I am an acquisition marketer. I have been in digital marketing driving traffic to websites for 13 years now.
Suffice it to say, I’ve seen a lot in my day. I’ve been in digital marketing through SEO’s Panda and Penguin algorithms, Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, dis and misinformation flooding platforms, and so on.
So, when I point something out you know it’s because I think it’s big.
I also write this as a business owner, a business owner who is trying to make their company survive in today’s economy and world. I’m not even expecting to thrive, because the realities of the economy have shifted under our feet in the last 6 months. It’s been like one of those people mover escalators at airports, moving you along to somewhere else.
Except in this world, we’ve just reached the end of the escalator and forgot to step off. So some of us are falling on our faces.
We Run Organic and Paid Marketing Campaigns
Here at Credo, we do a lot of marketing. It’s literally my job to do marketing to drive leads for our partner agencies.
Over the last year, a lot of our organic rankings haven’t changed. They haven’t necessarily improved either, but they haven’t really gone down too much.
Here’s a screenshot from Semrush to show you our organic performance over the last year. It’s roughly correct:
I will also say that the drop in performance over summer 2021 did affect our traffic overall, but not the leads coming through Credo. It was caused by implementing a site speed caching plugin (PM me on Twitter or something if you want to know which one it was, so you can avoid), and then when we reversed that a couple months later and moved to a different one, it took some time for our traffic to come back.
But the point is, we do a lot of SEO. We create content. We update content. We do all the “right” things.
So why does it feel like we’re just on a hamster wheel and no matter what we do, metrics just don’t move like they should?
Every Time I Go To Google, Ads Get Longer
Today I was looking for a resource on the Credo site so I could link to it from another post.
I typed the query [freelancers credo] and this is what I currently see:
I tweeted this:
This is my own branded query, and my site is at the very bottom of my large 27″ screen. When I put it on my 15″ MacBook Pro screen, there might as well not even be organic results:
I just measured out the ads on my screen, and here’s what I found.
- Each ad is approximately 40 pixels tall (title + one line description underneath it)
- There’s approximately 30 pixels between the big ad and sitelinks. There are 4 sitelinks.
- Totaled up, an ad with sitelinks is 280 pixels tall.
When you add 2 more ads, with 40 pixels between each and each at 40 pixels, before you get to any organic results, that is another 200 pixels of ads. So now we’re at 480 pixels.
And that is just 3 ads! If you add a 4th, that’s another 80 pixels and we reach the grand total of 560 pixels on desktop, with an organic result barely seen.
And on mobile? Forget about it. It’s just ads.
We’d be remiss to not mention the obvious – Google is a publicly traded company. The fact that it’s one of the, if not the, most lucrative business in the history of the world is also true.
Their Google Ads product is the reason Google exists. It funds everything else. Sure, they’ve made strides in recent years to diversify revenue and have some modest success, but Ads still funds the business.
Here is a screenshot of their Q2 2022 financials:
Advertising accounted for $56.2B of their total $69.685B in total revenue. Yes, billion. In a quarter. Google makes ~$250-$300B in revenue every year.
In Q2 2022, advertising accounted for 80.64% of their revenue. In Q2 2021, it was 81.5%. So they’ve made strides, but the point is that ads fund Google’s business.
When the economy faces headwinds, companies pull back on their marketing spend. This means Google’s core business takes a hit.
And we’re starting to see the effects of that. In Q2 2022 Alphabet (Google’s parent company) only made $16.5 billion in profit. This is down from $18.5 billion in profit during Q2 2021, when Alphabet also had about $8 billion less in revenue. By the way, 8 billion is a big number. $8,000,000,000 dollars.
There are now articles, like this one from The Verge, titled “Google parent Alphabet’s profit slips again after CEO warns of ‘economic headwinds’.”
Meaning, Sundar Pichai, who is Alphabet’s CEO, is trying to prepare investors that Q3 and Q4 could be a bloodbath for revenue. Their ads business will at least probably not grow as fast as investors expect. Though, if you want to get in on a good stock, yesterday was Google stock’s best day of the year “after earnings weren’t as bad as feared.”
The above is not investment advice. I own a tiny bit of Google stock personally, and I have friends who work at Google. I have no inside knowledge.
Other Companies Are Feeling This Too
All companies are doing this, by the way.
Meta/Facebook also missed revenue with $28.82 billion vs. $28.94 billion expected. This is a 1% decline in revenue from the same time last year, which is never good to see in a public company.
Just three years ago they had as much as 28% quarter on quarter growth, according to this article in the New York Times by Mike Isaac (who I know from the dog park where I used to take my dog in San Francisco. His dog Bruna once pooped and then sat on my white shoes).
Mike also says this in that article:
For the current quarter, Meta said it expected “a continuation of the weak advertising demand environment.” E-commerce ads were waning as “peak pandemic” had passed and more people ventured outside, the company said, adding that tough periods like these were “cyclical” historically.Mike Isaac, New York Times
Of course, Facebook is far from the only “social media” company experiencing this. Just last week, Snap fell $300M short of its expected revenue and its stock dropped 25%. Twitter also saw a decrease of 1% in revenue from Q2 2021 to Q2 2022.
What Does This Mean For Ads and Organic Performance?
All of the above means one thing:
Google and similar companies are going to continue to be as aggressive as they can be with ads because no one is stopping them and they can be and need to be in order to not see ad performance plummet. If their ad performance plummets, they’ll have to tighten their belts even more.
Google’s continuing to squeeze organic results out, because they can. Organic results don’t make them money directly, other than possibly keeping visitors happy as they find what they are looking for. This has been Google’s line all along.
But in recent years, I will also say that their organic experience has gotten worse. So I’m not even convinced they believe what’s good for the user is good for the company anymore.
So what can we do?
First off, if you have the cash, you have to pay to play. You don’t have a choice. You have to bid on your branded terms because Google will let anyone bid on them, you have to bid on those keywords that you worked so hard to rank high on organically, and you have to change your business model if it doesn’t work with this new paradigm.
Second, invest in content marketing and go to the long tail. Do everything you can to drive an audience there and get a subset of them onto an email list and retarget them on other channels. Your conversion rates will suffer and your conversion times will get longer, but at least you’ll get something.
I know this advice sucks. I hate to give it. I too want to rank well organically for competitive queries and have it drive great traffic that converts, but that is no longer the reality of SEO and digital marketing.
And third, try to build a business that doesn’t rely on Google. I’ve been thinking for years that community is the new blog, as it seems that all good conversation that used to happen on blogs now happens in Slack communities. My future companies will be built around a community, I can tell you that.
If you’re advertising and seeing good results and want to find an agency to help you run them more effectively, my team of matching experts would love to speak with you. If you’re going to the long tail and investing in content, we have agencies who do a great job of that who we can introduce you to as well.