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Google Organic Traffic Erosion

Organic Erosion slide

Over the past year, we have seen a fair number of our clients, non-clients, and other business owners and SEO professionals reporting a noticeable decline in organic traffic specifically from Google.

The thing is, nothing has really changed on their end. They still have great website visibility, websites, and content.

They aren’t losing their rankings either. The vast majority of our clients still have stable or growing visibility on Google for their respective practice areas. Many client’s visibility have gotten much better.

Nevertheless, when we look at the reports, the traffic from Google Organic seems to still be static or dropping for a fair number of clients. But… why?

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Organic traffic (SEO) erosion, the term used by marketers, is not a new phenomenon. When you are in the digital marketing game long enough, you see a few trends and come to expect it.

“SEO erosion occurs when organic traffic for keywords declines over time for a reason that’s not related to an issue with the website” – Kevin Indig (2023)

The internet is constantly shifting its focus, priorities, and systems, and at the end of the day, we have to just play the best hand we can with what is dealt to us… and Google is *currently* the dealer.

But in the last year, there are more than a few things that seem to be affecting our clients’ traffic. Keeping with the card analogy, it seems like the dealer has been stripping the deck of all the aces and kings and keeping them for himself.

Organic traffic erosion

* January 2024 webinar slide showing how Google results page has changed since 2022.

Google Wants a Bigger Slice of Your Pie

Perhaps the biggest change over the recent year, and likely the factor having the biggest impact on traffic over the last year, is the major changes that have been made to the layout of the Google SERPs, or results pages that pop up when you make a query.

To put it bluntly, Google is occupying more space per query. Unfortunately, not even this is new. In 2016, Google made huge increases to the number of ads that came up on a page. For many, that intrusion alone was enough to seriously harm organic traffic for anyone underneath the number two or three spot.

But, since then, it’s only gotten worse. Paid ads are still omnipresent, and Google is showing even more elements outside of search results on the page, adding value (aka distractions) to the user through more Google-owned real estate and “helpful” results.

Whether it is a sidebar of information for a business or topic, rich results like images or videos, related queries, “People also ask”,  anything that lands on the SERP that isn’t your website it’s bound to have some kind of negative impact on a website’s overall organic traffic.

“Google wants to completely eradicate users leaving their search results and will now show you their own “From Sources” answers to search terms. These answers are taken without consent from the publisher’s content and are stolen from creators’ work so that Google can give you “their” answer instead, lowering the chances of readers exploring websites”… Brandon Saltalamacchia – Retro Dodo “Google is Killing Retro Dodo & Other Independent Sites

Featured Snippets and SGE

When Featured Snippets were announced in 2014, SEOs everywhere sighed collectively in lament. “Why would anyone click into other results when the answer is given to them immediately on top of the SERP?” Some people told them they were overreacting, but, years later, there was some reputable data to back it up:

“50.3 percent of all searches end without a click to other content” – (2019)

This means roughly than half of all searches generate no traffic to websites while still generating traffic and Ad impressions for Google.

And with the advent of Search Generative Experience, Google’s foray into implementing artificial intelligence into search, statistics like this are likely to get worse.

LocalU webinar: "Is having a website worth it anymore?"

* March 2024 webinar Email promo: “Does having a website even matter anymore, as Google sends fewer clicks to it?”

Now that Google is able to pull information from multiple third party websites, aggregate it, and display it at the top of every SERP, there may be even less reason for anyone to scroll and click beyond their initial search query.

If someone Google’s “what if a neighbor’s tree falls on my car,” the answer to this question, and many other questions are presented within search results. The worst part is that it’s a business’ website providing the answer, but not receiving any traffic.

With the increasing number of zero click searches this causes, it should come as no surprise that many law firms may continue to see tepid growth in their organic traffic, let alone breaking even. The exception of course being those firms that have new websites or those that are gaining visibility.

The Internet Is Competitive

As niches begin to fill out, and industries become more saturated, many more people will turn to paid traffic over organic traffic. This means a lot of the organic traffic that would be directed to a top position in a search results page may instead be steered toward businesses who have “Local Screened” or a PPC campaign running.

Natural Keyword Attrition

You may have found that certain terms and keywords you focused on in the past are not pulling in the same numbers they used to. New phrases, jargon, slang, or just general public trends can move away from your original keyword strategy… which means you need to be constantly looking at your program to stay ahead.

Real world example of key phrase attrition: Everest Legal Marketing has a long term (5+ year) client who is ranking top 3 for an article about filming the police during a traffic stop. In 2020 after the death of George Floyd, this single article was getting 2,000+ views per month. In the year following, this client saw a 30-40% decrease in organic traffic every month but his tracked rankings for his entire keyword portfolio was better than ever. People’s search behavior changed.

It typically isn’t this drastic for law firm search, but it is an issue we see often.

The key thing to pay attention to is if you are receiving less traffic than before, is it because of declining rankings, declining demand, or key phrases that need to be retargeted?

The End is Nigh?

"SEO is dead again" displayed on computer screenAs in years past, many people will say that “SEO is finally dead”, but I think search is a bit more resilient. People will always need to find things and services, and at the end of the day search engines, ChatGPT, Gemini, SGE etc. will always need to source information to deliver to your potential clients.

It may just be packaged a bit differently than we’ve become used to, and as search marketers we have to be prepared to adapt.

Organic traffic is still the #1 source of traffic for ALL of our clients. Typically 60 – 80% of traffic for our clients comes in through the Organic channel, even those with robust PPC & LSA campaigns.

Most marketers and businesses are not prepared to turn their back on their SEO effort, even though the Google machine that benefits from their investment seems to be the one harvesting the benefit… at the moment.

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