Surprisingly, the company makes a sweeping statement about the reason for this decline:
This is no doubt a result of cutbacks in marketing spend due to the recession.
Er, I have some doubt. For one thing, you’re own observations raise doubt:
Consistently, brand name terms (such as “travelocity”, “orbitz” and “walmart” saw a sharp decrease year over year in the share of paid clicks. For example, 35.75% of clicks on searches for “orbitz” were on paid listings in the four weeks to May 9, 2009. This compares to 46.56% in the same four week period in 2008. This represents a 23% decrease year over year.
Is that likely due to a reduction in spend, or Orbitz et al are figuring out that they really don’t need to spend so much on paid advertising–considering they’re #1 in the organic results? After all, you also state:
…search traffic coming from paid listings is decreasing at the expense of organic traffic.
Hitwise does a great job of providing us with this type of data, but this serves as a reminder that you can interpret this data any way you want. Only the advertisers–and perhaps the search engines–can tell us what’s really going on.