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Time to Rethink the Strategy of Trying to get google Organic Traffic

     
7:15 pm on Nov 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I don't know what I don't know but I can tell you this: If you are trying to get organic traffic from google you are now competing directly with google. You will lose. google is too good at what they do.

The primary function of the SERPs is to generate ad clicks. Try and sugar coat it all you want with altruistic sprinkles but at the end of the day google is a business and their business is generating ad revenue. And again, they are very good at it. How good? Well, google reported that in the third quarter 2018 they had a 62% year over year increase in paid clicks on google properties from the third quarter in 2017. That's pretty good.

How did they do this? "Optimization" Specifically optimizing the SERPs to encourage ad clicks. Every move made now and forward will be with an eye towards this goal. Every change will be measured by AI to determine the affect on ad clicks. Ad clicks are/will be the first and most heavily weighted metric considered when analyzing changes to the SERPs. Every component of the SERPs will be tested, the layout, the ads, the widgets, and the organic results.

Many will dismiss this, that's fine. While you contemplate links, structured data, and article word count google's only concern will be whether or not your site in the organic results has a negative or positive affect on ad clicks. No website is immune from being judged by this metric. I have seen a website backed by google ventures and spending millions on ads find their organic listing on page 3 after years of dominating the organic results. Being backed by google ventures you can bet they had the best SEO advice available.

I don't have the answer as to what you should do now but know this, keep toiling away trying to get that free traffic and you're spitting into the wind.
9:07 pm on Nov 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I wonder what overall percentage of google searchers click on an ad rather than an organic result, answer box, or nothing at all, etc. Does anyone have an estimate?

For example, suppose 10% of all searches lead to a click on an ad, 20% on an answer box or something else, and 20% don't click on anything, then that still leaves up to 50% clicks on organic results.

Edit: P.S. I should have excluded clicks on youtube

Edit2: I must not be thinking straight. the answer box can send traffic
9:24 pm on Nov 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Is it worth mentioning YouTube diversion? It's traffic diversion to another ad platform that takes up a whole lot of page position. I consider those a block of ads as well. Not to say video is bad, but there is a video search for that with a link that says "video". The only way to say it is that 90%+ of the people going to the web, do so through Google, and they are essentially a strainer to the "web". They get a cut of most everything that tries to filter into the web. That's the reality. It's discouraging, but things will run their course. Eventually. Investing in pursuing organics? Stupid idea. Most experts here have sites that were established prior to the filter where they could get noticed/links and some authority. You can't get to that authority stage through old fashioned organics. Look at the webmaster activity. That's the pulse and look at how underwhelming the community is as a whole. One big filter. Most of what I had, Google now competes with me. Ads and affiliate links. Can't beat them at those shopping ads, that's for sure. Cut off at the pass. There is more harm coming out of the organic results than what I've touched on, but that's another discussion all together. Let's just say, if it's not common, Google will point you elsewhere to things that people are talking about. Rather than saying "we don't know", they say, "here, everyone else is interested in this so maybe this is more what you wanted". Thanks for the AI.
10:22 pm on Nov 1, 2018 (gmt 0)

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That would be interesting information to have, both historically and moving forward to see how it has/will change. Wonder if google would provide it? (Danny?)

Just looking at some data that was compiled by a third party:
CTR on #1 organic listings:
September 2018: 29.03%
September 2017: 33.55%

While that is a statistically significant drop it's not really what I'm talking about regarding "optimizing" the SERPs. All other elements of the SERPs aside, and specifically talking about the organic listings, I think the flux reported regarding which sites are listed is google testing organic result sets to see the affect on ad clicks. For just about any search google has a large pool of "relevant" websites to display. I think there is less "relevancy" weight being applied when ranking sites and more "ad clicks" weight being applied.

If that's the case, getting listed in the organic listings is more a product of not negatively affecting ad clicks than relevancy or traditional SEO.

All of us (should) optimize our pages for conversion, I have no doubt google does also.
12:50 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I generally see few ads (and often no ads) on the SERPs where our results appear. So, if Google is optimizing those SERPs to get people to click on ads, it isn't doing a very good job.

If Google really wanted to maximize revenue from its SERPs, it could run display ads and behaviorally-targeted text ads with its search results, including Google News results. That hasn't happened, which leads me to believe that Google feels--and maybe has learned through testing or market research--that ads are a better fit for commercial queries than for informational queries. (Somebody who's searching on "st catherine of siena" or "symptoms of heart failure" probably isn't isn't a great target for search ads, but someone who's searching on "widget installers in Shelbyville" may be perfectly happy with a Yellow Pages approach. Ads can be a valuable form of content if they meet the reader's or searcher's needs.)
1:31 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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While that is a statistically significant drop

What makes you say it's statistically significant?

Regarding your general premise that you are competing against Google, all I have to say is "Duh!". This should be obvious to anyone. It's a symbiotic relationship where Google depends on you to make money and you depend on them, with the difference that they hold all the power thanks to the fact that they can be completely indifferent with respect to which sites they choose to float to the top. But this isn't new. As Google's power grows they can take more for themselves and they and will continue to do so.

But your theory about some algorithmic optimization that promotes results that cause user the click on more ads sounds more like a conspiracy theory than anything else. There is no need for such complex systems when you can simply add more knowledge graphs, more Youtube carousels, more ads, more shopping carousels and more links to Google pages disguised as organic results that lead to even more Google results.

So yes we are competing against Google, in a market with nearly no barriers to entry, with extreme competition. So this is hardly an ideal environment for new and existing business to thrive. But there is no need conspiracy theories.
1:51 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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My apologies for not specifying that I'm talking about commercial (transactional) searches. Clearly there's no reason to optimize the SERPs for ad clicks on ads that don't exist.

it could run display ads and behaviorally-targeted text ads with its search results

That's probably still a few years out. They will likely need to maximize their current inventory before they add other monetizing opportunities to the SERPs. google News is a different animal, separate from the SERPs.

In commercial searches Adwords is very good content, it's a great product google has developed. It's of such quality that, for commercial searches, it affords google the opportunity to "tweak" the organic results to encourage ad clicks without significant damage to searcher satisfaction.
1:57 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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While my traffic continues to rise, less and less comes from Search Engines. This trend has been growing for several years.
2:02 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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and you depend on them

I haven't depended on google since 2012.

theory about some algorithmic optimization

I said nothing about an "algorithmic" optimization. As for conspiracy theory, google has already been shown to demote websites in favor of it's products, history repeats...

It's not that complicated, it's just business. It's more off the wall to think that google does not optimize it's web pages for conversion like every other business on the internet does.
3:31 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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google's only concern will be whether or not your site in the organic results has a negative or positive affect on ad clicks.


So does that mean Google doesn't prefer brands anymore? All these conspiracy theories cancel each other out.
:p <--- Tongue in cheek.

Don't compete with Google. Be a destination.
I know people who have been banned by Google and who are making millions without Google. I don't know if you've noticed but Google is NOT the internet.

The premise of this discussion (Time to Rethink the Strategy of Trying to get google Organic Traffic) is spot on. I agree with it 100%.

But the wrong approach is to adopt the mindset that Google is the Internet and that without Google you don't exist. That's a misunderstanding of the facts.
Open your eyes to the possibilities. Rethinking the strategy of trying to get organic traffic can be so much more than just an excuse or a rationalization of failure.

I wrote an article about it this week. But my premise is that it's a launching pad for exceeding without Google.
5:32 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Your existence and relevance is dependent on that fallacy. Hence the passion.
7:17 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Trying to get google Organic Traffic
I've said this in numerous threads... Don't rely on SE traffic. That business model is nearly dead.

Too many websites now compete for those top positions and at the same time a smaller percentage of people use SEs to find websites.

Find alternative traffic. Find an alternative business plan. Get some of that SM traffic. Get the App traffic. Be innovative.
9:59 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Don't compete with Google. Be a destination.

And therein lies the point of it all. To be successful, an online business needs to concentrate on getting their customers before google does. Be a destination, be a starting point, stop chasing traffic from google and jumping through all the hoops that come with it.

All too often when we talk about the SERPs folks get the blinders on and focus on some altruistic idea of the 10 blue links (the organic list) powered by a benevolent algorithm. The organic results are not the SERPs. The organic results are a small and increasing irrelevant widget on the SERPs for commercial searches.

It's been 18+ years since google stole adwords from Overture. It's no startup in year 18 but it's conversions are growing like it is, why do you think that is?
11:04 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@MrSavage I see the youtube videos almost like ads as well. A Google owned property that can show people ads and they get paid for it without any user interaction beyond clicking on the video. I don't mind having videos in the serps but giving them special widgets and image snapshots makes them much more inviting to click on. Showing a frame of video in the serps is as usefully as showing a screenshot of a web page. Many times in our niche the videos in the carousel are then repeated again right after in the serps.

With all the ads now and how close they look to organic search combined with the content Google takes and displays as their own in the information widgets, at some point they will get themselves in trouble, just not sure how many of us there will be left..
11:57 am on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I agree with the premise - time to rethink..

It might be nice to be a destination, but not every business can aspire to that, it isn't in the positioning of their activities.
12:49 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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not every business can aspire to that

True. However, every online business should have the mindset of being a destination site. The online model of a commercial website getting it's traffic organically is, at best, room temperature (maybe not deceased but the chances of survival are slim).

My main point of this topic is to point out that *IF* google is adjusting the organic section based on ad click data (and I clearly think they are) then all of the tactics constantly discussed here (SEO, links, structured data, article word count) are irrelevant. In my opinion, it is negligent to think that google is not optimizing every part of a commercial SERP to improve ad clicks. The organic listings are a part of the SERPs and they affect ad clicks. Based on my observations, this is something new. Just started over the last few months. The flux of the organic listings is basic A/B testing, data gathering, and optimization.
2:48 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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The recent financials dispel the conspiracy argument that many shills have relied on. The "numbers" show pretty clearly direction, future priorities and where Google ultimately can make more money. I've never quite understood the enthusiasm to find the pot of gold that exists out there when Google is mid to high 90% of search, mobile or otherwise. They own almost all of online video. If there does exist a way to thrive without relying on Google organics, why are you so confident that this "loophole" isn't going to be address by Google in the near future? If they are missing out (you're thriving) on a corner of the web, why would they just let that be? They exist to profit and if you have such a great business model that doesn't rely on them? You bet they will know about it and guess what? Profit brings out predatory behavior. So it might be considered stupid to think at this point that your safe zone, not relying on Google is actually solid footing and a stable business model. All you can hope is that you have a big enough brand with enough money and traffic that your ads/content have value to Google and they offer you up as one of the chosen ones. Be on this side of the internet and you can help Google's cause because life is very very good on that side.
3:04 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Find alternative traffic. Find an alternative business plan. Get some of that SM traffic. Get the App traffic. Be innovative.


While this is nice in theory, in practice almost nobody is successful at bringing in organic Google traffic and having a large social media following. I built up a decent social media following when it was more tied into boosting your organic rank in Google. It never brought in any revenue because SM followers 1) don't spend much and 2) are looking for very cheap price point when they do. My price point is high and I have no low price products to sell to my SM followers. I abandoned building a following because it was just a waste of my time. So while SM boosts one's profile, it generally doesn't bring in much revenue if you sell physical products. Keep in mind that people in my field generally still sell through bricks and mortar locations and are all now running to close their retail locations and sell online.

We have seen that SM platforms are also squeezing in the same way Google does and are worse actually, it's 100% pay to play now. I've run ads on Facebook...lots of traffic and no increase in sales. I would gladly pay Google and Facebook (and Amazon) to advertise, IF it actually worked. But in my experience you might as well just light that cash on fire. So, if you have spent 15 years bringing in the majority of sales from Google organic search there is no where to turn except possibly sales through a few partner sites which are the de facto marketplace for these types of high-value items. Since they take 40-50% of the sale it will be for a much lower profit, not a great option either.
3:39 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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In commercial searches Adwords is very good content, it's a great product google has developed. It's of such quality that, for commercial searches, it affords google the opportunity to "tweak" the organic results to encourage ad clicks without significant damage to searcher satisfaction.

Why would they need to tweak the organic results? They can just serve more ads, and better ads, in more prominent positions. That's easier (and less likely to create legal, PR, or personnel problems) than letting ad managers be the bosses of search engiineers.
4:22 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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They can just serve more ads, and better ads, in more prominent positions.

Good question. Sell less for more. Limited ad space means higher auction price. Spend less on customer acquisition (the advertiser is google's customer). More clicks at a higher price, exactly what their quarterly report shows.

Legal problems? No, no legal issues with google's "opinion" (organic results, first amendment)

PR Problems? No, no significant damage to searcher satisfaction.

Personnel problems, well google certainly has their share of those lately... However, nothing to do with ad managers, and probably nothing to do with organic search engineers. Probably falls under the SERP designers. it's their job to make sure to SERPs are functioning as intended.

Keep in mind, I'm not talking about major tweaks here. Flip #1 result with #3 can make a significant impact on ad clicks. The algorithm gives you a pool of a 100,000 (made up number) pages, nothing after page 2-3 really matters. So you take the top 30 results and shuffle them around just enough to give the highest and best click through rate on the ads. All the top results are still there, just in a manner that creates the best environment for ad clicks.
4:56 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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So you take the top 30 results and shuffle them around just enough to give the highest and best click through rate on the ads. All the top results are still there, just in a manner that creates the best environment for ad clicks.

Thanks, I needed a good laugh.
7:23 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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It's not about shuffling results, but shuffling text snippets associated with the results. AI, in addition to answer boxes, tries to provide a complete answer to the query by using text snippet from search results. Humans read from top to bottom and almost all of them scan the snippets; when AI does a good job, there's no need to even click on organic links. That may explain why some "weird" results rank high -- they contain a sentence or keywords that makes the snippet answers accurate or complete.
11:16 pm on Nov 2, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Thanks for your very informative post robzilla.

Seems that those who are so dismissive either believe that google is the only business on the internet that purposely does not optimize their web pages for conversions or they are SEO consultants...

Text snippets and title re-writes, yes, all part of the optimization of the SERPs. I saw a snippet re-write a couple of weeks ago where instead of anything related to the page or search google chose to show the site's "disclaimer."
12:16 am on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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It seems obvious that things are changing a lot with Google. When we do a search on the smartphone it is very difficult to reach organic results. Before, we have a lot of junk, everything google stuff: ads, videos, boxes, etc ... If I search on a subject related to one of my sites, I see an ad from a small local company at the top of the results page, which before it appeared on my site. Now I have those ads that no one wants, for baldness, varicose veins, dating, joint pains, the gadget to pay less electricity and so on...
In addition Google disguises ads to mimic organic results and does everything to divert the visitor to YouTube where they also serve ads.

The famous boxes with extracts of the sites aim to keep the visitor on the search/results page. Adblock lets ads pass through SERPS but not on our sites. They receive money from Google.

Content sites are the most affected. I do not see a solution, I wish there were more search engines competing with Google. Maybe users become aware of what is going on and take action, I do not know.

Forgot to say Hi!
I am from Portugal and my English is not so good, sorry.
3:23 am on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Google is the Big Casino on the Web ... and we all know Odds are always in the House's favor. :)

Or, as the adage from that hokey flick "War Games":

"The only winning move is not to play."
6:58 am on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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@Malanje, excellent post. Very concise and it's nice to have a fresh opinion. You've hit on the key points.
9:13 am on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Adblock lets ads pass through SERPS but not on our sites. They receive money from Google.

Anyone can be whitlisted by Adblock Plus (not the other adblockers). This is something I've discovered here at WW. This is Free for "us", only very-very big publishers are required to donate something.
12:27 pm on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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About Google results, that does not mean they are on the right track. Maybe they could have won even more. Since mid-March, my sites have reduced adsense earnings by an average of 85%, comparing each month of this year with the same month last year. It was the combined result of drop in organic traffic and CPC value. Imagine if all sites were like those of mine.

Maybe we should ask Facebook and Amazon to come to the playground too. Fighting fire with fire. It's not enough to have more search engines, must be Authoritative too, from Trademarks that people love.

@justpassing
We all know this, but it is not practical to follow adblock conditions. Of course they argue what you said about major player payments, and they say more, that money is used to finance the work they have with small websites. How many small sites do you know that have been white-listed by adblock? And are they doing more with the imposed restrictions in ad quantity and placements? I am using Ublock Origin right now, I don't like to be cheated. Any way this is not the main problem many of us are facing at this moment.
1:31 pm on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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Since mid-March, my sites have reduced adsense earnings by an average of 85%... ...Imagine if all sites were like those of mine.

As I mentioned in my post above, Google is indifferent as to the websites that appear in search and where its ads appear. The bottom line is that the while users didn't go to your website to see ads they went to another website or to many others and saw ads and in nearly every case Google still took its cut of the action. So you lost 85% of the pie, but Google still managed to hang on to the full 100% of its pie.
1:35 pm on Nov 3, 2018 (gmt 0)

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I should add that Google only takes a small portion of ad-revenue when it shows AdSense ads but when it shows ads on its own property it takes 100% of the revenue. So Google isn't fully indifferent, it prefers to keep users on it own properties.
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