The Changing Face of Organic Search
In the early days of Internet marketing, an SEO’s job was fairly simple; get as many of the right links as possible, and watch our client’s website climb in Google ranking for their keywords. In some ways, the job is still the same as it always was, but in other ways it’s nearly unrecognizable. As the Internet has grown and adapted, Google has been right there, watching it work and making its own changes. As any company should, Google has focused a lot of energy on making their product better and easier to use. This has meant a variety of things: new types of search, algorithm tweaks and updates on a twice-daily basis, and universal search, which introduced new types of results to standard Google searches.
While these changes are overall a great thing, and have allowed Google to continue to reign almighty among search engines, they have very often resulted in a decrease in the number of organic results above the fold or even on the page at all. This is bad news for Internet marketers and businesses in general.
Wait a second – organic search?
Organic search results are the results that appear not because a business paid to insert them at the top of a results page, but because Google (or Bing, or another search engine) determined that the website was relevant to the search query. This is what many webmasters without a large marketing budget rely on for a large percentage of their online sales or traffic.
What’s Pushing Organic Results Down?
The changes to organic search have been gradual, though the majority of the big changes have occurred in the last several years. Ads are a big thing; like any other service, Google is looking to increase its revenue as much as possible, and they have had monumental success selling AdWords advertising. These ads appear on the side of your search results, or highlighted in pale yellow above them. Some searches have three AdWords results above the organic results; some just have one or none, if nobody bought advertising for that keyword.
Universal search has also had a lot to do with the changes; many search queries now trigger a box of results of another kind – images, videos, news, local results, and more. This is called “blended search,” and it’s been in use for almost five years, though it has exploded recently. Some of these results appear on the side – search for “English bulldog,” for example, and you will get a panel about English bulldogs with a few images, information about the breed, and suggestions of similar searches that people make.
However, some search queries were hit particularly hard. For example, search for “pictures of cats” and not only will you see a large box of photos straight from image search, but there are only six organic results listed as opposed to the typical ten! And shopping-oriented searches are pushed around in different ways. When I search “washing machines,” I see two paid ads and then a box for results from Google Shopping, which is also paid advertising, all before the first organic result. At a smaller resolution, that could push anything organic under the fold entirely! After the first three results, several local results push down the rest of the organic ones. This is great news for local businesses, but bad news for online-only washing machine vendors.
A search for “private investigators” is similar, with three paid ads and seven local results pushing organic results entirely off the bottom of my (rather large) screen. Not great news for the private investigator company I do Internet marketing for!
So What Can I Do?
Well, at first glance, not much.
Google ultimately controls the appearance of the search engine results pages, and if your best keywords have been steadily filling up with non-organic results, there’s not much you can do. You’re going to take a hit in traffic and conversions. These new results pages are unpredictable, algorithmically determined, and seem to change frequently, utterly screwing with the conventional wisdom that the top spot garners over one third of all clicks.
If most of your traffic and revenue was riding on a few hard-hit keywords, it may be in your best interest to just drop some cash. Get your AdWords on, and get your products listed in Google Shopping. It can be hard on your budget, but at least you’re up there.
That said, taking note of the variety of blended search options that appear with your top keywords can work in your favor if you can develop your business in these directions. If you have a plumbing business and some of your best pages about fixing common household problems are being pushed down by several video results, why not target those searches with a how to video?
In the end, remember that organic search can change rapidly and without warning. Focusing on good content, social media and shareability will help to insulate you from these changes, especially the sudden ones!
Adrienne Erin is an internet marketer and blogger. If you’re looking for more of her work, follow her on Twitter @adrienneerin, or check out her biweekly features on SiteProNews.