Make no mistake. SEO will still be relevant in the foreseeable future. However, the point I’m trying to make is that SEO is more challenging and less effective than it used to be in the past. In other words, it’s harder than before to achieve first-page rankings, and even when you do, you may still not get the traffic that you were hoping for.
The Decline In Organic Traffic from Search Engines
Quite recently, Wikipedia reported a massive decline in traffic from Google, and said it was a long term trend. Yelp noticed a decline in Google traffic for the first time in June 2015. A study by Shareaholic found a 17% decline in traffic from Google between December 2013 and May 2014. Search traffic has been declining steadily for the last couple of years. Although Google still commanded a 31% share of the overall organic traffic, the downward trend is too strong to ignore.
Bing, Yahoo and other search engines have demonstrated even greater declines in traffic. But, with their share of traffic being almost negligible, we can focus on Google for the purpose of this post. Let’s look at some factors that may be responsible for the decline in traffic from Google and other search engines.
Evolution in Google’s SERP
In the last 10 years or so, Google has added a plethora of features to its SERPs. These elements may have enriched the search experience for the users, but they may also be partially responsible for the decline in organic traffic. Let’s take a look at some of the major changes Google has made to its SERP in the last decade. For this part of the post, we’re thankful to Tom Jepson at High Position.
Image: High Position
Google Maps were added (2005)
Effect on Traffic: People can directly click on the map and skip the organic results altogether. There goes your ROI on SEO, even if you were on the first page.
Video results, news, books, images, and local results combined into Google Universal Search (2007)
Image: High Position
Effect on Traffic: The cramming of all these results into one page makes it even harder for businesses to appear on the first page. The news, image, video, and local results can sometimes reduce the available first-page organic slots to 6 or less.
Google Knowledge Graph was introduced (2012)
Effect on Traffic: Google Knowledge Graph sits on top of the organic search results. It pushes the organic results down and provides the information that a person is looking for without them having to click on any of the results. The Knowledge Graph may be a major reason behind the fall of traffic to Wikipedia.
Image: High Position
Local Results Carousel was launched (2013)
Effect on Traffic: As you can see, the current SERP just shows local results above the fold. While this may be an opportunity for local businesses that have gathered great public reviews, it certainly makes the rest of the businesses appearing on the first page top-losers.
Google Organic CTRs
Appearing on Google SERP-1 is the dream of business owners investing their marketing dollars in SEO. However, earning a spot on Google’s page-1 may still not spark the kind of fireworks they expect.
As the 2014 Google Organic Click-Through Rates depict:
- The top Google result steal away 31.24% of the total SERP clicks
- More than 71% of organic clicks happen on Google’s page one
- The top 5 results receive 67.60% of all organic clicks, leaving the bottom 5 with only 3.73% of the clicks to share
- Page two and three just receive 5.59% of the total clicks
- Over 23% of the people making a search do not click on any of the results
The picture is clear, then. You need your business to appear among the top 5 results (if not the top of all results) if you really want SEO to kick in. While there may be SEO agencies telling you it’s not impossible to achieve, you should know it’s improbable. Even if you’re successful in landing a spot among the top 5, the distractive SERP elements still undermine your CTR and organic traffic.
Fortunately, there’s another development.
The Rise in Social Traffic
Just as the search traffic settles into a steady decline, social traffic is on the rise. According to research findings reported in Forbes, Social Media has already become the number one source of all website referral traffic. Social media accounted for 31.24% of all traffic that websites received in December 2014.
Facebook alone drives nearly 25% of the web’s traffic, according to findings reported by Marketing Land. Its referral traffic soared nearly 300% since December 2011, and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. The trends are reflected in the global social media ad-spend, which is projected to multiply more than 3 times between 2013 and 2017 (Emarketer).
Recommendations for Business Owners and Marketers
With search showing the symptoms of the decline stage and social media, particularly Facebook appearing to be in a vertical growth, the writing is on the wall.
- Focus on Social Media: While search or SEO cannot be ignored by any means, as it still drives almost one-third of the Internet traffic, social media has become even more important. Business owners and marketers need to focus on social media for driving traffic, and not just for maintaining a social profile.
- Ramp Up Conversion Rates: Given the recent fragmentation in the sources of traffic, marketing has become complicated. You need to work on multiple platforms and channels in order to attract people to your site. Each click-through is precious, and you must do everything to make sure that you convert the maximum number of these visitors into subscribers and customers. Hence, conversion optimization is more important today than ever before.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help analyzing your traffic data and optimizing your site for conversions.