The Google results page has changed a lot since I started working in this industry 8+ years ago. With paid results now taking up more of the page, and local results being pulled in, it seems there isn't much room left for the original organic search listings. But this doesn't mean that you should disregard your SEO activities, in fact it is cause to strengthen your rankings. And below, I'll tell you why they're still important.
The amount of organic results appearing above the fold is decreasing. For example, a result search for "shoes" (not that I buy shoes over the internet personally) shows just one organic, non-local result above the fold:
The image shows a search for "shoes" on Google.
Google has an interest in making as much money as they can. So filling the page up with paid results is in their interest. Congratulations to Office.co.uk for ranking number 1 for "shoes" by the way.
Of course not all searches are this thin on organic results. A search for "theatre tickets" (something that I do purchase online) has no local results for me, despite living in close distance to a number of theatres:
The above image is a search for "Theatre tickets"
And that's how the majority of commercial search terms appear to me: There are four organic results above the fold. So, if you're selling theatre tickets, you want your site to appear in the top four positions. Tenth place or even fifth place just doesn't cut it.
Going back to 2011, we took on a new client that had mediocre rankings and relied on their paid search performance for income, as well as referrals and an email marketing campaign. Organic traffic only represented 34% of their traffic and a lower percentage of their conversions and revenue.
I cannot show you the specific conversion data for obvious reasons, but here's the top path conversion info for your interest:
The above image shows an example of Top Path Conversion data from 2011 in Google Analytics. Paid search occupies half of the top positions.
5 of the top 10 methods of entry to our client's website before converting were through paid search. The numbers of conversions for people who landed on the website through paid search and purchased on that visit were nearly double the next best method: Organic Search.
And as you can see by the fourth entry in the graph, they didn't have a big brand name at all.
After working on their account for the whole of 2011, specifically on the organic side of things, we improved their organic rankings, made changes to the website and began to see better conversions from organic search.
By the end of 2012, organic traffic was responsible for 40% of the traffic and a greater share of the conversions and revenue. And by this stage, we were also competing in the social sphere, as well as a larger email marketing portfolio.
As you can see by the top path conversions data pulled from Google Analytics below, Organic Search > Direct and Organic Search conversions were hot on the tail of paid search. On top of this, their brand conversions (Direct x2 and Direct x3) were more than double the previous year. For the record, they've never done any television, radio or newspaper advertising (at least to my knowledge):
The above image shows an example of top path conversion data from 2012 in Google Analytics
Another year's worth of work took place throughout 2012. We had Penguin and Panda algorithms to be wary of as well as competitors.
Two months into the New Year, and direct traffic and organic traffic were responsible for more conversions than paid search in 2013 for our client.
Paid search is now only responsible for 3 of the top 10 methods and there's already a large gap appearing between the number of conversions in positions 5 and 6 in the screenshot below.
The above image shows an example of top path conversion data for January-February 2013 in Google Analytics
Organic search and direct visitors to the website are now responsible for significantly more conversions than Paid Search, which 2 years ago was dominating.
Looking at the top conversion paths' data in Google Analytics for one of my clients between 1 January 2011 and 28 February 2013, the performance of our results in Google SERPs remains as strong as ever:
*(brackets) represent yearly position. The above image shows a comparison for the top 10 conversion paths from the years 2011, 2012 and 2013
Through the first few months of 2013, organic traffic was responsible for 40% of this client's conversions: direct traffic 30% and paid search just 20%.
In terms of what this means for a client, a paid search spend may be putting their campaign at the top of the results for a single term, but they are neglecting organic search optimization, where their site can appear for broader search terms - yielding more visits and lots more conversions.
This is of course, just one case study. And paid search is beneficial when running a quick campaign to find out top performing keywords relevant to your industry, product or service. However, in the long-term, an SEO strategy supplemented with continual analysis and performance reviews can and will always drive greater traffic, regardless of how much space organic results occupy on the page.
If you think you need to boost or take control of your company's organic rankings, our SEO services are tailored to meet your needs and are focused upon long term goals.
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