It’s not unusual for paid search clients to ask why they should bid on branded keywords. Even with the many benefits of bidding on brand terms, it’s still a question we get several times per year. Recently, a larger B2B client pushed to turn off brand terms, and the results were not pretty.

The conversation started as you would expect. Why should we pay for clicks that we would otherwise get from organic traffic? Of course, we pointed them to existing studies about the value of brand traffic, like Google’s 2012 report showing that 89% of paid search clicks are not replaced by organic or direct traffic. Still, they were skeptical and wanted to move forward with pausing brand keywords.

The Test

Instead of turning off brand for good, we proposed a test. We turned off all brand campaigns for 7 days and examined organic and direct traffic to see if any increases made up for the lost brand traffic.

The Results

We pulled cross-channel data from Google Analytics following our week-long test, and the results surprised even us. Compared to the previous week, total clicks on PPC brand terms dropped from 1,100 to 0, and leads from 32 to 0. We expected organic and direct to pick up a sizable chunk of the missing traffic. Organic brand clicks did increase, but only by 200, and leads only increased by 4. Direct traffic barely changed.

ppc_brand1

Looking at the client’s back-end lead data, total paid search leads dropped from an average of 53 per week to 8 for the test week. Organic leads only saw an increase of 13, so we can estimate that shutting off brand for 7 days cost us at least 32 leads.  In addition, total leads for the week decreased by 65:

ppc_brand2

So What Happened?

We expected a dip in overall traffic during our test period, but even we were surprised by the severity of the drop in leads. We eventually traced this loss back to a few factors, some that we anticipated and some that we didn’t.

Competitors

Competitors can bid on brand terms and rank ahead of organic listings. Google can display up to three paid ads before any organic listings. In a hyper-competitive space like B2B software, competitors delight in stealing highly-qualified brand searchers.

Search Partners

Google Search Partners can drive a significant amount of traffic, particularly for larger advertisers. It’s difficult to know exactly what’s happening on Search Partner SERPs. Even determining your average position or the number of competitors bidding on brand keywords can be a struggle. In this situation, it’s better to pay a small CPC rather than risk losing out to competitors or unpredictable third-party search algorithms.

It’s also worth keeping in mind that an analysis of multiple-click attribution models will usually show that a branded click is the last link in a chain that begins with a much more expensive non-brand click, or a display or social ad. PPC brand keywords are not “stealing” otherwise free organic conversions. Instead they are drawing customers down the final steps of the buying funnel to a conversion. Not bidding on brand is like spending $2 million for a Super Bowl ad and forgetting to put up a sign on your storefront.

Don’t believe us? Test it out yourself. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.