By Larry Carley January 21, 2018
Like many other websites, this website has experienced a steady decline in both viewers and revenue. Why? The answer is how Google has changed the way they display search results.
Before these changes were made, a website's rank on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) determined the odds of someone clicking on a link to that website, which in turn determined the website's traffic, page views, ad views, ad clicks and revenue.
Depending how relevant a website is compared to the word or phrase being searched, it might end up being ranked #1 or #2 on the SERP page, the top ten, or on page 2 through 200. Anything past page 2 or 3 is essentially not being ranked because few people go beyond the first couple pages of a search result.
If a website happens to rank #1 for a search result, it will typically get about 33 percent of the total clicks for that search term. If it ranks #2, it will get about 18 percent of the clicks. The #3 through #10 positions on the search results usually get less than 11 percent of the clicks. So the further down the list a site ranks on the search results page, the less the chances of someone clicking on the link and going to the website.
Google still ranks websites by relevancy when it is generating search results for a key word or phrase, but it now inserts a lot of other "junk" that gets between the user and the real search results.
The first things you now see on a search result is usually ads, typically three or four paid ad links (identified by a small box with the word "AD" inside), or a row of images of related items for sale.
Google also inserts a box called "People Also Ask" that lists half a dozen or more questions that may be related to the subject being searched. With each question is a short sentence or two answer.
The search result page may also insert a "snippet" box that gives a quick answer to your search query. The snippet may be several sentences or a paragraph with a link to the source.
Snippets and questions that other people ask can be a real time saver for the person doing the search, but it also greatly reduces the chance that the user will scroll on down to the actual search results and click on a related website.
HALF OF ALL SEARCHES NO LONGER GENERATE ANY CLICKS OR TRAFFIC TO WEBSITES!
According to some sources, almost HALF of search queries on Google end on the search results page, with NO CLICKS being generated.
For a simple question, a simple answer may suffice so there is no need to go any further. But for many topics, particularly technical subjects, complex issues or subjects that require a lengthy and detailed explanation, the user needs more than a one or two sentence answer.
The fact that Google has inserted so much junk between the search query and the actual search results means web publishers are seeing much less traffic than in the past, and as a result of that much less revenue. It is killing the web publishers who have supported Google by placing their AdSense ads on their websites, and it is hurting Google's own AdSense revenue, too. So Google is also hurting itself with the changes it has made on how search results are displayed.
On this website, I have seen a serious decline in both traffic and revenue that has averaged 20 to 25 percent per year since 2015. That is bad news for this website as well as its users because it undermines the financial incentive to keep this website going.
I have tried the subscription model and it does not work. Nobody wants to pay for information on the internet, not even a couple of bucks per month or per visit to access a ton of information. Yet there has to be some kind of cash flow model to support informational websites if they are to stay viable.
Newspapers are facing the same problem, which is how to get people to pay for news online. That business model is still evolving.
Google's search and AdSense divisions are two separate entities that apparently do not talk to each other, otherwise the people who design the search page would realize the changes they have made have been very detrimental to web publishers as well as Google's own revenue stream from AdSense (maybe it should be renamed AdCents because of the big drop in revenues!).
My suggestion for Google search would be to list the search results as they did before, and separate the real search results from the junk. List the real search results on the left of the page, and put the ad links, snippets and People Also Ask boxes on the right of the page so they are clearly identifiable and separate. Let the user decide what they want to read or click on.
Another suggestion would be to give people the option of doing a "Quick Search" for a simple answer to a simple question, or an "In-Depth Search" for relevant websites, articles and posts.
Another point worth mentioning is that Google is actually violating their own best practices for ad placement. Because the world has gone mobile, they tell publishers to not put ads "above the fold" (the middle of the view screen) because it distracts from the user experience. Content is supposed to some first, and they penalize publishers who don't follow their guidelines by giving them a lower search rank. In other words, Google does not want ads to be the first thing you see when you land on a website. Yet that is exactly what they are doing on their own search results page!
Another trend that is also reducing clicks and traffic to websites is the growing use of devices such as Amazon Alexa & Echo, Siri (the personal assistant application for iphone devices), and the OK Google voice interface on Android phones and devices.
Basically, a voice interface allows a person to ask a simple question so they can get a simple answer without having to use a laptop or desktop PC, or the internet browser on their smart phone. It is an easy way of getting information quickly, but it also means people are NOT using an internet browser or a traditional search engine to find what they are looking for. The information is simply gleaned from some website and communicated to the person verbally with no clicks, no ads, no graphics, no photos or interaction with the website where the information was copied.
Could this be a violation of content copyright? Maybe, depending on the length of the answer. But it certainly does not help the web publisher who created the original content.
This is all part of the ongoing evolution of the internet and how information is shared and communicated.
The problem is, if the people who work hard to write and create original content receive no financial reward or incentive to continue doing so, what's the point? Serving the greater good is a noble effort but it does not put bread on the table.
More and more people are using adblocker addons with their browsers to prevent ads from appearing as they surf the web. That makes for a nicer browsing experience but it also kills the main source of revenue for websites like this one that provide free content. Google is even offering ad blocking as an option within its own chrome browser, which further undermines their own Adsense revenue stream (or lack therof). Consequently, if you are using an adblocker and visit this website, it generates ZERO income for this website. The same goes for millions of other websites (including newspapers and magazines) that provide free content and rely primarily or exclusively on advertising to support their existence.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is becoming irrelevant if Google's search results are generating fewer and fewer clicks, less traffic to websites and less revenue for those websites. Maybe we're all supposed to be buying paid ad links on the search results page?
My point is writing all of this is to share my frustration with how all of these changes have impacted my website and me personally. One day I think I have a steady income stream I can count on, and the next I see it eroding away and there is not much of anything I can do about it. My only hope is that Google may rethink its current approach to how it displays search results and find a way to increase clicks and traffic to websites, rather than making changes that accomplish the exact opposite.
Eventually this website may go away if the current trend continues its downward spiral. You will have to get your free automotive diagnostic and help information on automotive forums, social media or facebook.
The problem with forums and facebook is that many posts are nothing more than opinions or guesses, not expert factual help. Some posts are good, and may help you solve a problem. But posts and replies to questions may also contain incorrect or misleading information. Finding accurate, unbiased, expertly written information is not as easy as it sounds. That's why I have tried so hard to provide a free resource people can count on for accurate automotive diagnosis and repair help. I hope I can continue to do so.
The latest punch in the gut to web publishers was delivered recently when Google announced it would support the Coalition for Better Ads campaign. The new ad standard calls for blocking "annoying" ads when viewing a web page with a Google Chrome browser. They say the goal is to enhance the user experience.
According to StatCounter, Chrome is the number one browser with a 58.4 percent market share (December 2016). Firefox is a distant second with 13.45 percent, followed by Safari with 10.54 percent and Microsoft Internet Explorer with 8.92 percent. So yes, this is having a BIG impact on web publishers.
Ads that are labeled "annoying" on desktops include pop-up ads, auto-play video ads with sound, full screen ads that appear when opening a page that won't go away until the countdown timer counts down to zero, and large sticky ads that appear at the bottom of the screen.
Annoying ads for mobile devices also include pop-up ads, large sticky ads at the bottom of the screen, auto-play video ads with sound, countdown ads that appear when opening or leaving a page, plus flashing animated ads, full screen scroller ads, and pages that have an ad density higher than 30 percent.
I agree that many types of ads can be distracting and annoying. But ads are essentially the only way most informational web publishers can earn revenue for providing free content. Unfortunately, users are not willing to pay anything to access content, even good high quality content. They want everything for free. So if the ads are blocked, a good portion of the revenue stream that publishers rely on goes away - and with it the incentive to create good, high quality content. What happens to the user experience then?