Where did all the organic go?

Bob Dumouchel

The headline of this article makes a song from the 60s play in my head, but the question is really quite serious. In many cases the organic, or free listings as they are often called, have vanished from the top half of the first page of Google.  This requires that many businesses rethink their website optimization and the organic only strategy.  Below is an example of what is happening in many searches.

What is happening in this case is that Google is seeing a search term that it thinks will be best served by localizing the search. Since quality of the search results trumps all other things in Google, we get a page that is entirely missing the organic listings. Google has decided that the quality of the search result will be better served with AdWords and Places listings and in many cases we think they are right. The intent of the person doing this search for AC repair is most likely looking for a local service provider and the searcher is better served from AdWords and Places.

This does not happen all the time but it is very common in the more competitive metro areas. In less competitive areas you will often find one or two organic listings between the end of the AdWords section and the start of the Places. This is huge departure from several years ago when you would see eight or more organic listings on top of the first page. There are still organic listings on the first page, but you have to roll the screen down to see them.

What this means to us is that if your keywords are commonly localized and you have an organic only promotional strategy, you better revisit that decision. You can figure out if your keywords are likely to be localized by doing a Google search and if a map appears then there is a high risk of this happening. You have to remember that Google personalizes the results so just because you saw your listing does not mean everyone will. There are thousands of variables involved in creating a search engine result page and so they vary hugely.

This phenomenon highlights the fact that claiming your places entry is critical and if you serve outside of your local city you really have to consider using AdWords for those areas.  Even if you have a first position organically a change in the search to another city that you also serve will be missing your site.

Most of the words that this happens to are services that are connected to the geography. Things like Air Conditioning, Plumbing, Hair Salons, Car Dealers, Restaurants, and many others.  If your places listing is important to your business this is probably happening to you.