SEO Marketing

Google SERP Dumps 5.5% of Organic First Page Listings

By Larry Kim August 21, 2012 Posted In: SEO Marketing Comments: 29

You may have noticed recently that Google has been showing just 7 organic search listings on the first page for many searches, instead of the usual 10. Take for example, this search for "adwords," which shows just 7 organic search listings.

Example Google SERP with just 7 Organic Search Results

Dr. Pete noticed that too, and yesterday he reported on the SEOmoz blog that Google had reduced the usual 10 search listings to just 7 on over 18% of Google searches! In my article today, I’ll just quickly summarize his rather incredible findings pertaining to the Incredible Shrinking Organic SERPs, and follow that with my own analysis and thoughts.

First, here’s a graph of the percentage of first page search results with fewer than 10 organic listings since April 4, 2012:

Percentage of Google SERP with fewer than 10 organic search listings, trended over time

In just two days, sometime around August 12-14, the number of first page search results with fewer than 10 organic search listing jumped from under 2% to over 18%! Wow.

Note: A 30% reduction of organic listings on 18.3% of SERPs approximately equals wiping out 5.5% of all first page organic listings!

What Search Queries are Impacted by the Google SERP Change?

Intrigued with Dr. Pete’s analysis of the new Google SERP, I quickly conducted my own investigation into WordStream.com’s own top 200 organic keyword listings to try to determine what kinds of keyword searches were impacted by the change. To quote the great Dr. Pete: "a sample size of less than 200 is a slap to the face of any God-fearing SEO!" Anyway, in my admittedly small sample, here's what I found:

  • 100% of the organic searches I looked at that contained sitelinks also had the new Google SERP with 7 or fewer organic listings.
  • 100% of the organic searches I looked at that did not contain sitelinks had the usual 10 organic listings.

So, based on my rudimentary research, I conclude that keyword searches with organic sitelinks, which tend to be branded/navigational searches – appear to be showing 7 or fewer organic listings, instead of the usual 10.

Update: I saw dozens of google searches with just 5 organic listings this evening! Are you seeing what I am seeing? Let me know in the comments below!

So what's the big deal? Who Cares?

Here at WordStream, I've done a lot of SEO work to drive a ton of organic traffic to my site every month. Before this most recent update, one of the oldest plays in the SEO playbook was to land a first page organic search listing for a relevant, high-volume, branded keyword search.

As a real-world example, take the keyword search "adwords," which is a branded/navigational search. Most of the time, the people who search for "adwords" are just looking for the login URL for AdWords, which is adwords.google.com – but since that’s hard to remember, the vast majority of the time, people just do a Google search and then click on the link to the AdWords login page. Heck. That's what I do, and I even happen to know the AdWords login URL. It’s probably because I’m lazy and it’s fewer keys to type out!

My company has historically had a page that ranked organically on page 1 for searches on "adwords" – our AdWords Grader tool. (It's a tool that does a free, instant audit of your AdWords account.) Through various content marketing and PR efforts, we were able to acquire enough high-value organic links to rank on page one of this incredibly competitive search term.

Here's the organic search query data for the "adwords" keyword from my Google Webmaster Tools account – I’ve blurred out some of the data here because I usually don't share Web analytics data – but my key point here is that we were averaging the 8.4th position over the last month in the United States.

That used to constitute a page one listing, but now that Google has switched this search results page from 10 organic listings to just 7, sadly, the AdWords Grader (on average) no longer makes the first page (organically) for searches on "adwords"!

Google Webmaster Tools Organic Search Query Data for Branded/Navigational Keyword

Note: If you're still seeing an organic listing for WordStream.com in the top 7 spots, it’s probably because you’ve visited WordStream.com in the past, and so Google is personalizing your search results.

The click-through rate on my organic listing for "AdWords" was pretty low, but when you factor in the hundreds of thousands of monthly searches in the US alone, we were still talking hundreds of organic clicks per month, plus we were benefiting from a "branding" value of showing up on the first of organic searches for "adwords."

It was almost as if I was doing "free" display advertising to everyone who was interested in AdWords, since the CTRs we were enjoying were roughly in the neighborhood of what you would expect to get running ads on the Google Display Network.

Sadly, after close to a year of living large off that awesome first page listing on a pretty strategic branded organic search result for my business, it appears that my remaining options are to:

  • Try to drive even more links and shares to that page to try to improve the rankings. Though, when I look at the competition from the organic listings ahead of me, including the official AdWords site, Wikipedia, the official AdWords blog, the official AdWords twitter page, etc. it seems like I’d be embarking on the equivalent of an SEO suicide mission.
  • Spend more on AdWords on that keyword, which may be what Google what hoping for in making such a change.

Why is Google Making Changes to their SERP?

Yesterday there was an interesting discussion on Search Engine Land about why Google is making this change, and what's the benefit to users? Search Engine Visibility author Shari Thurow, noted in a comment on Search Engine Land (emphasis mine):

I see the benefit. If the query is clearly navigational, then searchers don't look (or click) very far into SERPs. That's been a known fact for well over 5 years.

If the query is a combination informational/navigational, again I see the benefit. SEOs need to stop injecting their personal opinions onto web searchers. Their intent isn't always the same as our personal opinions...

... searchers with clear navigational intent don't look (or click) too far down the page. Query reformulation or refinement is quite common if a navigational query doesn't deliver the most relevant results at the top of the SERP. This is true on desktops, tablets, and mobile/cell phones. I (and my company staff) observe a lot of navigational queries on cell phones.

Wow. Well said Shari. So Google could definitely argue that the change is motivated by user experience.

The user experience argument is one that I’m quite familiar with, having 10+ years background in paid search. In AdWords, one of the first things you learn is the importance of Quality Score, and how Google would rather not show your ad at all than monetize an underperforming ad for reasons of user experience. It would appear that Google is adopting a similar philosophy on the organic search results listings.

But that doesn't mean that Google isn’t trying to stick it to SEOs. They could be doing it for both reasons. I guess it just means they have some cover, kind of like how they claimed that the Keyword Not Provided brouhaha was supposedly all about protecting user privacy.

New Google SERP - What does it all mean?

To quote the great YouTube philosopher, Hungrybear9562 – What does it mean??

Why is Google changing their SERP

Before writing out my thoughts here, I will say that I have been criticized by many people for being critical of the value of SEO as the founder of a PPC management software company. All I can say here is just to re-iterate that:

  • I've been pretty open in disclosing my position as founder of a PPC management company.
  • My opinions are equally influenced by my experiences as someone who spends half of his time in the trenches, doing SEO work.
  • I think these are legitimate points. Feedback is welcome in the comments.

So with that said, here goes!

RIP Organic Search on Navigational/Branded Keywords?

My recent post on PPC vs. SEO for High Commercial Intent Keywords didn’t specifically tackle branded/navigational keyword searches. However, if we did, I would today seriously consider putting navigational/branded keyword searches in the "better for paid search" column, or at the very least, leaning towards paid search. Reasons for this include:

  • The added challenge of now having to get a top 7 listing for branded/navigational keywords
  • The trend of reduced domain diversity in the top 7 spots, meaning the top 7 listings in branded/navigational searches have an increasing tendency to be from the same domain(s)
  • The trend of high domain authority sites crowding out the organic search results
  • The first organic listing on a 7-listing SERP is usually a six-pack site link, which soaks up a disproportionate amount of clicks.

Actually, as I am writing this post, I’m seeing dozens of branded/navigational searches with just 5 organic search listings! If this trend continues, organic search on navigational/branded keywords will be even that much harder.

The Long-Term Value of SEO: Does SEO Value Last Forever?

Recently, I wrote a (very controversial) blog post that questioned the long term value of SEO. It said among other things, to not be dependent on SEO, because Google giveth and Google taketh away. It concluded that SEO is many things, but predictable and forever it is not.

I think that when Google decides to do stuff like wipe-out around 5.5% of organic first page listings overnight, this is Google taking away. I think that these kinds of monthly changes puts into question the long term value of SEO. Like in my example, clicks that used to be in the bag, like my stable 8.4 average ranking on searches for 'adwords' and the steady stream of clicks it faithfully generated for years, is suddenly no longer as valuable as it used to be.

It's especially annoying if you consider what a pain in the butt it was to get that seemingly impossible first page listing in the first place.

More Shots Fired in the War on Free Clicks

I don’t think the timing of this change can be dismissed as a pure coincidence. Especially when viewed as a timeline over the last year, you can see a pattern of Google stepping up their efforts to make SEO harder and more confusing – take for example, last month’s confusing unnatural links notifications, and now this month, by wiping out approximately 5.5% of first page organic search results (Google's first page used to be described as "10 blue links"). I believe there is just too much going on here to all be a coincidence. (Click the image below to enlarge.)

google organic serp reduction

I suspect that this trend will continue, every month. It’s basically how Google will continue to grow their quarterly revenues and earnings. Google did nearly $40 billion in revenues last year. To grow their business by 25% this year, given that average CPC's have been falling, by my own estimations, I think they basically need to find approximately an extra 24 billion clicks on their ads. That’s got to come from somewhere!

Regardless of if you disagree with the layout of this new Google SERP, what do you think my take of what’s happening on the SERPs here?!

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Comments

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Stephen (not verified) Said:

What about exact match domains? Does nt this potentially make them even more valuable? I m seeing some search results showing 7 sites when the EMD has only 2 sitelinks

Wednesday August 22, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

It's a good question: I think exact match domains with sticky content (i.e. low bounce rate) and a decent link profile might actually work. If enough people were clicking on the listing most of the time and not bouncing, maybe google might think that the keyword you're targeting is a navigational search. It's not easy to fake though, since they appear to be looking for super high click-through-rates. But it's annoying to have to build and promote a microsite for every big keyword. I'd rather just be doing link building for the mother ship.

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Ric Dragon (not verified) Said:

If what you're saying is correct - that users rarely went into the 8th, 9th, or 10th link on certain keyworkds - it didn't matter if your average position was 8.5 - people weren't clicking on it anyway. If instead of focusing on our SERP, shouldn't our attention be doggedly, maniacly, single-mindedly on visitors to the site?

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Larry addressed that here:

The click-through rate on my organic listing for "AdWords" was pretty low, but when you factor in the hundreds of thousands of monthly searches in the US alone, we were still talking hundreds of organic clicks per month, plus we were benefiting from a "branding" value of showing up on the first of organic searches for "adwords."

But it's possible that the traffic could be easily made up for with a few key referral links and no drop, or even an increase, in visitor quality.

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

Exactly! Navigational and branded searches account for a tremendous volume of searches, that even tiny click-through-rates on the 8-10 spots generated a decent amount of clicks. A few months back i was looking into the % of searches that are navigational or branded in nature. it was over 24% the total query volume!

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Victor (not verified) Said:

It's happening on a lot of exact match domains. Google basically takes the logic that it's a brand, and hence the query is deemed navigational. (i.e. people who search facebook to get to the facebook login page) - Not sure if domain age plays a role in this (informational vs navigational for branded queries).

I think it's a test, and a dangerous one because it can be abused with creating EMD's. Again, it's not happening on all EMD's, branded searches, etc. so I'm pretty sure they're testing this. Time will tell.

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Pete Brown (not verified) Said:

Seems to me that Google is fast becoming one giant advertising billboard and no longer much of a search engine for general research. Why would I want to see a whole page with links to the same site? I see it exists in the first couple of results then I want to see alternatives. Now where did I put that old Alta Vista URL?

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

Hello Pete - thanks for this comment!

As someone from one of the other discussion threads on this topic mentioned that if someone is interested in going to Search Engine Land, why should they be bothered with additional links to Search Engine Watch and Search Engine Journal? (if they wanted to go there, why wouldn't they have just googled those other sites in the first place?).

I can see the value from a usibility perspective.

PS - Altavista is still around, and it is now powered by Bing!

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

Sometimes I Google a company name because I'm specifically looking for third-party information about them rather than their own home page. I wonder what percentage of searches that appear to be navigational are actually informational.

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Larry Kim Said:

isn't the remedy just to reformulate your query to be more specific.

Tuesday August 21, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

If Google forces me to, but that's annoying.

Saturday September 15, 2012

Wendy (not verified) Said:

Great information. Thanks for sharing. 

Came across this story, when searching for information about organic listing going to 11 positions.  

Just searched for "stevia sweeteners" which delivered 11 organic results, 1 image result, plus 5 ads -- 2 at the top and 3 at the bottom.

 

 

Wednesday January 16, 2013

JD (not verified) Said:

I'm seeing as few as 4 organic results on Page 1 now, two above the 7 Places listings and two below:

It seems Google Places rules now for local business searches.

Thursday August 23, 2012

Richard Kraneis (not verified) Said:

My Wife, Pareto's Law, and Google's SERP Dump

Yes, this is about my wife, the Pareto Law, and Google's recent SERP dump.

My wife politely listens to my ramblings about online marketing.  I told her that organic listings were dropping from 10 listings to 7 listings for some searches.  Sure enough, she checked it for some of her law firm's search terms and the 10 to 7 drop was in affect.

Larry's article references Google's SERP dump is currently affecting an estimated 18%.  Sure sounds like Pareto's Law creeping up on us.

Here's betting Google identified 20% of their searches that were generating 80% of their revenues.  They cut the displayed organic listings from 10 to 7, leaving more room for PPC ads.  So what appears like only an 18% of all searches (probably 20%) is really affecting 80% of Google's ad revenues.

There is no doubt in my mind that Google's has chosen its 18% of search terms affected very carefully.  And those terms are probably affecting 80% of all Google AdWords revenue.

Does anyone agree or disagree with me?

Richard
 

 

 

 

Thursday August 23, 2012

Kathy Alice (not verified) Said:

Thought provoking article - and great infographic.   This may be unrelated, but it just occured to me that a side benefit of taking branded searchs from 10 to 7 results is less reputation management concerns?  Showing 7 rather than 10 might push the negative review sites to page 2 and lessen company compliants to Google.  Plus lessen the SEO gaming that the RM firms do trying to rank positive pages above the negative.   Just thinking out loud.  

Friday August 24, 2012

Alfred Smith (not verified) Said:

Hi,

Interesting informaiton.

I also want to contribute  a latest article on seo related with ppc. I found this site: wordstream.com  very informative and interesting.

Can anyone guide me how to do a guest post in the following site.

Yours Truly,

Alfred

 

 

Friday August 24, 2012

Gabriel (not verified) Said:

The new thing I am seeing is that Google is only allowing one organic listing per serp. Either in the Google Places or the Big Blue links.

Have you seen this trend as well?

Saturday August 25, 2012

Diana (not verified) Said:

I think Google always has ulterior motives the least of them to benefit our sites. It's always about money and they'e becoming more and more powerful. How far is this going to go God only knows. How are the smaller emerging internet marketing companies going to compete with the big companies? How is this going to encourage more entrepreneurship? It's like Walmart opening up next to a mom and pop store.

It may not be illegal but morally irresponsible in my humble opinion. 

 

Sunday August 26, 2012

Janeth (not verified) Said:

Google may have finally figured out how to win the SEO war.  But if they win the war then the SEO community stops talking about them.

The next big think gets talked about and slowly we hear less and less about Google.  I wonder if that's what Google is seeing happening now?  Maybe they are planning to squeeze this thing for everything it’s worth now. 

Either way, SEO’s just got a pay raise.  

Tuesday August 28, 2012

Teajai Kimsey (not verified) Said:

Well this day was coming. In the future it's going to be more about capitalizing on what visits you do get to your website instead of chasing the front page of search results just to get more traffic. 

Search marketing is a constant evolution and we either adapt or die.

Thursday August 30, 2012

Claire Jarrett (not verified) Said:

We too were on the front page for "AdWords" in Google UK and used to get a fair few leads from it - I've just noticed that we too have been dropped from the front page with very similar results to those you are reporting here. I can imagine it may have also wanted to protect its brand, as we have kept the top position for "AdWords Management". Interesting!

Tuesday February 05, 2013

Madword Media (not verified) Said:

Great Information. Thanks for sharing.

Saturday December 01, 2012

Jakub (not verified) Said:

All the spammers/"marketers" ruined it for all the little people.

I'll probably get penalized just for writing this comment......

Google used to look clean and efficient now it's cluttered and the user is an after thought compared to adwords.

Thursday August 23, 2012

Kyle (not verified) Said:

So this is what I have heard so far: - SEO is dead - Google is going paid - ..... So why talk about something that is dead. Or is it just another way to get coverage, + and - discussions both produce traffic and traction. I remember Google Changing the color of paid in Q4 2011 it was hard to tell the paid from organic. Just so happens this was their best Quarter on record. So are they close to a quarter that needs a lift looks good for investment and if I remember it was only a month or 2 they did the paid color blend!

Thursday August 23, 2012

Dave Hassall (not verified) Said:

Hi Larry

Great article, you think 7 is small try 4 if you're lucky.

Local search e.g. Lawyer Chicago, Italian Restaurant Miami

You get a lot of Google places / Google+ Local. The map moves down and covers the Adwords!

And Google pushing Google+ are giving more and more precedence to Zagat reviews. So is SEO dead or not a good ROI or is Google just trying to be top in each field?

Your "Adwords" example is very interesting.

I'd guess that people searching for Adwords know what it is so a Wiki definition doesn't help I bet they're searching for help doing Adwords successfully so in theory you should come first wink

 

Thursday August 23, 2012

Sam (not verified) Said:

I think google is looking for ways of increasing there revenue only. They do not care if you site ranks 1st or last.They get paid on adwords and that is how there system runs. As a axample on the keyword insurance you can pay from R500 per click. That tells me the big insurers is paying google to keep other smaller insurers out. We need some descent competition for google.What you say and how you design your site is not going to matter. How must you spend on adword will matter if you want traffic and business

Sunday October 14, 2012

AirAmericaWeb (not verified) Said:

Spot On Sam

Google is all about Google!

$500 a click is what they are after.

They look for business owners who are willing to gamble it all on the hope of an impulse buyer.

Just ask Adword rep what kind of budget you will need and they will say "as much as you can spend"

4th quarter comes around and 90% of the mom and pop websites are gone from organic search results.

Google'ers say it's your link spam, keyword stuffing or some other  bad seo technique that caused you a penalty.

Total bull... It's all Google!

Good example: keyword: "patio furniture manufacturing" www.casualtone.com gone from Google!

http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/comparisons?site=www.casualtone.com&=Search

Down to a new mom and pop site. Keyword: "anna maria island shuttle" gone from Google with zero seo!

www.annamariaislandshuttle.com

90% of good folks got wacked and the only results you get on Google are PR5+ directory sites and large conglomerates.

Nothing changed!

 

 

 

 

Thursday August 23, 2012

Steve (not verified) Said:

In the screenshot posted above how do you know that the results that are presented are not skewed by past searches on your computuer or from Trunk ip? How can I see the results of a keyword search for our keywords acoss various search engines and get a result more similar to somoene who is searching for our keywords for the first time?

 
 

Thursday August 23, 2012

Elisa Gabbert Said:

The "average position" metric in Webmaster Tools should give you the info you're looking for.

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