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I've been a digital marketer for over 20 years, which seems like an eternity right now. Google has always been an integral part of any good digital marketing strategy, especially search engine optimization (SEO), to attract free organic traffic based on the quality of the content on your page. However, when we recently saw a drop in our SEO traffic, we asked our SEO consultant to investigate the cause. He said this was due to a recent redesign of the Google search page that moved the free organic links to the bottom of the search results page. Even more troubling was his response to remedying the situation.
"Spend more money on advertising on Google to get back to the top of the page," he said. This is a very strange proposition for an SEO professional as his services are not needed in this scenario. That means SEO as a strategy for e-commerce-centric businesses is dying out, and paid search marketing has become your primary method for getting an audience through search engines, at least through the industry-leading Google. Let me explain that in more detail.
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A Brief History of Google Search
Since Google launched in 1998, it's been an integral part of any good digital marketing strategy. Originally it was all about a good SEO plan to help you get the free organic rankings to the top – ideally at the top of the first page of search results. The search results were very simple and clear and looked similar to the following example. Based on the content of your page and its relevance to the keyword you were looking for, only free organic results were shown. In the example below, I searched for the word “technology”.
Then, in 2000, Google introduced Google AdWords (now Google Ads), a means of “buying” your way to the top of search results with paid text ads. That meant that you needed both a good SEO strategy for free organic traffic (for the links at the bottom of the first page) and a good keyword bid strategy for paid traffic (for the links at the top of the first page), as shown in this example search result for the keyword "text".
Then, in 2002, Google introduced Google Shopping, which gave e-commerce companies the ability to submit their product listings to Google on a pay-per-click model. At the time, it had no real impact on traditional search results. And finally, in 2004, Google introduced Google Local, which allowed companies with multiple retail locations to advertise and advertise their various locations in addition to the parent company. With this change, the advertising was only localized to the location of the user. Instead of seeing a nationwide ad, they saw an ad for a local business nearby. Again, it had no significant impact on the page design.
But in the past few months, Google has fundamentally changed its page design for Google Search. Previous "holy ground" rules like "Stay true to our organic search roots and don't clutter the site with a ton of ads" have been completely washed down the toilet, as you can see in this example of a keyword search result for "restaurant furniture."
Notice what happened to the page design. These days, the first page above the fold (where the computer screen wraps the page) doesn't show any free organic search results anywhere. Every single link at the top of the page is now a paid advertisement. The top left links are from Google Ads, the links in the lower left card are from Google Local, and the links on the right are from the Google Shopping product feed. Each one is a paid placement, which is great for Google to help maximize its advertising revenue. However, if you want to see an organic search result that is really based on the quality of the landing page content you have to scroll down below the fold and even then don't start before the end of that second screen after you scrolled down to have.
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The death of SEO
What does all of this mean for trading companies that sell products or services? It means that search engine optimization as a strategy is life sustaining and close to death. Most Google users focus on the first page of results. If there's no way to get your organic search result in that position based on the current Google page design, then why bother focusing on SEO in the first place? You need to focus on paying big bucks to Google to make sure your business gets promoted on the page in Google Ads, Google Local, and Google Shopping placements. That's exactly what Google wants – the cash register has to ring with every click on the website.
That paints a pretty extreme picture now. Yes, you can still do traditional SEO for organic rankings, especially for sites other than Google, like Bing and Yahoo. Yes, there are still some Google users who scroll down the first page and an even smaller number of users who click on page two or three past the first page. But the amount of SEO traffic you get from free organic SEO efforts has become significantly less than you would have received before the Google Page redesign, especially given the dominant market share position in the search industry.
It's also worth mentioning that Google uses its new page design for its most frequently used search terms (e.g. "restaurant furniture"). Still, there can be some SEO value to focusing on long-tail search terms where Google uses a more traditional search results page design, such as the "30 x 30 tabletop" example below.
However, I think it is only a matter of time before Google figures out how to take over the promotion of every single one of its page results, including long-tail keywords. Also in the example above, Google Shopping has five paid links at the top of the page, Google AdWords has one paid link in the middle of the page, and there are only two free organic results at the bottom of the first page.
Related: How to Identify the Best Long-Tail Keywords
While trying to figure out the best way to spend your limited marketing budget, optimizing your website for free organic traffic for 20 years is a much less effective use of your time and effort. It just doesn't bring the same value for money as it used to, which means it's a lot harder to get an ROI. The future will decide whether this will help or harm Google in the long term. However, you can bet that Google's competitors like Duck Duck Go will try to attract internet seekers with their largely free organic search results (which you can see in the example below for "restaurant furniture"), which will protect your privacy from the nasty Google- Advertising empire.
Let's see if Google's attempt to free all of its advertisers for even more money and clutter the user experience opens the door for one of its competitors to increase its share in the search industry. But until then, the Grim Reaper is sharpening his blade for the SEO industry. REST IN PEACE. my dear friend.