The first thing I want to make clear is that you shouldn’t look at SEO and PPC globally in a versus style debate. In most cases, I believe you should utilize both categories of search marketing. This particular case study examined the traffic and conversion differences from SEO and PPC for a single keyword.
The first reason you shouldn’t look at SEO and PPC in a global "vs" style debate is because in most cases you’ll want to have a spot in both areas of the search results. Most people would likely agree that two positions are better than one. With two positions you increase the chances of your company being seen, obviously, and it could also increase trust. The more positions you have for a search, the more it looks like you are the authority on the subject or product. The second reason is that it’s very likely the traffic and conversion results will vary by type of keyword, period of time, and intent of search. So saying overall, globally, that one is better than the other would be difficult to prove.
According to The State of SEO & Internet Marketing 2012, by Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz) and Dharmesh Shah (HubSpot), 75% of all clicks go to the organic results, and not the paid ads. However, in a recent article by Inc.com it was reported that according to Larry Kim, CTO of Wordstream, "The click-through rate of paid search advertisements on Google now outnumbers ‘free’ organic search result listings by nearly a 2:1 ratio for high commercial intent keyword searches conducted in the U.S."
As an SEO and PPC manager I wanted to look at some of our own data, and add to the discussion of SEO and PPC.
The keyword we examined was what you would consider a "commercial intent" keyword. The keyword: "water alarm."
The positions for "water alarm" in Google were as follows:
The traffic turned out to be nearly the same from both sources. What’s interesting is that the percentage of orders was much higher from the PPC traffic. The data we looked at covered a six month period between 02/1/12-08/01/12. Note that we used the “matched search query” filter to get the PPC position information. This is important, as if we just used the "keyword" filter, we could potentially get PPC traffic data for the variations of "water alarm" that could exist due to AdWords match types.
PPC: 586 unique visitors, 25 orders.
SEO: 552 unique visitors, 3 orders.
For this specific keyword, over this period of time, PPC resulted in more orders with nearly the same volume of traffic. The fact that the middle-of-page organic position had about as many clicks as the top-of-page PPC ad, seems to support the numbers from the SEOmoz and HubSpot report. As a 1st organic SEO position would have likely earned more clicks than the 552 from our organic 4th-6th position. Which in-turn would have likely outnumbered the 586 from the 1st PPC spot.
More testing. And more sharing of information. With the goal of helping companies and organizations create better search marketing campaigns. Also, I will try adding some pricing information to the meta description for the organic SEO page. The bottom line: regardless of type of keyword or intent of search, two positions are better than one. PPC can really help the SEO side via the fact that you can quickly test ad copy and landing page variations. This information could then be used to form better SEO strategies, including things such as writing higher converting title tags and meta descriptions.