3 Reasons Organic Ranking Value is Eroding – What Can You Do?


Written by Nick Yorchak. Posted in Blog


If you’re a digital marketer in 2017, it’s likely you’ve noticed big changes in your organic traffic volume. Hopefully the changes you’ve all measured were positive, but one worrisome trend we documented (and have seen other SEOs exploring as well) is the fact that the value of organic rankings seems to be eroding over time.

What does that even mean? In this case I am defining “value” as to the amount of organic traffic reaching your website via terms you own (meaning you rank in the Top 3 positions).

Yet one variable which you’d often suspect as the cause of an organic decline hasn’t changed at all – rankings!

So if you still rank #1 for a bunch of different keywords, why is organic traffic volume eroding?

This puts a new suspect into clear focus – a change in organic click-through rate. More commonly referred to as (CTR) and more often used in a paid search setting, CTR measures the rate at which users click your presence versus the number of times it appears. Essentially, it is calculated as clicks divided by impressions.

There are several reasons for this we’ve identified through our web analytics data that are echoed by other studies in the industry, all of which I will cite below when any of their findings are shared.

One final note, this isn’t unanimously true. Some clients’ organic traffic driven through informational content and rankings (ie. Blogs, Articles, and Guides) experienced a greater decrease across the board, while many commercial-focused topics did not see the same erosion. So keep in mind your reliance on content vs. transactional intent will determine how much this affects you.


#1  |  Google Featured Snippets

The leading cause for most of our clients organic traffic erosion is Google Featured Snippets, especially those whose organic portfolio was content heavy. MozCast data suggests that about 15% of organic results include a Featured Snippet, and if you rely on your content for organic growth your own situation is likely much higher.

One technology firm – Wordstream – ran their own assessment and concluded that a #1 Google ranking is 37% less valuable (in terms of CTR) than it was two years ago. Wait… what? This was uncovered in a smart way. The company used Search Console data and organic rankings data to determine that the CTR was falling for many keywords they “owned” in #1 position. Despite no change in rankings, organic clicks and traffic decreased by 37%.

Wordstream’s methodology and results are sound – and you can replicate this if you have Google Webmaster Tools and Search Console history (and access to your rankings history). Another source cited was Advanced Web Ranking, which found that “ranking #1 in Google has a 23.5% mobile click-through rate, down from 28.6% in 2015” in their own study of this. If you try this yourself, let us know!

Google Featured Snippet SERP


 #2  |  SERP Updates

Let’s not forget that the SERPs continue to change in other ways, too. Google added more real estate for paid search last year, and we are noticing more image and social results, Google’s Knowledge Panel, local map results, “People also ask (related questions),” reviews, sitelinks, and more.

Top organic queries always had to compete against other elements on the SERPs, but the competition for your attention is growing more heated as search engines evolve and mobile search volume grows.


#3  |  Mobile Devices

For almost all of our B2B client portfolio, mobile organic CTR is lower than on desktop. A post from Moz/Jumpshot data (and one of the best posts of the year in my opinion), also posited this and then measured organic CTR as lower on mobile devices than on desktop.

The data mirrored marketers’ intuition, and showed that on mobile devices, 40.9% of Google searches result in an organic click, 2% in a paid click, and 57.1% in no click at all. For desktop devices, 62.2% of Google searches result in an organic click, 2.8% in a paid click, and 35% in no click at all.

The stat that should especially jump out at you is that nearly 60% of mobile searches result in no click at all. Of course this spans a variety of situations, tons and tons of data, and a myriad of search intent, but the point is that Google is seeking to answer as many questions as possible on the SERPs.



What’s a Digital Marketer To Do?

We replicated this test with our own data and for 5 different clients (with varying levels of reliance on content for organic success), and the mean decrease in organic CTR was 26%. Not as bad as what Wordstream found but it really does depend on whether the topic can be defined in a sentence on the SERPs or if it’s more complex. For instance, you can answer “what does SEO mean” in a satisfactory manner for the user on the SERP, while you couldn’t even scratch the surface of “how does SEO work” in a single sentence.

Here are a few ideas to improve your organic CTR, and insulate yourself from this effect as best you can.

Leverage a strong content generation strategy that is not easily replicated or defined in short summary fashion. Focus on user intent and aspire to create the highest-quality content you can (easier said than done trust me I know). Don’t just start writing either. Sit down and invest time in researching the topic to see what is out there, then decide what you can do to improve upon that. Otherwise you’re throwing pennies into the wishing well. By answering complex questions with top-notch information, you can avoid losing traffic on the SERPs.

Review your meta descriptions and title tags. Rewrite the boring boilerplate descriptions with compelling, interesting copy that makes a user want to click it. Use lists, numbers, and emotional words to draw users’ attention on an otherwise crowded SERP. Who wouldn’t want to click on “7 Powerful SEO Tactics To Drive Traffic & Revenue” – that title would draw eyeballs.

Publish and promote your content in other places, like through social media optimization or via paid content syndication.

Consider publishing content in new mediums, such as video. Users watching a video illustrate much stronger topical intent than those seeking a quick definition on the SERPs.

Determine which of your formerly top-performing organic URLs have suffered the most organic decline, and utilize paid search to fill the funnel if necessary.

Craft your page titles with paid search data (ex: using the most effective headlines and ad copy to drive page title and meta description).

These are just a few ways we are trying to improve organic CTR in the face of recent trends and SERP changes.

Contact us if this is a search problem you’re suffering from currently.