There are a few points that seemingly need be reiterated each month in almost every continuing thread involving Google:
1. Google Search was initially an academic exercise that escaped the lab. However, with the 2000 launch of AdWords it became Google's de facto Marketing Department. And Google was on it's way to becoming an advertising agency cum network behemoth.
Our sites are simply product Google puts on it's shelves to entice visitors who in turn attract Google's customers who are, each and every one, advertisers on and through Google platforms. Webdevs and their sites are mostly interchangeable cans of soup and boxes of diapers, shiny cars and exotic vacations... Initially, at the beginning our numbers were small, competitors few, so ranking was relatively simple and easy. However, especially with the advent of AdSense for Publishers in 2003 the large ad bids in some niches caused a gold rush site building frenzy. Arbitrage raged. And the future was writ large for all to see who would. Few did.
Once WordPress allowed the less technically inclined to play and mommy bloggers became stars in the web firmament the floodgates opened and everyone was online digging for (mostly) AdSense gold via (mostly) Google referred traffic. And instead of there being a couple tens or hundreds of comparable competitors there became millions in pretty much every niche imaginable. But there is still only room for (typically) 10 on the potentially lucrative first results page for a query.
2. Google began hoarding traffic early but by 2007 with the general launch of Universal Search, again the future was writ large and again few noticed.
3. Just as SEs love automation so do webdevs and few as much as those who would game the ad networks. Ad clicking and impression flooding bots have increased exponentially YoY since the very beginning of online ads. As SEs fought back they began hiding their behaviour by becoming ubiquitous with greater human behaviours. And most webdevs do NOT have the tech skills to notice let alone identify/account for let alone block these creepy crawlers.
So we have a long history of increasing comparable competition plus a long history of increasing Google traffic hoarding plus a long history of bots swarming like locusts where at least ~20% up to ~90+% of site traffic is software...
And yet, a surprising number of webdevs take the traffic and revenue problems they face as personal targeted attacks rather than as a result of simply being pushed aside by one or all the above points. That month after month it is largely the same group that is suffering (and I do acknowledge that the suffering is real), some alternating between better and worse, a few that routinely say things are great, and a huge amount of silence from the vast majority tells it's own tale.
If a business model and/or it's execution is not succeeding (and that it once did is an excuse not a validation) then please stop doing whatever it is that you are now doing and do something else. I don't mean leave webdev; I mean do a realistic survey of one's niche and whether the resources are available not just to compete but to dominate for that is what is required in the current saturated web. And for heaven's sake please raise one's eye's up from ye olde bog standard traffic and revenue chasing...that is more an opportunity to get trampled than to win.
Time is the greatest hurdle facing webdevs, there is only so much time in a day and so many different things that need to be accomplished to build one's site/business. I know, I worked ~100+ hours a week for ~5-years; it's brutal and if success seems to always being snatched away it is intensely depressing even maddening. But so with any small business, not just on the web. What is different on the web is that the cost of entry is much lower (than B&M) and the possible returns much greater. Correspondingly, so too the competition is much greater.
Business owners (which is what webdevs are) often misattribute the 'loyalty' of a customer. A long time back I was new in town and just selected a hair salon by chance, liked the hairdresser, both as a person and as a professional; she moved to a different salon and I, as a customer, went with her to the great shock of the salon owner. To assume that Google is directly targeting your traffic quality/quantity is much as that salon owner, a misapprehension of reality. I may. of course, be wrong in that presumption, however I sense that those whose angst I read every month are smaller sites as to traffic, which means that statistical anomalies will be heightened by relatively small changes.
I do know that this month as last and as those preceding is great. My Google search absolute number of referrals is up for the umpteenth month in a row while the relative percentage is holding steady at ~22% of overall traffic. It is also, for the umpteenth year in a row the lowest converting traffic I receive; currently ~2.5% against an average conversion rate of ~9%. The math is quite striking.
For those who might want to give direct ad sales a try (yes, it is usually neither easy nor quick) a couple of links to a couple of posts I wrote almost a decade ago over at Cre8 that hint at possibilities:
Note: no paint by numbers here though perhaps a mindset reset.
* Lift Up Your Eyes From The Adsense Plains
[cre8asiteforums.com], December 2007.
* Lift Up Your Eyes II
[cre8asiteforums.com], July 2008.
Note: please excuse the Flash references, this was the long long ago when Flash roamed the web in vast animated herds :)
AdSense is cut-n-paste easy peasy simple. Direct ad sales, inclusion is not. With one you have a good amount of control, the other little to none at all. Google indexation is even simpler, ranking for a given query though is not. Remember that Google is an algorithm and what you appreciate is probably not in the software's purview. Lastly, a webdev is a biased observer; it is always beneficial (and frequently distressingly eye opening) to get strangers to - uninfluenced - test and compare your site and those of competitors. I take a laptop to local coffeehouses and bars and buy a round, user testing on the cheap.
Afterthought: one intriguing aspect of my diversification of traffic and revenue is that the more I diversified the more love I got from Google. Strange that.