Last week, I wrote about where to get trustworthy SEO advice and said:

“Google and Facebook incrementally and slowly pushing everyone to advertise to get the kind of results which used to come for free — this means considering advertising in your marketing plan, even if you are a publisher which makes money from ads on your website.”

One client emailed me to ask more about this. They knew Facebook was pushing people to advertise but not Google. This week, I’m sharing some more about these changes to help you better understand and respond to them.

Google is constantly running many experiments and in some cases, using that data to change the results they provide to searchers, and also how they present them.

Every time Google makes one of these changes, it can have an impact on your organic search traffic, even if you are changing nothing on your website.

Moz has a thorough timeline outlining Google’s changes which is helpful to refer to if you notice changes in your Google organic search traffic.

Some examples of these changes:

  1. In February 2016, Google stopped only having one ad above and below search results and the rest in the sidebar. They changed to having four paid ads above and two paid ads below the organic results. This meant ads were a whole lot more prominent than organic results.

  2. Google has been adding Google Maps, Google My Business, Shopping, and Jobs boxes above organic results. These all reduce normal organic result clicks.

  3. Google has added a featured snippet box for many search results. This large prominent box at the top of the page highlights one organic search result from the Top 10 results (not necessarily the number one result). Oddly, it can pull in an image from a different site if they want too (but it links to a Google image search result, rather than directly to your page with the image on it). If you’re chosen as a featured snippet, your page views go way up, and consequently down if there’s a featured snippet chosen for another site which isn’t yours. Google says you cannot mark your page as a featured snippet as Google programmatically determines it. For more on featured snippets, see here and here.

  4. Google is constantly improving the design and features of AdWords ads so they look more appealing than organic results. It’s also made the advertisement label increasingly subtle so it’s hard to tell it is an ad any more.

  5. In February 2017, Google started rolling out a large expanding “People also ask box” for more and more search queries, pushing organic results further down the page.

  6. In November 2017, Google increased the length of the meta descriptions shown, making them wordier and not as nice-looking as ads.

So while you may still have a fantastic Google ranking for certain pages on your site, you can be pushed down the page by Google, which is largely out of your control… unless you advertise.

Food for thought.

For those running sites with recipes: One thing I did notice, but can’t be sure of, is that more often than not, the sites which I saw being included in featured snippets had the recipes at the start and were pretty compact pages. Perhaps Google is finding that people prefer recipes when they get to a page, rather than scrolling through a story (they can see the time on page/bounce rate etc, and load times) and are choosing to promote ones which answer the questions people have faster? It’s hard to know but it would be interesting to experiment and see if your site had a few posts which started with the recipe and didn’t have the step by step part to compare and see how your site performed for those.

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