A client I was working with, was experiencing fairly decent website traffic, courtesy a Page 1 ranking in Google search results. Having noticed a sudden plunge in the traffic coming from Google, I sat down with the client to analyze the reasons, one fine weekend. What we discovered was, that there was nothing wrong with the SEO tactics we had used. They should’ve still worked. But weren’t working. We went ahead and tinkered with keywords a little and kept a close check for another 2 weeks. The results were still as disappointing, if not worse. There was something that wasn’t falling into place. The website was not hit badly, just saw a gradual drop and then stayed steady at the dropped point.
Plenty of reading around brought me to this:
For one of our tried and tested keyword, the first fold of Google’s page was occupied by sponsored ads followed by a couple of results, while the second was sponsored by Google’s native restaurant finder, followed by another two results. Summed up, Google threw up two ads, four results and its own native application to find restaurants, on a page that would earlier be dominated by ten search results and two ads at the most.
Google is changing
Google is changing search. And big time. There is nothing wrong with what Google is doing. Rather, it is making looking up what you want even more precise and realistic compared to ever before … and for that to happen, Google had to steamroll certain dimensions of SEO.
The first signs of this happened in early 2011 and then in 2012, when Google altered its algorithm to abrogate keyword spammers from top ranks. Around mid-2013, Google phased out Google Keyword, a tool which allowed SEO professionals with respect to keyword search volume data through location-wise segregation. Google replaced it with the Keyword Planner currently in use which requires a mandatory Google Analytics login. It was a major move aimed at pulling out spammy, irrelevant, and poor quality content from Google’s front pages, and Google did succeed in doing that to a very large extent.
2011 and 2013 were two years apart. 2013 and 2015, another 2 years apart. between these 4 years Google has made innumerable alterations (some major tweaks) to its algorithm/s and made sure that users find what they are looking for in the shortest way possible.
Additionally, Google went ahead and created many native applications in its own ecosystem that virtually killed any dream of webmasters and SEO professionals to see their website on Page 1, result slot 1. Check the screenshots below for example:
Despite being the top ranked result for ‘Mumbai Weather’, do you think accuweather gets the same kind of traffic now as it used to before Google’s native weather card came into the fray? Aren’t we all pretty sure the Dictionary and Thesaurus websites have seen a drop in traffic since Google’s dictionary card was introduced?
Unlike other websites, a search engine’s job is to keep a user on its page for the least amount of time possible. And Google is just making sure it is delivering on that count. Instead of having its users scroll up and down and append or alter search queries to create phrase permutations to find what they want, Google is delivering it right in its results page.
In the dictionary card example above, for example, users can find a countless number of synonyms for ‘intelligent’ in precisely 0.26 seconds, without having to open the first three results and cross-check or compare. As a user, doesn’t that save you a lot of time and effort?
How to drive traffic in the new scenario?
1. To begin with, align with Google+, never mind how unnecessary you deem it to be. Your Google verified business and Google+ page will largely determine how well you sit with Google.
2. The basic SEO tactics should never be discarded. If not for SEO, for sheer website-likability. Many of Google driven SEO approaches make for great website service – such as no spamming, information-rich relevant content, good page-speed, tidy HTML, etc. Google is clamping down on SEO, not killing it. So keeping you website Google-friendly will never hurt. There’s no denying that when Google pulls information in its native cards and applications, it is from some legitimate source that promises accurate and relevant content on the same topic.
3. Take a cue from sites like Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Quartz, etc. These digital media publications largely depend on social media to drive traffic to their websites. The internet currency is changing. Once upon a time it was measured in website hits, now it is measured in shares. Of course, hits still do matter, but they come, as the sharing comes. Over the last couple of years, Google has given plenty of importance to how many people are reading and sharing a certain piece of content. Content’s virality is a factor now, in determining your search rank – which takes us back to point number 1 above – Google+ is dormant, but important!