a purchase than some other kinds of visitors you receive."

In fairness, the guru went on to explain that banner ad clickers are less qualified than searchers actively looking for a product in a search engine. Nevertheless -- to claim that organic searchers are highly qualified is false. It also implies that organic search converts better than paid search, comparison engines, email traffic, affiliate leads and so on. This just ain't so.

1. SOME organic traffic is better "qualified" than others.

Remember, in this context "qualified" means more likely to purchase. If you look through your organic search referring keywords, you'll find a number of non-transactional terms, and transactional terms that are not necessarily close to purchase or even relevant to what you offer.

Examples from the 2010 Olympic Store:

  • Non-transactional: "vancouver 2010 schedules"
  • Transactional, not relevant to our offer: "how do i get tickets for the 2010 winter olympics"
  • Transactional, too general: "business card holders" (may like our offering but is likely in research/comparison mode)
  • Qualified: "vancouver 2010 sterling silver heart charm bracelet"

Also, organic conversion can vary by search engine. It's possible for your market, traffic from Yahoo, AOL or MSN sends you more shoppers and Google sends you more information hunters.

2. SEO vs. PPC - it depends on the keywords.

PPC traffic "quality" also depends on which keywords get clicked - especially if you're using the broad match type. In fact, broad match can trigger some really un-qualified traffic. If you were only bidding on a certain number of close-to-purchase keywords with the exact match type - you *could* argue PPC is more qualified than SEO if your conversion rates also confirm so.

3. Other channels - it depends...

Comparison engine traffic is *typically* closer to purchase since visitors have already evaluated your offer against competitors and the product against other alternatives, comparison engine traffic should convert better in theory. Your results may vary.

Similarly, email and affiliate referrals have been exposed to your brand and offer before clicking through - you'd expect better results for these channels than search. Again, your results may vary.

Type in traffic (no search engine or other site referred the visit) indicates brand awareness, and perhaps preference. Repeat customers, brick-and-mortar customers or people responding to offline advertising may convert higher than SEO/PPC traffic that's also clicking on several other results to compare. But direct traffic can also indicate you should filter out your own staff's IP address or you have missed Javascript tags on some pages (causing a null reference).

So what's the point of this rant? I don't want anyone making decisions to invest more into SEO than other channels because they heard that organic search is the most qualified traffic. I don't want you to set the wrong expectations on organic search, and set goals like "increase organic visits" or "increase conversion for organic visitors."