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Google’s CEO may not always have been especially forthcoming when asked questions about search traffic statistics. However, there are figures out there that make the situation clearer.
In the first quarter of 2019, the US Google search engine:
These statistics make it a little clearer for those of us who are working in the web creation, publishing and marketing fields and who are focusing on increasing traffic via organic search. Yet, while the figures may look depressing, there is some good news to be found.
Although the numbers of paid search and zero-click search clicks have risen, clicks from organic search are alive and kicking, and for each click on paid results in the Google search engine, 11.6 clicks are to an organic result. That means SEO hasn’t gone anywhere yet.
Data shows that around 12% of clicks and 6.01% of searches will end with a click back to a property that is owned by Google. Some of these include:
Most will only receive a tiny amount of the search traffic from Google overall. As an example, Android.com may be a potent element within the Alphabet/Google product suite, but it received only 0.01$% of search clicks, whereas YouTube received over 6% of search clicks from desktop devices.
The good news is the over the past 3 years, a fairly flat but fluctuating volume of traffic has been sent by Google back to its own properties. That means that it isn’t cannibalizing a growing number of its own searches – something that many marketers were afraid of.
There’s some bad news though. In the first quarter of 2019, almost 12% of search clicks were directed by Google back to properties owned by Alphabet – a huge amount in anybody’s book. This is on top of the fact that Google is already solving 50% of searches with absolutely no clicks.
The even worse news is that a key component is missing from the analysis – searches which end with clicks to Google-owned apps on mobile devices such as Google Maps, Gmail or YouTube. This is almost certain to mean that a far higher proportion of searches than just 12% are being sent to Alphabet’s properties by Google.
It’s no wonder that there is a strong feeling that fewer clicks than ever are available for websites and publishers to capture – it can be seen clearly in the figures over time.
It has been estimated that during the first quarter of 2016, around 75.6 billion browser-based organic search clicks were available from Google in America. In 2019, that number had dropped to just 61.5 billion. That means around a fifth less organic clicks were sent by Google through browser searches when compared with the figures from three years earlier.
It’s probably true that searches that aren’t browser-based, such as those within the Google mobile search application, Google Home, Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Maps app among others have plenty of search volume too, but the amount of traffic they’re sending to sites is difficult to determine.
What is known is that during the past few years, Google has increased paid clicks’ CTR in its browser-based searches by over three-quarters. The percentage of queries getting no clicks has grown by around 12%. This means that organic CTR has seen a drop of over 13% and desktop accounts for just a small amount of the drop.
Mobile searches are responsible for most of the growth in no-click and paid searches as well as the resulting fall in organic.
When all of this is taken together, the data tells a story of loss, albeit in just a single metric – the percentage of Google search traffic that is being sent to organic clicks.
Nevertheless, there is still reason to be optimistic and hopeful about SEO.
Google continues to grow. Although mobile browser and desktop activity has mostly plateaued, mobile application searches have compensated for a lot more than the fairly small decline over the last few years.
As a result, this probably means that there are more searches in total and more traffic overall available when compared with 2016, and certainly more than there was five, seven or ten years ago.
Searches that end with zero-clicks aren’t useless to publishers or marketers. While the metrics aren’t as simple to track and there is a reduced ability to help visitors to convert and take action, the ability remains to be able to influence the searcher. This means there’s likely to be an enormous increase in demand for On-SERP SEO services – a practice that involves optimizing the Google results page in order to deliver a desired brand, publisher or organization message.
It’s likely that Google will be fairly cautious when it comes to increasing the percentage of traffic it sends back to its own properties, bearing in mind the investigation by the US Department of Justice into whether it has violated the regulations surrounding antitrust. Also, the press has put more pressure on Google in recent years and that too is likely to keep its tendency to self-promote in check.
However, fears about where the Google search traffic will go are very reasonable. After all, Google has cornered over 94% of America’s search market, sending over ten times more traffic that Facebook, which is the web’s next top referrer. Google also dominates the internet advertising market, taking almost 40% of digital advertising revenue when compared with Facebook’s 22%.
It also has the power of control over the success of countless startups, web creators, publishers and business owners. This is why Google needs to be watched very carefully in future.