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  • Changes in online behaviours over last three years
  • matt_outandabout
    Full Member

    I’m trying to get an understanding of the bigger picture, beyond my work website, social media and communications. We’re an outdoor learning and play charity.

    Through the pandemic we saw a huge surge in numbers of people accessing our content, and indeed we had opportunity to quickly create content. We had corresponding surge in enquiries and work. Arguably

    I’m now seeing all sorts of changes, headlined by shrinking audience numbers, arguably a slightly better engagement from a few. Our enquiries and work continues to grow. I’m seeing a drop in engagement on social media and similar channels, but growth in search – plus better engagement through search. ‘Old’ easy ‘wins’ of newsletters or Facebook are just not what they were.

    We’re also seeing real changes in social media – some / much self inflicted decisions (Twitter?), but maybe based on ‘old’ expectations of continued growth, new technology (Metaverse anyone?) and people’s ever increasing use of online. Maybe we’re logging off more…

    Any of STW forum able to offer insight into the wider changes going on in online, and I do think pandemic has changed things….

    Full Member

    Difficult to encapsulate the macro situation with online behaviour, apart from maybe the growth of TikTok and continued move to Instagram from Twitter (and FB to some extent).

    Digital marketing is a big part of my job and (as an ex-journo) I’m always biased toward focusing on content that brings genuine value to the reader.

    I’d hold off investing in the metaverse for now. It’s not looking too promising so far.

    Full Member

    What I have noticed with my friends group and via work too as I remote work is everyone is now burned out of social media and zoom meetings. So yes I suspect people are unplugging more!

    Full Member

    It’s a number of factors but they are all equating to the symptoms you are noticing. The good news is it’s affecting pretty much every site that isn’t purely retail. The reasons?

    Facebook has abandoned publishers. By publishers I mean anyone who used FB to distribute links to content not on the FB platform. They used to have lots of publisher tools like Instant Articles and advertising systems that paid publishers but they’ve pretty much dropped the lot and they now don’t give a toss about anyone trying to use their platform for reach unless they are paying for ads. That’s a bugger for anyone who invested heavily in FB as a marketing tool for content. We (Singletrack) retreated from the platforms as a major distribution channel a year or so ago. We still use it to spread the word of new stories but it’s something that’s 80% automated now and costs us nothing.

    Then there’s Google and its search algo – This is the biggest driver of traffic change. There have been a. number of major updates in the last 12 months. The first was in May and that was aimed at better targeting search intent to high quality content from experts. That impacted search into the forum here quite heavily. We used to rank very highly for none bike related topics like, ‘how to kill a tree’. There have been a few forum threads on that topic and it was an SEO magnet for us. Google’s change basically took the view that why would anyone typing that search query want to end up on a site that specialises in biking? Our site is not known for its horticultural expertise – so they down-ranked us for this kind of search. Makes sense to send those search queries to specialist websites and not a cycling website.

    This hit our traffic to the site but the interesting thing is that our ad revenue didn’t drop – that’s because no one who ended up on the how to kill a tree thread was clicking on ads for bikes – the result was our ad clicks didn’t drop. As a result our click through percentage actually increased.

    In short, it was an impactful algo change but the result was higher quality of site visitors overall. The right people were being directed to the right websites. All good in the grand scheme of things.

    Then in August and September Google made another major change to the algo. This time it was designed to match searches up with products to buy. It was the retail/review update. The effect of this was that websites selling stuff were boosted up the rankings and sites that just provided content lost out. This change is arguably a worse change. This manifested itself in our office when our editorial team noticed that when searching for brand websites like Trek, Specialized etc they were noticing that retailers of those brands actually started to outrank actual brand sites.

    There has apparently been another major update to search in the last few days. Each update takes a few weeks to roll out fully so I’m not sure yet what the effects are. But overall, for the last 12 months Google search has improved in terms of it’s aim to match search queries up with high quality and trusted content. It’s good overall. The main result is that high quality content is attracting meaningful audiences. The reach has gone down dramatically in some cases but the traffic that is coming is highly engaged with the content and in of itself more valuable.

    TLDR: The days of massive reach are over, but what remains is more valuable.

    I’m doing a talk on this very subject at the Publisher Show in London next year.

    Full Member

    Thanks Mark, very interesting

    Full Member

    Seconded. :)

    Full Member

    Thanks Mark,that is very interesting .

    Full Member

    Any of STW forum able to offer insight into the wider changes going on in online

    is your target audience mainly young people? or their parents/carers etc? If it’s the former then you probably need to ask them rather than a load of clueless old duffers like on here 😂 It’s my (limited) understanding that FB especially is very much out of favour compared to TikTok etc.

    Full Member

    Thanks Mark.

    How is knowledge of Google search changes propagated? Does Google offer up some version of release notes,  to either advertisers or the wider world, or is there a reliance on third party analysis of traffic changes to understand what’s going on?

    Full Member

    is your target audience mainly young people? or their parents/carers etc? If it’s the former then you probably need to ask them rather than a load of clueless old duffers like on here

    No, our main target is clueless old duffers called teachers, headteachers and early years educators 😉

    And yes, thank you Mark and others contributing as it’s all helpful. It’s confirming my ‘we are ok, just keep focussing on quality visitors, attracted by quality content and search, ignore the shrinking big numbers’

    Full Member

    Google famously gives precious little detail about its updates. Occasionally it does give some insight. For example since I posted the above I’ve found out more info about the update that’s rolling out now. This is apparently aimed at down-ranking content that is deliberately designed to game the SEO system by creating content that is designed to rank rather than content designed to be useful to a human. This one is going to be interesting. But it backs up what I said earlier about how Google actually wants to match content to real search intent. This should mean that websites that write content about a subject they don’t actually have expertise in won’t be able to game the system. An example that Google have actually released with this update is the phenomenon of publishers who publish a story titled ‘when will <insert TV series here that just ended season 3> season 4 be out?’

    You know the ones. They write about 1000 words summarising the last season and then at the end announce that ‘no renewal date has yet been set.’.

    These stories are designed to game the SEO system and Google now reckons they can spot these types of stories and others that are just SEO content first and useful content second.

    Here’s a list of the most recent updates announced by Google.

    Free Member

    The effect of this was that websites selling stuff were boosted up the rankings and sites that just provided content lost out. This change is arguably a worse change.

    Worse from my point of view as customer too – I buy a new gadget and try to find out how to use it, or fix it, and all Google shows me now is how to buy one.

    Free Member

    I had noticed that Google was giving me retailers rather than content and now Mark has given me the explanation. Perhaps what they hadn’t reckoned with is people using Quant (or whatever) if they aren’t looking to buy something. However, “singletrackworld how to kill a tree” doesn’t get me any retailers on either Google, Quant or DuckDuckGo.

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