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Video: The Current State of Organic Search Growth

Organic search visit growth is on the decline, but why? Signs point to significant changes coming out of the Google camp.

Find out what changes have been made and how they impact SERPs, in this video on Q3 2015 performance from Merkle|RKG.

Download the Q3 2015 Digital Marketing Report


Andy Taylor: Hi there, and thanks for joining us at the Merkle RKG blog. In our recently released Q3 Digital Marketing report, which analyzes trends across the digital marketing spectrum based on data from dozens of the brands we work with, we reported on the decline of organic search visit growth in Q3.

Overall, organic growth fell from 11% in Q2 to just 2% in Q3. While desktop and tablet organic visits fell 4% and 8% respectively, the biggest quarter-to-quarter shift was seen on mobile devices, where growth fell from 51% in Q2 to just 20% in Q3.

This steep decline can be traced to a few big changes made by Google during the quarter.

The first is the addition of a third text ad above the organic results on phones where there used to be only two, a change that appears to have begun in July of this year and was confirmed by Google in September. With an additional text ad at the top of the search results page, organic links were pushed further down and are now less likely to garner clicks.

Another important update that impacted organic involved changes to Google’s Local Pack, which is a SERP feature that displays local business listings along with a Google map for searches with local intent. Google updated this feature in early August to show three listings instead of seven, and at the same time moved the Local Pack up to the top of the search results page for a much greater share of searches. On mobile devices, this kicked organic links below the fold for a lot of searches, including searches for brands with brick and mortar stores. Thus, organic traffic has declined as these links have become less visible.

Lastly, Google also updated its Product Listing Ads in early-September to be roughly double the size of what the format looked like earlier in the year. While Google initially released an expandable shopping ad format in July, which would become larger once users interacted with the ad carousel, they removed the expandable aspect of it in September so that the format is immediately displayed at the larger size, taking up more of the page and pushing organic links further down the page.

These are some pretty big changes, and all likely played a role in driving down organic search visit growth on mobile devices in Q3. As always, stay tuned to the RKG blog as we detail the impact of updates such as these and what they mean for your digital marketing performance. Bye, y’all.