Is 1st Really the Best SEM Brand Position?

Is 1st Really the Best SEM Brand Position?

It’s a common conversation across SEM marketing – do brand keywords always need to be in position one?

Headshot of Luke Ashmore-Delany


13 March 2018





If there is a strong organic presence, do we need to bid on brand keywords?
A commonly held “best practice” of PPC marketing is that one should always appear in position one in any brand search. However, there is also the opinion that if a user is searching for a specific brand, then it’s safe to assume that their intent to visit the website of the said brand is high enough that they will click any listing that leads directly to the site whether it is at the top of the page, or whether it is paid or organic.

Why bid on brand?

We often discuss optimal brand strategy with clients, recommending a solid SEO strategy alongside a prominent PPC brand presence based on results we’ve seen across multiple clients and verticals. Recently, we tallied the data across a sample client to measure the relationship between Organic & PPC brand search positions. Our sample client has two main features:

  • There is high competition on pure brand terms (at least two other PPC competitors showing for Brand searches.)
  • They are an acquisition-focused client (lead generation.)

High competition is an essential factor, as it affects the options a consumer faces when searching for your brand and the cost-per-click (CPC) you pay for each visitor. The acquisition was a focus, supposing that competitors were taking traffic from our brand queries as people researched the options in front of them. Was this enough to reduce conversion volume significantly?

To ensure a fair comparison, organic traffic was only considered when the search query contained an exact brand term – no generics here. We defined three categories of PPC positions and analysed the data daily over three months. The three PPC average position “categories” were:

  • High (Position 1.0 – 1.49)
  • Low (Position 1.5 – 2.19)
  • Off (No PPC activity)

PPC, Organic & Brand Competition

Two conclusions can be drawn from the data above;

  • Brand PPC does cut into the total amount of Organic conversions; this is relative to the position of the PPC ad.
  • Appearing in Organic results alone does not make up the deficit from removing PPC.

Not only does attaining the top position for Brand PPC ads lead to a higher volume of PPC conversions, but ensuring that a competitor did not take the top position has a slight positive flow-on effect for Organic!

So, from this, can we conclude that appearing in the highest PPC position possible must be the best option? Well, not necessarily; we haven’t yet factored the cost of appearing in position one into the equation.

The below graph shows just how much difference in CPC & cost there is from dropping just a few average position decimal points:

At this point, the decision to bid to a high or low position must align with the client's objectives;

  • Is ROI or pure volume the clients’ primary goal?
  • Is a brand lead worth the same amount as a prospecting lead – are new customers more valuable to the business, or is customer retention more important?
  • Can the money saved be effectively reinvested into prospecting activity?
  • Is it a quiet period for conversions, or is there high-volume opportunity that shouldn’t be missed?

Both a strong PPC and organic presence are necessary for a comprehensive digital Brand marketing strategy when contending in a competitive market. However, due consideration should be given to how necessary it is to bid for the highest brand positioning based on the clients’ individual needs and goals.

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Luke Ashmore-Delaney
The dog and bone.
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