New research from Google suggests the investment is worthwhile - they would, wouldn't they?
Recommended link: Google Research Blog
Whether using Adwords is generates incremental visits when you already rank well in natural search is a perennial question within paid search, but the findings in are still relevant & should be taking seriously enough to run your own tests.
The research was aimed at answering one simple question: "Does bidding on keywords you already rank number 1 for in natural search just waste money or does it deliver additional traffic?". This situation is often the case with the brand search terms that are so important because they are the most important search terms for most well-known brands.
The answer from the Google Research clearly states that:
89% of the traffic generated by search ads is not replaced by organic clicks when ads are paused. This number was consistently high across verticals
I have to say the number surprised me, I expected more in the region of 30-40% based on experience. The full research from Google is available here. While Google have clearly researched this area in some detail it doesn't mean it is a hard and fast rule. Running your own test in your market is obviously key before you action anything on your Adwords account. Search Engine Land have run similar models which you can see the results of here.
Since brand search volumes tend to be consistently high, a continuous or "always-on" investment in paid search can give sustained benefits and this research suggests it's worth looking into if you're not using "always-on". Remember you can deliver different messages and offers through Adwords Site Links.
Running your own test is straight forward & you should do this on brand & non-brand keywords (where you rank well) for a set period of time. The timeframe will depend on your traffic levels but a week should be enough to give you sufficient data to study. Bear in mind that according to Google's research, nearly 90% of your paid search traffic for these adgroups is potentially going stop... To run this test we first need to analyse:
- Traffic split (paid / organic) for brand keywords based on your current setup
- Traffic split (paid / organic) for top 10 keywords where you rank No 1 based on your current setup
Once you have the data you should make the necessary amends to your paid search campaign and record the results. You should then be able to compare the data and understand the impact of not running Paid Search on your brand / top key terms quite quickly.
Do not forget however that traffic is just one KPI - you need to look at quality/conversion too. Using the same data look at the impact on sales & profit to the business (potentially where the test window is too small to be useful depending on your product purchase cycle length). You have obviously dropped spend significantly & therefore the effect on profit to the business could be good! If so, it would be a great way to reallocate spend within adwords or even to other channels.