Clickthrough Rates (CTR) for Organic vs Paid Search
Last updated: September 21, 2023
While Organic Search and Paid Search are both marketing channels within Google’s search results, they have starkly different clickthrough rates, audience sophistication levels, and overall functions.
In this article, we compare the clickthrough rates (CTRs) of organic vs paid search results and offer broader guidance on which channel best serves your company’s marketing needs.
The table below shows the average CTRs of each of the first 8 search results that a user encounters upon typing a query into Google Search. There are, at most, 4 sponsored results (ads) and 10 organic search results.
|Ad Position 1||2.1%|
|Ad Position 2||1.4%|
|Ad Position 3||1.3%|
|Ad Position 4||1.2%|
|Organic Position 1||39.8%|
|Organic Position 2||18.7%|
|Organic Position 3||10.2%|
|Organic Position 4||7.4%|
|Organic Positions 5-10 (combined)||20.2%|
The sections below explore the user behavior behind CTR and explains the advantages and drawbacks of both organic and inorganic pages. Accordingly, we conclude by making a few suggestions for readers interested in growing their online visibility.
Organic vs Paid Search Click Share
It becomes clear when putting the CTR data into a pie chart that organic search results get a much greater share of total clicks than paid results. For example, the #1 organic result gets 18x more clicks than the #1 paid result:
So why do organic Google results get such a higher CTR? Customer research tells us:
- User don’t trust paid ads as much, as they’re aware a company paid for placement
- Paid ads often don’t answer the user’s question as well as organic search results do, as organic pages get high rankings specifically because of their relevance to the inputted keyword.
- Organic results are better suited to research-oriented searches, whereas paid ads typically try to earn a quick conversion.
Overall, organic search is seen as more trustworthy by searchers because they perceive that these results are Google’s opinion of the most relevant response to the keyword. The perception is that organic results “earned” their place rather than buying it, so the information contained within must be of higher quality.
This may lead you to question where paid Google ads fit into your marketing program as a whole—if organic search results are more trusted, have higher conversion rates, and better long term ROI, where do PPC and paid search fit into your digital marketing strategy? We answer this question below.
The Role of Paid Ads: Short Term, Targeted Campaigns
The simplest answer is that while high search positions garner a much higher CTR than high ad positions, low search positions perform much worse. Consider the following CTRs:
|Google Search Feature||CTR|
|Ad Position 1||2.1%|
|Search Position 10||2.2%|
While you may look at this and say, “Even the worst search position performs better than the best ad position,” this belies a crucial truth. It’s very difficult to get to the front page of Google. Even the #10 spot on the first page requires months of consistently publishing high-quality content to build Google trust in order to rank for any keyword with meaningful competition.
At the beginning of an SEO campaign, new blog posts and landing pages will be placed much lower in the search results. Because of how Google’s algorithm works, even high quality content will not rank until your domain proves itself and is awarded the News Website bonus. The first several months of any SEO campaign will provide little lead generation, with returns manifesting only after 4-6 months of consistent publishing.
By contrast, PPC does not face these challenges. By paying Google for an ad spot, your website will see CTRs commensurate with an automatic placement on the 1st page. This makes these paid ads excellent for the early stages of a campaign, before your long-term marketing investments bear fruit. In addition to bridging the gap for lead generation, paid ads are also excellent for testing new keyword spaces to ensure a future SEO investment results in real leads and closed sales. While your company will pay Google for each lead, these smaller paid campaigns can be used to effectively prototype before committing to a larger investment in organic search. The below table shows example budget allocations between marketing channels when focusing on short term lead generation and long-term growth.
Paid vs Organic Search: Marketing Budget Breakdown
|Short Term Lead Generation||30%||35%||15%||20%|
|Long Term Growth||60%||15%||15%||10%|
Evaluating CTR: Organic vs Paid
Effectively combining both paid and organic channels requires both elements functioning like clockwork: focus too much on one and you risk lowering the quality of the other. Companies with poorly split focus often find that they must correct course after several months, losing both time and resources while adjusting their strategy. Many companies find that assembling a dedicated in-house team for search-based marketing can be particularly challenging due to the specialized skills required.
For that reason, many companies opt to outsource this work to an experienced partner in order to ensure the best possible results. Our agency works with companies to improve their CTR (paid and organic) either as a one time project or in a longer term campaign. Contact us to discuss a partnership.