Rising Tide of PPC Means SEO is Sinking

With all current fuss about automated content for SEO I've found the recent changes by Google here and here have only greatly diminished the value of SEO for the most valuable keywords (those that have transactional value).

Case in point is this SERP for "rifle scopes." This was a query used during my Ad Copy & Continuity Clinic session at SES Chicago last week. Below I've captured a screen shot in 1024 x 768 clearly showing that not a single natural result is visible above the fold. In fact with the product view a natural listing is not visible until 1440 x 900 and even then it is only a single one.


As you can see on any query, enabling search modes condenses the center well results about 100 pixels. This in-turn produces roll-over for the product details. However, even a single line of product details causes the natural results to sink.

I got out of SEO and into SEM six years ago. November 16th, 2003 to be exact. That was the day of Google's Florida update. That day it became clear that SEO is not a sustainable web business model* — there are no Google free-rides. But PPC certainly could be. In fact, for digital businesses it HAD to be. This has never been more true.

* The possible exception are the top domainers.



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10 responses to “Rising Tide of PPC Means SEO is Sinking”

  1. Ryan Beale Avatar

    Interesting Perspective. I see your point and agree that the SEO value of keywords are diminishing for the most valuable keywords (transactional keywords) with Google’s recent changes. It is clear that Organic Results are showing up lower on the SERPs and at times below the fold with Googles recent updates.
    Haven’t transactional keywords performed better in PPC Campaigns than SEO historically in terms of conversion rates? I do not have any data to back up that question, but would be curious to hear your perspective. It seems to me that with transactional keywords, PPC Advertisers would be able to optimize PPC Ads and leverage calls to action to attract a higher conversion rate on PPC clicks and thus higher value for PPC than SEO for transactional keywords.


  2. Dave Ferrick Avatar

    I was in that session and overwhelmed with not only the PPC presence on that SERP, but the scale of presence for that one retailer alone. I’m glad you took a screengrab. It shows how much the SERP is blowing up.
    (P.S. Thanks for the excellent session! One of the top 3 from SES as detailed by my 4 pages of notes.)


  3. Beverly Mapes Avatar

    In addition to the ads within PPC itself, the new algorithms are “indexing more pages.” We’ve noticed the SERPs include more non-ecommerce site results, pushing organically optimized e-commerce sites down the list even farther. This also forces those sites to use PPC more. Since many of the query-ers are looking to buy, not looking to educate themselves, there may have been a deviation here from the noble “give the query-er what they’re looking for” toward finding a way to attract more PPC revenue.
    There are still many low-volume keywords that can provide great organic results, and I can also see lots of room for competition by Yahoo/Bing if they play it right. But in many ways, it is turning into a PPC world.
    Perhaps search engines will evolve to a shopping channel, NPR, and general programmming “with lots of ads” distinction.


  4. Jonathan Mendez Avatar

    Great comments, thanks.
    Ryan – I do have the data that backs up PPC in most cases converts higher than Natural results for the same keyword. You are spot on.
    Dave – Thanks for teh feedback and really glad you enjoyed the session.
    Beverly – You touch on an interesting point in that Google “blends” the SERP so that people who are doing informational queries go to the Natural results and people who are in transactional mode find more relevance in the Paid. It makes sense for them and the user.


  5. Jeff Martin Avatar

    From what I have seen, organic results are alive and doing well thanks to Universal Search.
    In addition to old school SEO & PPC I work heavily in optimizing video where we have seen very nice results in Universal Search. We, as SEO pros, need to make sure that our SEO efforts encompass all of our/clients digital assets in order to obtain the best chance for visibility/success. If not, then video/image/etc. results will always just be another SERP spot that pushes you even further down. How many times have we seen a media set of results at the top and the middle? And on the same set of results?
    JM – the screen grab you have above is from a PPCer who tied their base/products account in. I noticed that the products area was manually opened (the -/+). If it wasn’t opened, wouldn’t the organic results have been visible by default. I tested it on diff machines/browsers and had good organic results.


  6. Jonathan Mendez Avatar

    Hi Jeff –
    Yes, the product area was manually opened but even without it there were only 2 natural results visible (vs. 9 Paid).
    You make a great point re: SEO for images and video. I would add local to that mix also. SEO is not about pages anymore as much as it is about objects.


  7. Al Kuenn Avatar

    Its seems to validate the law of unintended consequences….attempt to add more variety of content to the search results to add relevance and they may actually end up doing the opposite. The PPC Management business is a tough one, but I’m glad I am there and not in SEO.


  8. rohn smith Avatar

    Ppc is more costly if you are optimizing your site for high competitive words and Ppc does not give guaranty that every visitors will turn to customer.So in my thoughts seo is much better than PPC


  9. AJ Kohn Avatar

    Usually I find that I nod my head in agreement when reading your posts but this time … I can’t.
    Having been on both the PPC and SEO side of the equation I can’t fathom why one would think SEO isn’t sustainable. I’d say it’s the opposite. 5 years ago PPC was a great channel. I built a massive 2MM+ keyword program that provided double digit growth to the business.
    But Google changed the matching behavior so broad match queries trumped phrase and exact more often. Then they essentially created a CPC floor which had the effect of raising rates. The interface still ensures that newbies aren’t creating phrase and exact match terms, nor appropriately using negative keywords.
    Then brand advertisers waded in and bid up terms without much attention to ROI. “It’s branding,” they said and the big search shops happily agreed.
    No, PPC is like heroin. It feels great! It’s a known commodity. But you have to keep paying to make it feel good and if you want more of that feeling, you’ll keep paying.
    I’m not saying it’s not a great part of a marketing mix, because it is. But doing real SEO (not the short term drive-by, chase the algorithm kind) is going to provide a far more sustainable business. Why? It’s free.
    Transactional terms (for which I’ve done a fair amount of consulting) are still viable from an SEO perspective. Head or root terms are competitive but not impossible. And long-tail terms are still highly available, highly focused and are therefore relevant and convert.
    Blogstorm has a great chart from a Conductor study that shows the paid versus natural search traffic for big box retailers.
    Most notable is the disparity between the first two retailers: Target and Walmart. The former spends $300K a day to get 47% of traffic from paid search. The latter spends $25K a day to get 9% of traffic from paid search.
    And when the holiday price increases kick in (and they do) who’s traffic and well-being is held hostage by Google?
    Is the SEO landscape changing? Yes. Does it mean that it can’t be optimized and that you can’t rely on it as a continuing source of traffic? No.
    The changes can sometimes be difficult and I’m not the hugest fan of the Google Shopping Onebox but … it hasn’t changed the landscape as much as you might think. I suspected it might, but the results say different. And some of the changes Google has made benefit savvy retailers.
    The perception simply doesn’t match up with reality here and I’d caution anyone from abandoning SEO.


  10. Web Marketing Avatar

    Blogstorm study shows that a conductor’s big box retailers is a great chart Natural Search vs. Paid Traffic


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