Paid and Unpaid Search: Together, Forever

Ian Lurie

Every few months a client comes to me and says “Now that I’m top 3 for Super Widgets in the unpaid rankings on Google, can we cancel my paid search listings?”

Usually, no. Here’s two reasons:

  1. If you have a top-3 spot in the paid rankings, your competitors don’t. You’re denying them access to the audience.
  2. If customers see your search result in two locations on the same page, they’re far more likely to click on one of them. In our tests, an unpaid listing in the top 3 positions gets far more clicks if there’s a paid ad in the top 3 positions, too, than if there is no ad on that page. Higher frequency means more clicks.

Here’s a really interesting tidbit, too: On Google, we get better results with a paid ad in the number three spot than in the top position. Why? On most Google search result pages, the number three paid ad is closer to the unpaid search results. So your potential customers see your paid and unpaid search listings in closer proximity to each other, and they’re more likely to click.

Together, Forever

So you really need to keep those paid search ads up, no matter how strong your unpaid rankings. The good news, though, is that clicks on your paid ads will drop as you move up in the unpaid rankings. That, in turn, means you’ll pay less and less, but still reap the benefits.

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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