2019 SEO Trends: Does Paid Search Steal Traffic from Organic?

published by on 23rd April 2019 under Search Engine Marketing (PPC), Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

If you’re running both an SEO program and paid marketing campaigns, how exactly does the relationship work? Is it a symbiotic relationship? Is ranking in both the organic listings and the paid listings mutually beneficial? Or is there a cannibalistic relationship, where you end up paying for clicks that you should be getting for free?

We recently took a closer look at one of the campaigns we are running where we’ve started seeing a considerable drop in organic traffic as we started to push budget to our paid campaigns to grow it aggressively.


Overall Traffic and Clicks:

Looking at the overall traffic and clicks for non-brand campaigns in Google Ads versus the non-brand traffic and clicks from Search Console, we see the following results:

Impressions and Clicks

The charts show the trend over the last 90 days for Non-Branded Queries from Google Ads and Organic. There has been a sharp increase in both impressions and clicks in Google Ads. For organic, on the other hand, impressions have an upward trend which is indicative of positive growth in visibility (we are ranking better for keywords). However, clicks are on a downward trend — this means that while we are ranking for search terms, people are not finding the client’s organic result relevant or are more enticed to click on other results.

While it did raise concerns, it wasn’t enough for us to conclude that there was a cannibalisation problem. So, we took it a step further.

CTR per Position

A more definitive way of identifying a potential cannibalisation issue is to look at the CTR of ranking keywords. To do this, we pulled the data from search console taking the average clickthrough rate of keywords occupying position 1, 2, 3 until position 10 in the first page of the search results for the last 3 months (Jan to Mar) comparing the CTR for these between 2018 and 2019.

We also removed all branded queries from as this heavily skews the data (don’t worry, we’ll get to brand in a bit!)

CTR Desktop

CTR Mobile

The data is interesting. A good example to look at would be the CTR for keywords in the first position for desktop search results. From January to March 2018, keywords holding position 1 had an average CTR of 47%, while for the same period in 2019, the CTR is down to 37%.

What is happening?

Even if we have better visibility — whether this is a result of ranking higher or increasing the number of keywords we rank for organically — actual organic traffic to the site will be less than last year because people are less inclined to click on the organic listing.

There are several possible reasons for this:

  • More ads are being shown for the search queries
  • Larger ad format gives more SERP real estate to ads
  • Labeling of ads have changed over the two time periods, making it less obvious to the user
  • SERP features are also taking valuable space in the results page

Below is an example worth looking at. For the keyword “Auckland hotels”, the search engine results page (SERP)*, shows 4 Google Ads – this already takes up the first virtual fold. You will need to scroll down to find the organic listings. However, on top of that, there’s Google Hotel Ads and a map. 4 organic results follow this. Then, the SERP feature for Top Stories is shown. Another 5 organic results. At the bottom of the page, you’ll see another set of ads.

(*Note that SERP results may vary per location and are affected when you are logged in to your profile)

Google Ads Example_Auckland Hotels

In short, the #1 rank in organic is no longer the #1 position in the search results.

An interesting study by Edwords captures the evolution of the SERPs with this series of photos. In a span of 4 years, Google Ads have taken up more real estate than organic as shown below:

SERP evolution

FIRST has also been monitoring the trend of SERP features since late 2017. Shopping ads, local packs, image results, video results, featured snippets, questions and more are also taking up valuable space in the search results.

Creating a Synergistic Strategy

The SERPs will continue to evolve and your competitors understand the value of paid campaigns. The Ads will continue to push down organic results taking clicks (and by extension, traffic) from organic.

Is there keyword/traffic cannibalisation or is it just a myth?

The cannibalisation has always been happening. It is by Google’s design. In this case, the increased performance of paid campaigns has an impact on organic, but may not be as big as we thought. The cannibalisation is more a result of the general SERP changes that Google is doing versus the paid campaigns encroaching on the keywords we target for organic.

Looking at it from the other side of the coin, you may ask if SEO is still necessary at this point? Why not drop the SEO and focus just on paid marketing?

The answer is quite simple, paid ads require a budget and you cannot possibly target all keywords (unless you have an infinite budget and are fully aware of what organic keywords your site is ranking for that bring in traffic).

It is understandable to direct most of your paid campaign budget towards transactional keywords that have a higher potential to convert. But the buyer’s journey is not always that straightforward. Buyers tend to do research and want to be educated about products before making a purchase. This is where your website’s organic rankings come in.

You can use well-optimised blog posts or category pages to target keywords that focus on the top of the funnel – those that pertain to educating the buyer about your industry, about the existence of your products and services.

If you want to further investigate the relationship between Organic and Paid, we recommend going at it with a more granular scope. Run a keyword diagnosis for both your paid campaigns and organics. Eliminate other likely causes of traffic decline.

A good tool to use would be the Paid & Organic Report within Google Ads. To access this report, you will need to link your Google Search Console property to Google Ads.

Login to your Google Ads account, click on Tools > Setup > Linked Accounts. Click on Search Console. This will open a prompt that lets you add the Search Console account.

Link New Site

You need to be a verified owner (not just a delegated owner) for the property in Search Console to be able to do this. Otherwise, you can send a request and the owner can approve it for you.

Once you’ve successfully linked the two, you can go Reports > Predefined Reports (Dimensions) > Basic > Paid & Organic. This will show you a table of Search Terms, Search Result Type (Ad Shown only, Organic shown only, Both Shown) and performance metrics.

This powerful report can help you decide on several things. First, it helps identify keywords that are missing in one channel or the other. Second, it can be a valuable tool for testing – if you have keywords that rank well for both organic and paid, you can use the data to experiment pausing campaigns or throttling back bids to see if organic search traffic and conversions have significant increases. On the flip side, if you find keywords that are not doing so well in organic rankings, you may want to test supporting these further with paid ads.

Your Brand Strategy

This article covers the impact of running both an SEO program of work and a paid campaign to non-brand keywords. So, what should you be doing about brand?

FIRST recommends that you bid on your brand terms.

We always get that initial reaction from clients: “Why do I need to bid on my own brand terms? I’m obviously already ranking #1 for it!”

There are three main reasons why you should invest in a brand campaign:

  • Brand awareness – Google released a study in 2011 showing how search ads drive 89% incremental traffic. In our own research, we found that running ads alongside having a good SEO program has resulted in as much as 20% increase in organic traffic. Of course, this varies across different industries. The main driver of the increase in organic traffic is increase in brand awareness.
  • Protection from Competitors – For some cutthroat industries, an easy win for your competitors would be to bid on your brand terms. You can file a trademark complaint with Google if you have your brand name trademarked and they can apply certain restrictions but there are things that your competitors can still get away with (such as using your trademark as keywords or in the display URL). Your best defense would be to bid on your own brand terms so you at least take one of the four available spots in the Ad results.
  • It is relatively cheap to do it – Because you have a higher quality score on your own brand terms, your cost per click would be significantly less for your own brand terms versus what the competitors will be paying for it.
  • Highlight promotions and offers – Another advantage of bidding for brand is the ability to highlight offers and to take people straight to the relevant pages, which will make them more likely to convert into a sale. If your product or service has a longer buying cycle, paid ads can be used to show other forms of contact such as phone numbers on mobile devices.

In conclusion, FIRST Digital highly recommends running both an SEO program of work and a paid campaign for brand and non-brand terms. If anything, having visibility in both the organic results and the paid results increases your chances of getting that visitor to click through to your website.

eCommerce SEO: How to Deal with Products that are Out of Stock

published by on 27th February 2019 under General, Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

One of the biggest issues we’ve come across in ecommerce sites is the massive amount of 404 errors. This is usually rooted to deleted products that are out of stock. It comes as a surprise to us at FIRST Digital that many big companies in New Zealand – and around the globe, even – don’t have a solid plan in place for handling out of stock products or deals that have expiry dates. In most cases, we’ve seen these companies delete the pages which end up as 404 (page not found) errors.

Even worse, these pages lead to a template 404 page that does not take advantage of the traffic that still goes there. Other companies, on the other hand, leave hundreds or even thousands of out-of-stock pages online without optimizing them. Both cases are painful for an ecommerce SEO professional to see.

So, what should you really be doing about your out of stock product pages?

First things first, find out more about your out of stock product page before you make a decision. Check if:

  • The product is out of stock permanently or temporarily
  • The page has links – You can use a tool like Ahrefs, Majestic or Moz Open Site Explorer to find out more
  • The page has traffic – You can use Google Analytics to check on landing page sessions for the out of stock product.
  • The product had conversions (before going out of stock) – you can use Google Analytics to check on product performance prior to it being out of stock.

If the product is only temporarily out of stock, FIRST suggests taking the following actions:

  • Label the product as “Temporarily Out of Stock”
  • Add options for pre-order, back order or stock notification
  • Suggest products that are closely related

If the products are permanently out of stock, you have two options:

First, you can consider not deleting the pages (keep them live), and instead using them as an opportunity for different thing such as:

  • Upselling products that are in stock – Keep the page live and dynamically serve up a list of products that are either similar, another model or a variation of that product (ie different specs, different colour) or if this is not possible, you can present products from the same category or even competitor brands that you also sell. You can also think of related products that the customer might be interested in and suggest these.
  • Building your email list – Add a call to action on the page asking the visitor to sign up for email alerts so they can be notified when the product is in stock again.

Second, if you’ve already decided on deleting your out of stock products, then plan how you will be redirecting the 404 pages. Use permanent redirect (301) to point them to a similar product.

If you find yourself in the middle of fixing a massive amount of 404 issues (say more than 10,000 pages), please don’t be tempted to automatically redirect them to your home page. What we recommend is prioritising your 404 pages to redirect based on the traffic they receive. To do this, you can go to your Google Analytics page and do the following:


  1. Click on Behaviour
  2. Select Site Content
  3. Click All Pages
  4. Under Primary Dimension, select Page Title
  5. In the Advance Search Field, type in Error or 404

This should give you a list of your 404 error pages (it might be a clickable link that says Page Title of your 404 Error page – click this to expand the list). Export the list to find out the page views for your pages that show 404 errors.

From the SEO point of view, the worst thing you can do to your out of stock product pages is to simply delete them. You will lose all SEO benefits from that URL. If you’ve worked hard on building links and doing your on-page optimisation correctly, using 404 negates all that work. Think about the time you’ve invested in getting rankings for that specific product. If your ranking page goes to a 404 page, you lose out on that ranking.

Redirecting your out of stock pages preserve ranking signals accrued by those old products. However, you need to take extra care when you map out your redirections. Redirecting your out of stock product pages to the home page or to category pages can potentially lead to soft 404 errors. Redirecting them to products that are not related may result in losing ranking signals. Your best option would be to redirect them to related or similar products. Now, this may not always be the easiest thing in the world to do, so be patient and prioritise based on page traffic.

Last but not the least, we’ve created a flow chart which might help you decide on what to do with your out of stock product pages or expired pages:

Out of stock products SEO diagram

If you have further questions or concerns about how to deal with your out of stock product pages or expired deals, please don’t hesitate to contact your FIRST Digital team.

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How to Create Calculated Metrics in Google Data Studio with Blended Data Source

published by on 5th November 2018 under Google Analytics, Industry News

Or How to Create Bespoke Conversion Rates

Last week, GDS released a new feature called chart-specific calculated fields.
I decided to write a quick post to describe this as the documentation is pretty scarce…

The main interest of this feature is that it works with blended data sources. Even if you can’t create a calculated field at the data source level, this is pretty useful to for instance create conversion rates metrics of user or session-based segment XYZ versus all users or sessions.
Thus you can get conversion rates for anything, without having to create a goal in Google Analytics. For instance, you can see
- what’s the % of total sessions with event XYZ
- what’s the % of total sessions with view of page XYZ
- etc.

So here is how to create this from a Google Analytics data source:

1. Create your segment in GA

For instance, Sessions that include a specific event (below a click to Flight Information – that’s from an airline site)

GA segment

2. Create the blended data source

Below, I’ve blended a GA view with the same view but applying the newly created segment.

I’ve added the Sessions metric for both of them but renamed the sessions looking at the specific segment to avoid any confusion later on.

I’ve also added the Country dimension as a joint key, but this is optional.

So you should end up with at least 2 metrics in your blended data source; All Sessions and Sessions from Sessions including event XYZ:

Note that the data source without segment must be the first one (in the left) as it will take precedence over the data source using segment in the right. This is critical when/if using join key(s).

blended data source

3. Create a new component (chart)

create chart

4. Create the calculated metric

Click to select a metric, then CREATE FIELD:

click create field

Type the name of your new calculated metric and enter your function, then select the Type (Percent below as we are looking at a conversion rate):

create calculated metric

And voila!

chart 1

5. Copy to re-use

The calculated field is specific to the chart but you can just copy-paste the initial chart to avoid having to create the calculated metric again.

chart 2

Note: When using a table, don’t enable the “summary row” as it will sum up the conversion rates… (I believe this is one of the limitation of having the calculated metric defined at the component level and not at the blended data source one).

Hope this is helpful and let us know how you use this new chart-specific calculated fields :-)

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Finding Method in Research Madness

published by on 2nd October 2018 under Conversion (CRO), Digital Strategy


It’s never a bad time to conduct user research. Whether you work on an ecommerce, SaaS or lead generation site – user research is key to understand your users, increase conversions and create an optimal User Experience.


As a UX and Conversion Specialist at FIRST Digital, I frequently run user research programs for my clients and I’ve compiled my top tips to create a structured research program.


1. Start with questions

One of the greatest pitfalls when running user research is diving in head first without asking key questions. If you lead with questions, then there is always a purpose for your research.


Start with a site run through and list out the key business, industry and customer questions at each stage of the user journey. Breaking it down into these areas gives a clear structure to your research program.


In the following example, some key questions for a product pricing page could include:


  • Business question: Is there ability to change our price offering?

  • Industry question: How are our competitors displaying their prices?

  • User question: Do users find our price offering appealing?


Some of your questions might easily be answered with an analytics review or previous research insights. Others will need more in depth analysis such as surveys, competitor analysis or user testing. The end result of this exercise will be a list of questions grouped under these 3 main areas and prioritized based on business needs.


2. Choose your research method

There are a range of user research methods and tools available at your fingertips – again it will all depend on your budget, resource available and business needs. If you don’t have the budget to invest in the latest shiny new tool – there are plenty of other options.


Back to the product pricing page example:


  • Business question: Is there scope to change our price offering? This could be answered by conducting a key stakeholder focus group

  • Industry question: How are our competitors displaying their prices? This could be answered with a competitor analysis and price comparison

  • User question: Do users find our price offering appealing? This could be answered by a range of research methods such as on site surveys, first click tests or user testing and most tool providers have a range of budget friendly options


3. Plan your research

“Fail to plan. Plan to fail” – let’s face it, we’ve all been there. This is equally as important when it comes to user research.


Having a simple research plan which outlines the goal of the research piece and key details, will not only act a guide but also as a point of reference which can easily be shared between stakeholders.


Remember it doesn’t have to be fancy – just a document which outlines the following:


  • The research question(s)

  • Goal of the research piece

  • Research method and/or tool

  • Timescales i.e. how long the research piece will take or how long to run it for

  • Key details, tasks or demographics that are relevant for the research piece


4. Run it and iterate

So you’ve narrowed down your questions, chosen your first research piece and made a plan. Now time to run it and build momentum.

‘But how long should I run it for?’ I hear you say. The honest answer is – it depends, especially when it comes to qualitative research. For example, as a rule of thumb the magic number of user testers is 5 and for surveys a minimum sample of 200 is advised. Timescales will differ for each site according to levels of traffic – but using these as a reference point will help.


Remember the importance of iteration – if a survey is getting a low response rate, switch it to another site area or change the question. If your heatmap or analytics tool isn’t giving you the insight you had hoped for – trial a different tool or method to answer your research question. As long as you’re learning and iterating – then any insight is better than no insight!


In part two of this blog piece we will explain what to do with your new insights and how to create stories that every stakeholder will love.


Measuring page load speed for single page apps

published by on 24th September 2018 under Google Analytics

Single page apps are always a battle for a robust Google Analytics implementation. From correct page titles, rogue referral problems, to when to fire page views, nothing is inherently simple. To add onto the list of complications with single page apps is the fact that Google Analytics will not provide page timings (once loaded between internal pages) for SPA’s. This includes if you increase the site speed sample rate to 100. This is because Google Analytics calculates the page timings using the Navigation Timing API.

For example, DOM loaded would be:

$(document).ready(console.log((Date.now() - 

To over come this problem, you will need to use custom metrics. The solution has three steps.

1) Set up a custom metric in GA.

Go to Admin > Property > Custom Definitions > Custom Metric.

Create a new Custom Metric, with the scope of Hit and the formatting type of time. Note: Specify time in seconds, but it appears as hh:mm:ss in your reports.

2) Set up a timer.

You will need to capture the time when you want to start the measurement of page load time.

An example solution to this might be by decorating all of your internal links. For example in Google Tag Manager we could set up a Custom HTML tag:

  time1 = Date.now()

3) Send the time eclipsed (in sec) to Google Analytics on the virtual pageview event.

When the virtual pageview event occurs (which triggers your virtual pageviews), retrieve the difference between the current time (Date.now()) and the time which the timer was started (time1).

Using Google Tag Manager, a Custom JavaScript variable (e.g. SPA load time) can be created as below:

  return (Date.now() - time1)/1000

This value then needs to be sent with the pageview, against the custom metric index set up in step1.

SPA pageview example

Using the custom metric along with calculated metrics (e.g. {{virtualPageTimings}}/{{pageViews}}, you will be able to calculate your average virtual page timings.


To make the measurement more accurate, set up a secondary custom metric to count the number of virtual pageviews. This will make sure that landing pageviews are not taken into consideration.

To do this, create a custom metric with the scope hit and the formatting integer.

Then with every virtual pageview, send the value 1 against the custom metric index. E.g:

SPA page load speed 2

This allows for the calculated metric:



Using this calculated metric will then give you a good idea of how long a SPA page took to load, from the time which a user clicked on a link through to that page.

This is just one aspect of what is needed to be taken into consideration when working with single page apps. Feel free to reach out if you require any assistance tracking your SPA.