Why Ranking High In Organic Search Doesn’t Cut It Anymore When It Comes To Online Stores

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When I first started my online store, I had a master search engine optimization plan that I believed was fundamentally sound. The plan was to buy my search engine traffic using Google Adwords for my main keyword terms while simultaneously improving my organic search rankings through link building.

Then, once I managed to organically rank on the front page of search, I would gradually cut back on my Adwords spend and eventually rely solely on organic search to bring customers in the door. Not a bad strategy right?

While my plan sounded great on paper, when I looked at my Google Analytics statistics coupled with my search results, I knew this strategy wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted to maximize the profits of my online store. Please allow me to explain.

The photo below is a search for a keyword term that my store currently ranks #1 for in organic search. This search was conducted on my laptop with 768 lines of total vertical resolution. Do you see the problem here?

Organic Search Results Aren’t As High As They Used To Be

In case you didn’t notice, my much vaunted #1 ranking is at the bottom of the screen! The primo spots for search are mostly occupied by the paid search results, followed by Google Merchant center results and finally followed by the organic listings.

In fact on my laptop, the only organic search result that is above the fold is the #1 result! Now let’s take a quick look at what most people run their screen resolutions at when they visit my online store.

As you can see in the table above, most of the people who visit my online shop have vertical screen resolutions that are 1024 pixels or less. What this means is that at most 2 or 3 organic search listings are visible above the fold whenever someone does a search.

Therefore, unless you are in the top 3 in the search results for your targeted keywords you aren’t going to be getting as much click through traffic as you’d expect.

Taking A Closer Look At Visitor Behavior

Now with the above results in mind, let’s take a closer look at the behavior of my customers who actually end up making a purchase.

Looking at the data above, it appears that most of my converting customers make their purchase during their first visit! What does this mean exactly? It means…

  • Most of my customers are impulse buyers
  • Most of my customers don’t really shop around all that much
  • Most of my customers are ready to buy on the spot

Therefore, it is absolutely critical that I get these customers on my site BEFORE they visit anywhere else. Otherwise I might lose the sale.

Maximizing Profits

The reality is that the organic search results keep getting pushed lower and lower. So if you want the top spots in search with the highest click through rates, you’re going to have to pay for them.

In the case of my store, Google is almost forcing me to pay for Adwords if I want to increase my sales and visibility.

In addition, there are now individual product listings from the Google Merchant Center that also occupy valuable real estate in the search results. And guess what? Getting your products listed here can be bought as well!

So what is the point here? The point is that depending on the behavior of your customer base, simply relying on organic search may not cut it anymore if you want to maximize profits.

Now don’t get me wrong. My store still makes the bulk of its sales through organic search and direct traffic. But if this trend of organic listings getting pushed lower in the search results continues, pay per click marketing services like Google Adwords will increasingly become a part of your ecommerce strategy whether you like it or not.

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32 thoughts on “Why Ranking High In Organic Search Doesn’t Cut It Anymore When It Comes To Online Stores”

  1. Very good insight. I also experienced this for both organic and paid (adwords). One thing that I think is important to add is that when you run an adword or any other PPC campaign, you should strive to have #1 position. This will increase your conversion rate.

    Traffic that comes from top ranking (organic or PPC) has much higher probability to convert into a sale.

  2. Hey Steve,

    Great post, I am currently on the same plan as when you started, a little google adwords to test keywords and now focusing or organic traffic and creating backlinks. our conversion rate is pretty good for being so to young, so now i just need more traffic.
    any quick tips?
    Cheers
    Ibbo

  3. The game is definitely changing. I’ve seen some sites placed above the product feed, and in some cases 1 or 2 sites. I don’t know how you command that sort of placement though (I guess if you’re Amazon or some other goliath, then Google gives you more juice).

    Maybe I missed it in the post, but have you actually lost organic traffic recently? I think that for your main keywords, maybe, since there’s more competition. But what about the long tail keywords?

    1. @A-ron
      You can command that sort of placement by paying money. Adwords allows you to pay for clicks on specific products now (guess I didn’t explain that well enough in the course video, my bad). On the other hand, my organic traffic has been stronger than ever due to improvements on my main keywords as well as the long tail. The difference is that I pay extra to be placed at the top of the paid search results because the conversion rate and click through rates are incredible.

  4. Hey Steve! What an amazing article and screen shots to back it up!

    I have been targetting more longtail keywords where the paid ads tend to not show up as much. I have noticed they show up more with shorter keyword terms

    Joshua the ZamuraiBlogger

    1. @Joshua
      Definitely. If you are targeting long tail keywords, the merchant center results will tend not to show up. Unfortunately, the most valuable and lucrative keywords all tend to match specific products.

  5. Hey!What a good article.Great post.he plan was to buy my search engine traffic using Google Adwords for my main keyword terms.Thanks for sharing!

  6. hmmm…your observation is partly correct. based in my experience in handling projects, we never did adwords. All we are doing is SEO from onpage and offpage. On of the main thing that serve as the reason why it worked is the link diversity we doing and increasing the number of incoming links by 20% per month.

  7. How do you think social (+1’s) will be incorporated? From what I’m seeing it looks like the +1 (and author rank) will be the strongest SEO strategy.

  8. @Mercer
    We are already seeing the names of people who have +1’ed an article show up in the search results and I suspect that will continue in the future. In terms of affecting actual search rankings, no one knows how Google will use this information. I suspect that +1 will be one factor in search but not the main factor in determining search rankings. It’s way too easy to game the system if they go this route.

  9. Nice article and valuable informations. In my case since my market is different in most cases there are no images result so organic search works, but in any case i think you have to buy adwords.
    Many of my friends (and some clients) from time to time call me ans said me “Hey, dude your web site is No1 on Google!” but actually this is not the truth (no more than 7th on first page) since they look at paid adwords.
    But not all “normal” computer users can see the difference between organic and paid results.

  10. I completely agree with Steve regarding +1 thing. It’s just one of many factors regarding search rankings, even if it’s quite popular now.

  11. I have noticed the same thing too, since August but have you been building a list? That is one way of Google proofing your business, you don’t rely want to put all your eggs in one basket and Google seems to be the expert at wiping out most people’s livelihood overnight at a whim or a sniff of an algorithmic change.

  12. This is a very interesting discussion on Adwords. I ran a small adwords campaign several months back and my ROI was pretty small so I paused it. However, now that I’m not running a campaign my traffic has really gone down so I would totally agree it seems adwords is almost a must anymore. Even more so after your comments on screen resolutions. Yikes, just when I think I’m starting to understand a small bit I find there’s more (smile). This time around I’m keeping my fingers crossed more conversions from these ad’s will be noticed. Do you use analytics to track your adwords conversions?

  13. thanks for sharing your insight into this. Search is constantly changing.. as Google are experimenting various ways to provide unbiased search results. Keep up with the great work, your goals are definitely attainable.

  14. What an amazing article! Google Adwords is so great! thanks for tips.

  15. Hi Steve,
    Grate post. I’ve read many posts on your site and found them really interesting. I love the way you tell your story and also the lesson we can learn from them. I am excited when reading this post. However, I wonder if Search Ads really works when it comes to customer’s behavior? I think Ads doesn’t sound good or trustworthy to customers. When I am in a customer’s role, I don’t often click an Ads. In stead, I choose among the organic listing. What do you think?

  16. Thanks for showing the importance of adwords these days. I have always thought organic was the way to go without adwords at all. But as you have shown and i have noticed lately, organic sure does need some paid back-up now to get by.
    Do you think for adwords it is best to use only high ranking keywords send them to home / category pages); or to also use actual product title keywords as well (take them to the exact product) instead?

  17. I don’t totally agree with you. i have talked with many people and most of them tell me that they do not click on the ads but will scroll down to the organic search results to click on a link.

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