Bill Grunau

Google Searches Plummet by over 60 Percent

  • May 13, 2013
  • SEO
  • 0

It seems impossible, but Google searches indeed have dropped by over 60%, in fact some by as much as 80% since 2004. Yes, they really have, but to be clear, common two word searches like “airline tickets”, “health insurance”, “computers”, “DSL” and others have dropped (see charts below), while overall search use has continued to grow. 

As users have changed the way they search, both Google and Bing have kept pace and changed the way their search engines work.  As a result SEO has changed and old SEO metrics are no longer as meaningful or relevant as they once were.  

Google Searches Drop by over 60%

Google Search Trends, Health Insurance-Airline Tickets

Google search trends, computers-DSL 2004 through 2013

How and Why Search is Changing

While simple two word searches are dropping, overall use of search engines is growing steadily. There were 1.2 trillion searches in 146 languages in 2012 and over 20 billion searches in March 2013. 

16% of daily Google searches have never been seen beforeSo what’s going on with search queries? You may have already guessed it, people are using Google differently. Broad two word searches deliver too many results, most of which aren’t exactly what you’re looking for. So people are entering very detailed queries to get more specific search results.  In fact, one out of six daily searches on Google have never been seen before, that’s about 100 million brand new searches every month! 

Google saw this change as it was evolving and changed the way their search engine works. The new Google search uses a knowledge base they call Knowledge Graph which was introduced in 2012. In short, Knowledge Graph gathers information from an enormous range of resources and indexes the data according to relevance.  The goal is to deliver search results that are highly relevant to what your are actually looking for. Other changes in Google search that track your past searches and web browsing habits work with Knowledge Graph to tailor search results to what is most relevant to you – essentially personalized search results. 

What does this mean for SEO and SEO Metrics?

 When broad two word searches were the primary way people did searches it was easy to gauge where your website stood by tracking search rankings for the relevant keywords. The favorite report for tracking search rankings was, and still is for many, the SERP (Search Engine Rank Position) report. The inherent problem with tracking keyword rankings now is that you are tracking searches that are less common and not necessarily the most relevant to your website. 

Likewise, when two word phrases were how we searched SEO focused on targeting a few high volume keywords. It was much simpler then, target the most common keywords, show the client the SERP report with their search rankings and everyone was happy since the results were tangible and easily measured.  

Does this mean SEO is dead? On the contrary it has never been more important or more difficult to do.  In the past cheap and poorly done SEO actually could produce results, but with the Google Panda and Penguin updates the old Black Hat SEO gamesmanship no longer works and in fact absolutely will get your site penalized.  Today only high quality link building, combined with excellent content on a properly built site and an active social media campaign will deliver results (yes social media is a factor now).  Some Black Hat and low budget techniques may slip through but they usually get busted in a future Google update which will deliver a nasty Panda Slap (penalty) to the site.

Stop Focusing on Keywords and Search Rankings

Now that users search with longer and more specific phrases and Google has changed how search works this strategy is no longer effective. It’s also almost impossible to track all of the  possible keyword variations and where your site ranks for them. To get a more accurate and meaningful view of how your site is performing look at the big picture.   

What to Measure; Website and SEO Metrics that matter now

Here are some basic metrics to track your website performance and a Sample Client Website Metrics-SEO Report from an actual client (redacted of course to maintain confidentiality). We picked this client report because it is a typical report, with modest traffic but highly targeted traffic so it is a good example of a typical small business SEO report.   

  1. Percentage of traffic from search engines
  2. Traffic from Keywords (Top 50 or 100 keywords – are they relevant?)
  3. Current traffic vs last year or previous period (what is the trend?)
  4. Referring sites (where is traffic coming from?)
  5. Engagement (bounce rate, time on site, pages per visit) 

Business Related KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)

Watching your website traffic increase may be satisfying but it doesn’t pay the bills. In the end the only most important metrics are how your business is doing. Below are some basic KPIs that you can track along with your website metrics to see how the campaign is affecting your business and if it is delivering the results you want.  

  1.  Track inquiries (both submissions from site and phone calls) – it it vital to track this consistently and accurately over a long period of time.  
  2. Sales revenue – track overall sales and sales by specific products/services. 
  3. New business – track sales to new clients, number of new customers created, number of new orders.