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Does Running Google Ads Help Improve SEO Rankings?

Sam Carr

Sam Carr

September 3rd, 2020

Sam obsesses over three things in life: Animals, Films and Marketing. We may have over exaggerated his love for marketing.

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Ever since Google’s rise to search engine market leader, there has been one question on every marketer’s mind:

Does Google Ads influence SEO rankings?

This fiercely debated question has been around for a long time with many marketers providing evidence on why they’re correct.

But’s who is correct? Does Google Ads influence non-PPC rankings, or is it just another SEO myth that won’t die?

By the end of this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of the different arguments and ultimately, who’s right.

But before we jump into if Google Ads helps rankings or not, let’s take a history lesson in PPC ads and how this debate was born.

The History Of Google Ads

Before Google Ads (formerly Google AdWords) was released back in the year 2000, Google was an entirely organic search engine. From looking at the screenshot below, there’s not a single ad to be found!

google search original

This allowed marketers to compete on a pretty level playing field as Google was primarily checking for on-page content and backlinks. But when Google AdWords was released, everything changed.

Websites who couldn’t get themselves on page one of the results organically could now simply pay instead. This immediately made marketers questions Google’s ethics. What happens to businesses and websites which don’t pay? Are they not treated equally as other paying businesses?

And that ladies and gentlemen, is how the rumour started. Surprisingly, over 20 years since Google Ads was launched, some people still think paying for ads influences non-PPC rankings.

We hate to break it to them, but they’re wrong, here’s why.

Why Google Ads Doesn’t Influence SEO Rankings

google not influence rankings ads

When you think of digital marketing as an industry, it’s still in its infancy. It’s only in the last 10 years that thanks to advancements in technology and social media, digital marketing has really grown.

This means that with any growing sector, there are always lots of inexperienced beginners who are entering the industry. And with all that inexperience and lack of understanding, some concepts and data can be easily misunderstood.

Because Google Says So

The first and primary reason why Google Ad’s doesn’t influence SEO rankings is that Google says so!

According to an official article from their Google Ads resources centre, the article states:

Running a Google Ads campaign does not help your SEO rankings, despite some myths and claims.

In addition to this, Danny Sullivan, a member of the search team, also confirmed in a tweet that Google search is completely separate from Google Ads. This means that any metrics or data from Google Ads has no impact on organic results.

Although you can’t trust everything Google (or John Mueller) says, there’s plenty of other reasons why you should trust Google on this one.

Antitrust Compeititon Laws

Just imagine for a second that if a domain or business did run Google Ads, then it influenced their rankings. Not only would it make Google kinda pointless, but imagine how much legal trouble they would face.

Not only would it break US antitrust laws, but it would also violate EU competition laws which would result in legal action from some of the biggest countries in the world. Would Google really risk their entire business model by doing something so silly?

What if instead they just listed ads for specific keywords that businesses paid them to? Oh wait, that’s what they do!

The Most Common Misunderstandings

big coincidence google

So how did this rumour start in the first place? Why do some people believe that running Google Ads has an impact on SEO rankings?

In our view, it’s most likely down to misunderstandings and coincidences.

Google Updates

The first and most likely reason why some people believe Google Ads has an impact on SEO rankings is down to the regular Google updates.

Anyone who works in digital marketing knows that Google routinely release updates to their search engine of different magnitudes. According to Google employee Gary Illyes, they make an average of 3 updates to Google every single day. Unlike their major core updates which happen a few times a year, 99% of these small updates aren’t announced.

So if someone stopped running Google Ads for their business and their rankings went down, could this just be a coincidence with all the Google updates taking place?

After all, the definition of a coincide is:

the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection

Without knowing if a Google update had occurred when stopping the ads, how can anyone be certain that stopping the ads had an impact on rankings? This is a classic example of correlation does not imply causation.

Misinterpreting Analytics

Another reason why someone might think Google Ads affects their rankings is that they are simply reading their analytics wrong.

For inexperienced marketers, Google Analytics or any analytics platform can be tricky to decipher the correct information. This can often lead to misunderstanding and coming to the wrong conclusions.

Whether it’s a technical issue meaning the analytics hasn’t been set up correctly, or users aren’t properly attributed based on their source, this can all lead to confusion. Especially when on some tracking platforms traffic from Google Ads and organic is treated as the same unless specifically defined and filtered.

Indirect Factors

The final reason why Google Ads may seem to have an impact on SEO rankings is down to indirect ranking factors.

Direct traffic or direct visitors to a website has been cited by several studies as being an important Google ranking factor.

If a business is running ads, then it’s likely they will increase their brand awareness from targeting competitor’s brand names and important related keywords. By running these ads continually for a couple of months, this can significantly increase the number of direct visitors that visit a website.

Maybe a user Googles a keyword or competitor but doesn’t actually click an ad; instead, they visit the website directly later on when they remember. If Google does use direct visitors as a ranking factor, then this could have some type of rankings impact, albeit relatively small.

If a business stops running ads, then over time, they could slowly see a decrease in direct visitors that could affect their rankings negatively.

Other metrics that running Google Ads could effect would be things like the site’s overall bounce rate, time on pages, pages per session and other UX metrics.

If running ads improves these overall site user metrics, then there’s a tiny chance you could see some movement. However, it’s tough to prove considering the first point of constant Google updates. How do you know the change in user metrics had an effect on rankings and it wasn’t just a Google update?

Don’t Be Fooled By the Myth

So there you have it. Does Google Ads affect SEO rankings? The answer is an unmistakable NO.

Not only has it been confirmed by Google multiple times, but the number of laws they would break if they did would bankrupt the company when they got caught.

The only reason some people still believe this SEO myth is mainly down to a misunderstanding in data. They might be running tests by enabling and disabling their ads to see if their rankings change, but without knowing what updates Google is putting out, it’s impossible to determine the causation.

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