Comparing PPC and natural search traffic with Google Analytics

I have written before about how I think Google ought to include real search queries in the paid search monitoring. Today, while looking at some reports for a client with Tom, I realised that there is an even bigger reason for wanting this - above not wanting to have to go to the AdWords search queries report.

At present, Google Analytics links nicely with AdWords - displaying cost and conversion data in a nice way. Unfortunately, this means that the Analytics definition of a PPC ‘keyword’ (which is the phrase you are bidding on, which triggered the advert, rather than the actual phrase the searcher used) is different to the Analytics definition of a natural search ‘keyword’ (which is the actual phrase searched - often much longer-tail).

Therefore, if you are broad- or phrase-matching in AdWords, and you look at a report such as the ‘keywords’ report that allows three options: ‘total’, ‘paid’ and ‘non-paid’, you get a really easy to read report that isn’t telling you the whole truth. Tom and I were looking at the analytics data for a client who ranks #2 in the natural results for ‘keyword’ and also buys broad-match AdWords advertising on keyword (with quite a lot of negative-match terms). This leads to a strange set of numbers:

  • When you look at ‘total’ traffic for that keyword, you see a few thousand visitors a day
  • When you restrict it to ‘paid’ traffic for that keyword, you still see about 5/6 of the traffic
  • When you restrict it to ‘non-paid’ traffic, you see 500-600 visitors a day

Initially we thought “that’s strange - ranking #2, we’d expect to see at least comparable natural and paid traffic levels” but then we realised that we are comparing entirely different things. Non-paid traffic is only for that exact keyword (and longer-tail phrases are listed separately) while paid traffic lists anything under that bid.

Each of these behaviours is sensible in isolation, but if they are going to work differently, then my opinion is that they shouldn’t be displayed in the same report - and there shouldn’t be a ‘total’ (i.e. paid and non-paid) option for keywords - it doesn’t really make any sense.

I would far rather see one report which compares like with like for paid and non-paid (this is the real search queries report I’ve asked for before) along with a separate ‘PPC’ report that includes cost and conversion data as normally displayed in the AdWords control panel.

Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

Will founded Distilled with Duncan in 2005. Since then, he has consulted with some of the world’s largest organisations and most famous websites, spoken at most major industry events and regularly appeared in local and national press. Will is part...   read more

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