Google is Swallowing the Web – How Will Your Site Survive?

Only 3% of Google searches return a list of 10 ‘organic’ links. 97% of search results are supplemented (or replaced?) with Google’s answer to the query.

Google is getting smarter at determining user intent, and answering their query – without ever leaving Google. As a consumer I’m impressed by some of the results I see.

As a website owner I’m dismayed – Google is slowly but surely amassing every answer to every query – making a visit to my site entirely redundant.

In this query it takes 3 full page scrolls before the first organic result can be seen.

A brief look at my Google search console shows that many #1 ranked keywords get a 12%-30% clickthru rate! I’m sure this rate will continue to drop.

Google Always Wins

As a side-project/hobby I recently started building out a list of electric vehicles. I wanted to make a clean sortable list of upcoming EVs.

Then I wondered “what happens if I type this query into Google?”

Google has already made this – complete with prices and photos. I’m impressed. But I’m also crying on the inside.

Where To Now?

As machine intelligence takes over, Google’s algorithms are building content faster and better than what I can alone, in my spare time. Conventional SEO advice only feeds the machine – like creating content to answer a query really well.

For many years now I’ve focused entirely on building sites and content for the user. Not for Google. The results have been random. Many sites have (inexplicably) had their rankings slowly drop away. A few sites have (inexplicably) increased in ranking on certain pages. I can identify no reasons.

The future is clear: There will be very little room for organic sites in query results.

This is a conundrum, and the obvious answer has always been “don’t rely on Google”.

I don’t have any glib answers on how to do this. Even some of the biggest informational sites in the world have the majority of their traffic coming from Search.

I wonder if the way forward is to focus intensely on building user community.

Work hard to retain and engage with any user that comes along, and find a reason for that user to visit the site again. Simply answering a query might have helped the page rank (and help the user), but it provides no more reason to engage with the site ever again.

It’s gratifying to see content from your page in Google’s answer box. It’s also a kick in the guts knowing that Google just made your page redundant.

In this example, my Google Search Console shows a #1 ranking for the phrase “dark chocolate brands”. However the CTR is only 14.23%.

I would love to hear any suggestions to help small publishers and site owners find a way forward.

Hi, I'm James, and for the last decade I've made a living by making my own blogs and websites.
Updated: March 24, 2017


  1. Google is becoming a walled garden. Like Facebook and other suchlike networks. Nothing wrong with that. A very effective strategy once you get it right. Thus, the challenge for “small” publishers would be to increase stickiness. In other words, not much has changed in the big picture of SEO (the big networks managed to get more efficient at it).
    Think mom-and-pop stores vs shopping malls. To maintain traffic you’ll need to be in or around the malls, the more the better. It’s a lot of work and could even be expensive but basically you don’t have a choice.
    The time for easy blogging is over – as the newspapers will attest. Perhaps just as well because the chaff will be separated from the wheat. Still, if a visitor feels that the content is worth sharing, he/she will do so (inside those walled gardens or elsewhere) and the publisher will notice the result.
    The only constant is change. Progress. And, for us, “99% sweat and 1% luck.”
    Thanks for the valuable info James. Keep it up!

    • Great comments. I laugh remembering the days of “easy blogging”, I had one site that I wrote a couple of paragraphs each day (no long-form, no images, no click-bait headlines)… the blog just grew and grew and google loved it… until google hated it.

  2. Hi James, with the snippet that you’ve mentioned – I found that this can dramatically increase traffic to article. For example when your article is not in the first place but Google decided to show the snippet pointing to your site. So actually this increases traffic.

    In other cases the snippet doesn’t show a complete info which entices the reader to click

    Looking at the CTR in search console – I found out that it doesn’t always correlate with traffic as there are a lot of related searches you don’t see in the console so I tend to look at the traffic over time to a specific article. Google hides lots of keywords and only gives a very limited info in the console. They don’t want you to reverse engineer their algo.

    • Good point, however (as I mentioned in the post), even with that answerbox, the CTR was only 14% (according to Google search console).

  3. Yes, Google has way too much power if you ask me. And SEO is becoming less and less effective and more expensive, in part because of things like this.

    Part of the answer I think lies in long tail keywords. Google can generate answers to simple queries, but if you have the right content answering something very specific, you should win out!

    • True, but given time, they will gradually be able to answer more and more obscure queries. Here’s a great read on the subject:

      Even the author there suspects that soon, only HALF of all searches will result in a click. The other half will get their answer on itself.

  4. I have the same questions too, where the future of website owners and publishers stands ?

    Machine learning is now the new thing, alongside virtual and augmented reality. Google is getting clever at these things. Testing snippets, news , videos and even full content snippets. They are even buying the rights for most of these contents. Google is becoming a publisher, a very big one.

    Google is a business and it will do everything in its potential to drive as much revenue as possible. But, as always the power is in the publishers/people.

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