Google #1 position matters less than before

Updated: Jan 30

Ok, this title might sounds a bit scary, but it's essentially true. While Google #1 position is still worth pursuing, its value is diminishing at consistent rates.

Let me explain...

Over the past 3 years, Google has been shrinking the organic results for websites in favour of new paid ads and 0 click results.

In 2016, 54% of organic searches result in a click. Today less than 46%.

In the same period of time, paid clicks went from 2.1% to 4.14% (+100% increase).

Google Search CTR 2016-2019
Image source:

I have read lots of content lately on about how this is wrong and Google should reward websites that produce good content, instead of brands having to pay for AdWords. There are even a number of brands and bloggers that suggest focusing on other channels, including this blog post from WordStream, showing how much their CTR from organic search decreased 37% in 2 years!

I was very concerned, to say the least when I heard about this for the first time.

This triggered all sort of reactions:

  1. I am going to lose my SEO job, it's just a matter of time

  2. OMG, what am I gonna do now?

  3. I knew not to trust Google, at some point something bad would happen!

But honestly, after some crazy thoughts, I realised this is not too bad after all.

Google is a public traded company, their first goal is to make money, not helping the SEO industry.

So if you want to get on well with Google, you can't rely solely on organic traffic, you need to spend money on AdWords ( Yes I know it's called Google Ads now). You also need to think strategically on how to attract and convert more traffic, maybe through some CRO strategy.

I spend most of my time doing SEO and CRO for the company I work for, I managed to hit the #1 position for all the keywords that matter with over 12,000 searches per month, each.

But the organic CTR is always around 8% to 10% even if I hit the #1 spot, including securing some Featured Snippets. And the conversion rate on the website is always around 3.5%.

Also, if you want to get any more traffic on Google, you need to pay for it. I have seen paid conversion rates being as high as 20% in some campaigns. You just need to be mindful to set up your own cost per acquisition and make sure that your investment in paid ads will have a higher ROI for your business. We acquire more than 5,000 users organically per day, yet only 175 convert into leads. That's not a lot at all. In fact, I would convert people with a good affiliate marketing strategy, even if their audience is way smaller than Google's.

If I spend $100 per month I can acquire 120 more customers. The leads coming from paid ads are bigger in number than those coming from organic search results, as I can reach as many as 24 new leads from 120 people. To reach the same amount of leads on organic results, I would have to reach approximately 650 people.

I am advising you to spend money on Google Ads if you want to acquire more traffic. Traffic from paid ads tends to get higher engagement from organic traffic.

Change of strategy

Since a few years ago, I have worked with a PPC agency to acquire more paid visitors and leads to the website, making them land on professionally designed landing pages. It was a great investment because we could control the level of cost per acquisition to make sure we had a high return on investment.

However, for the past 9 months, I have been reviewing this strategy.

We have found that reaching and converting people on Google Ads has become more and more expensive. While paid people convert higher than organic people, we have spent almost double to get the same volume of people on the website. This leads to my question: is the cost of acquiring paid customers higher than acquiring organic customers? Before the answer was NO. Now the answer is YES, for most of the cases.

Let's do some math...

If I pay $0.90 to get a click to my website and I have acquired 100 people I have spent $90. Then if the conversion rate is 10%, I have acquired 10 new leads spending $90.

This makes the cost per lead $9. These are real stats from a current campaign we are running on Google Ads.

On the other hand, I am increasing the conversion rate from organic traffic on a landing page, increasing it from 6% to 12% (+100% uplift). This means I get double conversions from the same volume of traffic at $0 spend.

Bottom line: it costs less to convert organic traffic than paid traffic because I can do CRO on the organic landing pages.

You might wonder and ask the question: why don't you improve the conversion rate also on paid landing pages, as you have done on organic ones?

The answer is simple.

Doing CRO on organic traffic is way easier than doing it on paid traffic.

Why is this?

It's simple (yet again).

You need to educate people throughout your website to know that they will be more likely to buy something from your brand. Something as simple as getting users' feedback will take a long way and give you a good idea of what the objections are, why they are converting or not converting.

You can't do much users' research and feedback on a single landing page built for lead generation, which is the page that in most cases will see paid traffic.

When you think about it, you can actually improve your website overall and deliver better user experience and content than you can do with a single landing page. Yes, you can improve copy, CTAs, images and brand trust on your landing page, but you are constrained by the fact that the page is designed to convert without any distraction.

On the other hand, when you are tracking and analysing users' behaviour on your organic traffic, you are free to collect users' feedbacks from any web page, trigger feedbacks and polls, ask survey questions and even make AB tests.

Only once you have completed your behavioural analysis you have enough data to improve also the landing pages where paid traffic lands to.

The value of Google #1 position

The value of ranking on position #1 on Google is decreasing quickly. Just have a look at this search result and tell me if you see any organic result above the fold.

Google is also decreasing real estate on SERPs using 0-clicks results after introducing Featured Snippets.

The bottom line is that it's becoming much more difficult to acquire to get organic traffic and much more expensive to get paid traffic.

My advice is to focus more on User Experience and Conversion Rates, rather than focussing on vanity metrics such as traffic volumes and organic CTR.

Spend your budget on CRO rather than acquisition.