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When and Why to Use Branded Paid Search & How to Test its Impact

Rob Barto
Digital Marketing Director
Jan 29, 2021

Many brands wonder this: ‚"Why should we spend money on branded paid search when we get organic search for free?" We detail here instances where it makes sense to have branded paid search, its benefits, and how to set up a test that delivers useful insights.

What are the differences between organic brand and branded paid search?

You want your brand’s organic listings to appear in the top positions, and if they’re consistently ranking there, you might not need branded paid search. However, there are benefits to having branded paid live and instances when setting up brand tests can boost your competitive advantage.

What are the benefits of having brand/paid search live?

  • You can control your message- With an organic search, the general organic optimizations and home page will appear as Google’s listing. But with branded paid search, you can show whatever message you want—a brand value, something timely, an alternate landing page, etc.
  • You can control the experience visitors have on your site- When you determine the landing page a visitor goes to, you have more significant opportunities for testing and conversion.
  • You can protect your brand- A competitor might bid on your branded organic search term and then appear ABOVE your listing. You could lose customers if an unaware visitor selects a competitor’s site instead of yours.

How to test the impact of branded paid search

Setting up a branded paid search test the right way contributes to your marketing success in both the near and long term and can help build capacity in your program for optimizing ad spend with ROAS and CPA and for more advanced testing strategies like RCT.  Here are the steps you’ll need to take.

Step One: Document the historical performance for organic branded search terms within your analytics platform. Also, document the historical performance for paid search.  For each term, compare—over a set period—to see which search traffic (organic or paid) is greater. You can also do this with conversion metrics, but you must, in all instances, compare apples-to-apples examples throughout your test.

Step Two: Once you have the historical performance documented,  run an on/off test.

  • Turn off a branded paid search for a set period and monitor the conversion results compared to your already-pulled historical data.
  • Answer the question, does the amount of organic performance (or traffic) offset not having paid search live.  
  • If it does, people are likely to go to your organic terms, and there might be value in not having branded paid search live—you can reinvest paid search dollars elsewhere.
  • If you do not see that lift offset, there is value in your branded paid search campaign: Either competitors are in your organic brand space, or people are not likely to convert at the same rate they would with your branded paid search ad. In this case, keep your branded paid search live!


  • Just because a test works for one product or line of business doesn’t mean the results will be the same across products or business lines.
  • Each geographical region will act differently. Each area should be testing to ensure an optimized overall strategy.
  • Just because a test identifies a result for one brand term doesn’t mean it remains valid for all brand terms. For example, if one term proves more value with organic search, you still might want to have branded paid search live for other terms.
  • Just because a test showed some result in the past doesn’t mean you can stop frequent testing because there will always be changes in the market, behaviors, competitors, etc. ALWAYS BE TESTING! Test at a minimum every six months but ideally once per quarter.
  • You can go way more in-depth with this kind of testing (and we love to do this!)—you can look at the results by markets, look at seasonality, consider geography, etc. But to do advanced testing, it remains vital to capture historical data and then keep all test comparisons apples-to-apples.

Applying the insights

You can expand this application outside of branded paid search. For example, you can apply this test to a non-branded search where CPC (cost per click) will be much higher than in branded search. So, if you know that an organic non-branded search term will rank very high, maybe there’s an opportunity for you to spend your non-branded paid search dollars elsewhere. Note: In all these tests, just because you learn the impact or strength of a paid search term, you will not learn the CAUSE of this impact. Learning that is beyond the scope of this post, but not beyond the scope of our data science team’s work.

Typically with these tests, we see that having organic-only does not offset having both branded organic and branded paid search live. We see a  1 +1 =3 effect, meaning that people will be more likely to convert more frequently in either channel by having a strong organic program AND paid search program. When you have a strong presence, people will remember your brand and come back directly more often. In reality, there are very few instances where it doesn’t make sense to have an organic search term AND a branded paid search live; however, testing to ensure each channel’s strength is always the right approach.

Testing helps you understand the degree of business impact of your choices, which is especially important when expanding this test application to non-branded terms. If you can know where it makes sense to spend, you can make informed, dynamic choices to optimize your spending.

We do testing right. Our paid search and data science teams are aligned to provide continual testing with in-depth insights. Learn more here!

Rob Barto
Digital Marketing Director

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