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Natural Listings Are Getting Less Effective At Driving Traffic



According to a report released by SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin and Jumpshot, natural listings that appear within Google’s search result pages are becoming less effective at driving traffic. In the United States, organic’s click-thru-rate (# of clicks on the listing / # of times the listing was served) has decreased from 62.7% in 2016 to 60.4% in 2018 for desktop devices.



The rate of clicks for natural listings is significantly worse for mobile devices. The CTR has decreased from 40.1% in 2016 to 29.7% in 2018.



Click-thru-rates for natural listings are on the decline for two reasons:

  • There are more clicks going to paid ads

  • There are more “no clicks” occuring

Let’s take a deeper dive into these two factors:


Why are more clicks going to ads?

Over the years, Google has made dramatic changes to the way its paid listings are presented, and this is likely contributing to more clicks being directed away from natural listings to paid placements.


For example, Google made an adjustment a few years ago that increased the number of ads that appear above natural listings. Google used to list 3 ads above natural links. Today, Google has four ads above natural links.


The additional ads placed at the top of the page push natural links further down the page, and multiple eye-tracking studies (like this one from Mediative) have shown that content placed lower on the page isn’t noticed as well by searchers.


The placement of ads above natural listings is particularly devastating to natural’s CTR on mobile devices. Because screen sizes are smaller, paid ads take a greater priority at the top of the page. Natural listings are pushed further down the page and require a greater effort on the searcher’s behalf to be noticed.


For example, the query “men’s pants” on a large screen mobile phone only shows image & text ads. Viewing natural listings would require the searcher to scroll halfway down the result page.



Why are clicks disappearing?

Google’s search pages are playing a larger role in delivering information. If the search page has the information a searcher wants, then there is no need for the searcher to click on an natural link that may contain the same information.


For example, let’s say a Google searcher queries “line creek brewery”. Information like the brewery’s address, hours, phone number, upcoming events, and more are located in the page’s right-hand rail. If the searcher wants to know any of that information, a click to the natural link on top of the left-hand side of the page is not necessary.



What should businesses do?

Since answers and ads will continue to dominate Google’s search results moving forward, businesses should take the following two actions:


  • Be active within paid search - Even if you rank at the top of natural listings, ads are going to appear at the top of the search result page and be noticed first by individuals actively seeking your business and its products or services (especially on mobile, where most search queries occur). If your business is not in this paid space, a competitor will likely capture the searcher’s attention instead.

  • Create & maintain a “Google My Business” profile - Remember how Line Creek Brewery had all of that information appear in the right-hand rail of the search result page? Google populated that information because Line Creek provided it to them through a Google My Business account. Google My Business is free and grants business owners more control of what shows in the search results when someone searches for them. This will help ensure your information is being presented to relevant consumers in cases where a click does not occur.

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