The Growing Relationship Between Ad Blindness and SEO Traffic

Shannon Reedy VP of Account Management Back to SEO Blog
Key Points
  • Ad blindness doesn’t just affect banner ads – it affects the SERPs as well.

  • People generally don’t want to click anything that resembles an ad.

  • As a result, organic listings get 20X more clicks than paid ads.

  • You’ll miss out on a lot of traffic if you focus on only PPC advertising in the SERPs.

  • Investing in SEO turns your website into a lasting asset that will generate traffic and sales for years.

You were probably long aware of ad blindness with traditional banner ads in your favorite publications and around the web. Banner blindness has been a topic among marketers for years. You may not, however, be aware that ad blindness similarly takes effect in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs), as well.

In a study by the Nielsen Norman Group, searchers were observed ignoring the ads sitting atop the Google SERPs. This is notable, given that the paid ads are now visually similar to organic listings, and they certainly are a far cry from the visual presentation of banner ads.

Instead, it’s not the visual cue that is directing searchers to ignore the ads. Rather, the searchers are displaying learned behavior, knowing that ads are featured at the top of the SERPs and using selective attention to ignore the ads and focus their attention on only the areas where they feel ads are not present.

Not only did the researchers find that searchers actively avoided ads, they found that the ads actually “poisoned” the content around the ads. In other words, people were not only avoiding the ads, they were avoiding any area where their mental model defined an area of the page as ads, even if it contained other content as well. In other words, they didn’t want to get even remotely close to anything resembling an ad.

Yikes! There has to be a better way to connect and engage with an audience.

And, luckily, there is…

Organic Dominates The Clicks in The SERPs

When it comes to capturing potential customers online in the face of ad blindness, SEO can be extremely effective.

There are billions of searches every day (40,000+ per second!) done by people who are looking for answers to their problems, and if you can provide those answers, you can land new customers for life. (Ahem, while you read that, another 120,000 searches were conducted.)

And get this. Organic listings today drive 20X more clicks than their paid ad counterparts in the SERPs.

A study way back in 2014 by Advanced Web Ranking found that 71.33% of clicks in the Google SERPs results in a Page One organic click. In the same year, Conductor pointed to 64% of all clicks in the SERPs being captured by the organic listings. The same Conductor study found that merely 6% of clicks were attributed to paid ads.

Since that time, however, Google removed ads from the right rail, added to the number of ads that could appear above the organic results, increased the number of extensions and other features to expand the real estate of the ads, and changed the appearance of the ads to more closely resemble organic listings. For example, Google paid ads used to have a distinctive yellow background, yet today, have no background color applied at all. When the yellow background had been removed, Google added a noticeable yellow “Ad” label. That, apparently, was too noticeable, as it then changed the color to green, matching the link color next to it. Again, too noticeable, and so Google removed the green fill from the label, instead using a thin green outline.

You’d figure that with those changes, the equation would be flipped and paid ads would be capturing the majority of SERP clicks.


Paid ads are simply not feeling the love. Although there has indeed been a slight drop-off in click-through rates on the organic side, organic listings still produce 20X higher clicks than paid ads on the page, according to a study by Jumpshot and Moz. (It’s also worthy of note that the paid ads CTR has not risen beyond 2015 levels.)

In other words, if you want to grab searchers’ attention, organic is still the way to go, regardless of all the changes to the display of ads in the SERPs. Organic listings simply deliver more clicks and more traffic.

If you’re relying primarily on PPC to generate traffic, you’re going to miss out on a large amount of potential traffic. That’s not to say that PPC doesn’t matter. It’s simply that compared to organic search, the ROI can be much higher on the organic side.

Need further proof?

Conquering Ad Blindness with SEO

We at Terakeet of course are huge believers in the power of organic search to conquer ad blindness and win in the SERPs overall. For a new retailer, for example, we helped grow its organic search traffic from zero when it was launching the business to more than 530,000+ monthly organic visits within the first seven months of the engagement. You can only imagine the outrageous cost that would have required if done through paid search.

We’ve helped countless clients through the years with this type of organic growth. As ad blindness in the SERPs increases over time, as we suspect it will, companies that have strong SEO in place will be better positioned to capitalize on traffic opportunities from the SERPs longer-term.

SEO Domination. At Scale. Terakeet delivers powerful SEO results that help your brand to dominate your category online

Creating a Lasting Asset

In addition to the problem of ad blindness, PPC also doesn’t add lasting value to your website. In other words, as soon as your campaign ends, the traffic dries up.

Investing in SEO, on the other hand, turns your website into a lasting asset that will generate traffic and sales for years (when done right).

You can think of it like the difference between renting and owning a house. When you rent, you pay every month and all you get in return is the right to stay in the house. When you buy, you build equity, increase the value of the house, and can eventually sell for a profit.

SEO turns your website into an asset that increases in value over time. The more visibility you earn, the more traffic you drive, the more brand equity you build. Plus, the more that this cycle continues, the more repeat traffic, links, and mentions you typically earn.

This isn’t to say that PPC doesn’t have its place. If you need a quick surge of traffic or are running a time-sensitive offer, throwing money into advertisements can be a good short-term solution.

In the long-run, though, the ROI on SEO is much higher than PPC.

PPC is like lighter fluid. It can give you a burst of traffic but can’t sustain it. SEO is like throwing logs on a fire. The more put into it, the “hotter” your website gets and the longer the results last.


As we’ve seen with banner ads, people become accustomed to them and then they start to ignore them to the tune of a 0.1% CTR. We’re now seeing a similar type of behavior beyond the banner, and inside the SERPs.

Meanwhile, organic listings still drive 20X higher traffic than that of paid search ads. The organic traffic enables you to strengthen your brand sustainably and in a compounded manner.

Expect ad blindness to only increase as more and more people become hyper-aware of the ads at the top of the Google SERPs. Capture as much organic real estate in the SERPs as you can, and you may just be 20X happier.

Smarter. Scalable. SEO. Learn to Dominate Your Product or Service Category in SEO.