It’s the nature of technology to change over the years. Ideally, that technology will advance and transform for the better. So, when an industry titan like Google changes the way its search results function, it’s bound to send shockwaves.
In your recent searches, we’re sure you’ve noticed that Google is serving search results in new ways, and that’s what’s making it harder for businesses to generate organic search website traffic. Let’s dig into why this is happening and what you can do in response.
Google’s Process Has Changed
While Google’s goal is still to find users the right answer, it’s changed how it presents results. Search results pages now put several Google features in the spotlight before listing organic links. Take a look:
The first hurdles you’ll face are paid Google Ads. These could be your direct competitors, larger entities you can’t contend with or unhelpful spam websites with money to burn. It makes sense that Google would push paid ads to the top of their results. In 2021, they were reported to be Google’s most significant source of revenue, coming in at a whopping $148.95 billion.
Next, there will often be a “featured snippet,” where Google tries to briefly answer a user’s question. This snippet is usually taken from a top-ranking organic website. If a snippet answers a user’s question, that’s likely when their session will end.
If not, the “knowledge card” on the right-hand side will catch their eye next. The knowledge card will define a concept or give a quick overview of the subject users are searching for, often pulled from varying sources.
Notice that we still haven’t hit organic results yet. Users still have news stories, Google Images, Google Maps, shopping ads and a list of frequently asked questions to scroll past before that.
With so many results being served, it’s likely your user will have found the answer they’re looking for before they’re able to reach organic search results, meaning they’ll miss seeing your website (especially if it isn’t ranking on the first page of Google’s search results.) Lastly, Google now prioritizes optimization over consistency. Over the last few years, the search engine has increased the amount of platform algorithm updates. In 2022, there were nine confirmed Google updates, two of which were larger core updates. And those updates can be extensive. According to Google, their team ran over 700,000 experiments in 2021 that resulted in more than 4,000 improvements to search. While intended to be helpful, these updates can cause an abrupt negative impact on your search visibility and traffic as search results equilibrate to the new changes
The company also isn’t keen on explaining in detail what happens in Google updates or the ins and outs of their algorithms. That sometimes means even accomplished experts are left experimenting with strategies, which doesn’t bode well for marketing teams new to SEO.
Artificial intelligence is another feature you might not even realize you’re competing against within Google Search.
“The AI attempts to understand not just what the searcher is typing, but what the searcher is trying to get at,” says Haynes. “It’s trying to understand the content inside pages and inside queries, and that will change the type of result people get.”
As it works to achieve that understanding, Google’s AI has focused on flashing an immediate answer from larger, more popular websites, followed by several of the features we discussed above before a user can reach organic links from smaller businesses. While this can be in the user’s favor, it hurts the likelihood of organic traffic for your website.
And very recently, Google has added a brand-new feature. When you type in Google’s search bar, you’ll see more than just recommended keywords. Google added different sections, like “People also ask,” “People also search for” and “Trending topics” right within your search bar, so many folks don’t even need to scroll down to where your business’ website might be.
Decreasing Search Results and Increasing Competition
In the past, Google has presented 10 organic links on the first page of their search results, but over the years, that number has been shrinking to between 7-9 results. That means the fight for first-page placement is even fiercer, and you’re going up against more companies than ever before.
Marissa Mayer is a technology expert, former president and CEO of Yahoo! and was one of the first 21 employees of Google. She had a hand in developing their major features like Google Maps and was a part of the team that built Google AdWords. On an episode of the Freakonomics podcast, she noted how many more companies have been added to Google since its inception.
“…When I started at Google, there were about 30 million web pages, so crawling them all and indexing them all was relatively straightforward. It sounds like a lot, but it’s small. Today, I think there was one point where Google had seen more than a trillion URLs.”
That’s a lot of other companies to go up against, especially when an estimated 175 websites are created daily. And the cards are stacked against those new sites, which could be falling victim to the Google Sandbox. This is a hypothetical explanation for why it takes months for new websites to see organic results. It proposes that Google has a filter for new websites that’s intended to quarantine them for a certain amount of time. Google hasn’t confirmed this, but it’s been a persistent rumor for almost 20 years. Either way, it’s clear that new websites require time and consistent strategizing to rank on Google.
What to Do
So, now you know what’s hurting your Google SEO – but what can you do about it? Here are a few high-level measures you can take:
Complete a Content Audit: Get a better understanding of your content’s performance and what resonates best with your audience. From there, you can focus on those subjects, tying in your researched keywords. Our free content audit template can help you get started.
Experiment with Paid Advertising: Yes, it’s frustrating to feel like you have to “pay to play” in order to make an impact on Google. But search and display ad campaigns let you choose your own budget, write your own ads and benefit from Google’s AI that will choose the combination of your ad assets most likely to succeed. Ready to start your first Google Ad search campaign?
We understand that improving your website’s SEO can be a time-consuming and often frustrating task for beginners or time-strapped business owners. Our team can create a strong SEO foundation for your website and implement strategies designed for growth. If you’re ready to build your company’s organic search presence, contact us today.