How Google shook up paid and organic search clicks in 2016
We recently covered some of the algorithm and layout changes that Google made to its search engine in 2016. Perhaps the biggest change was the paid search layout change in Q2 whereby Google began to display up to four paid ads above the fold. This change caused a lot of volatility in the distribution of paid and organic search traffic.
To study this volatility, we analyzed the online behavioral activity of our 100-million consumer panel to compare the share of organic and paid click-throughs that finance, retail and travel websites received from top ranking keywords throughout the year. Read on for our full data-driven findings.
Bankrate dominates paid search clicks for “interest rates”
Bankrate earned the most traffic from “interest rates” searches in 2016, as the company averaged about an 80 percent share of paid search clicks and a 40 percent share of organic search clicks throughout the year.
In paid search, Bankrate was a potential beneficiary of Google’s paid search layout change, as its share of paid search traffic grew from 65 percent in Q2 to above 90 percent in Q3 and Q4. Of course, the improved share of paid search clicks could have been part of Bankrate’s strategy to counter its decreasing share of organic traffic with an increasing presence in paid search.
On the organic front, Bankrate faces steep competition from MarketWatch, who interestingly gets its interest rate data from Bankrate. In Q2, Bankrate had a large lead in share of organic traffic over MarketWatch, but that lead decreased in Q3 and again in Q4. By the end of 2016, Bankrate and MarketWatch got nearly the same share of organic search clicks from “interest rates” queries. Everyone else, largely news organizations, competed over the remaining 34 percent of organic clicks not captured by Bankrate and MarketWatch.
Among these other competitors, The New York Times saw a big spike in share of organic traffic in December, which accounted for 70 percent of all the organic clicks that the site received from “interest rates” searches throughout the year.
H&M and Zulily battle for the lead in paid traffic for “kids clothes”
The biggest mover in paid search for “kids clothes” was H&M, which took the lead for paid traffic from Zulily in Q3 when its market share increased sharply to 80 percent. However, H&M’s share of paid clicks leveled out in Q4 to around the same as Zulily’s. H&M’s increase in share of paid clicks might be the direct response of losing nearly half of its share of organic traffic due to increased competition from Macy’s, Gymboree and Kohl’s. Currently, H&M’s organic search rank for “kids clothes” is behind Kohl’s, Gymboree and Macy’s.
Kayak rises to the top share of paid search for “flights”
Earning clicks from searches for “flights” is very difficult, as Google captures more than three quarters of the clicks on this keyword with its Google Flights widget directly on the search results page. Consequently, our analysis focused on how the remaining quarter of the organic click-throughs from “flights” queries were distributed in 2016.
Expedia and CheapOair started off the year as paid search leaders, accounting together for 77 percent of the paid clicks. However, they lost significant market share to Kayak in Q3 and Q4. In Q3, Kayak rose to capture a close third place, earning 24 percent of the paid clicks. Then, in Q4, Kayak rose again to capture the lead with 36 percent of paid search clicks. This might be the result of Kayak losing its share of organic traffic to Travelocity in September, possible due to the integration of Penguin into Google’s core algorithm. Travelocity continues to perform well in organic results and currently ranks second for this phrase ahead of Kayak and behind Google Flights.
Bottom line: The volatility in paid and organic search clicks shown above underscores the need for advertisers and site owners to monitor changes in Google Search and keep their search marketing strategy and tactics in alignment with how Google Search works. We will continue to analyze the impact of Google’s significant algorithm and layout changes on search traffic in 2017, so stay tuned!