Nick is a digital marketing professional and founder of BASIX, a digital marketing agency specializing in web design and marketing services.
Google changes every day. They are constantly making changes and updates to how their technology works. As SEO professionals watch and study each of these changes thoroughly to make sure their websites are keeping up with rankings, they may be missing out on a key trend that has been taking place over the last several years that has nothing to do with rankings at all.
Many of the updates and changes that Google is making has to do with search result features. If you look at the Google business model, they dominate the search engine world because they have the best user experience. They became the search giant because they offer users the best searching experience. They have the best results for their users, which keeps people coming back. So it’s only in Google’s best interest to continue to innovate and continue to enhance the experience users have when searching on Google.
This has turned into numerous updates to the search result pages. If you look at what a search result page looked like five years ago, it’s vastly different than what it looks like today. Let’s take a look at an example.
Although the search query is the same, and the rank we are looking at is the same (position 1), the result is vastly different. Why is this? Let’s look at a number of changes to the search result pages that have taken place over the years.
1. More Ads
Ads are no longer listed on the right-hand side of the search results. This turns into typically more ads showing up in the search results, designed to look like an organic result. Google makes money when people click on the ads, so they want more people to click on the ads. It makes sense for them to make them look more organic because at the end of the day they will earn more money.
2. Ad Enhancements
The ads that are showing up also have new enhancement options. Additional site links, star ratings, text callouts, phone numbers, and more all make the ads take up more space on the page. These ad extensions are good for advertisers as it makes their ads stick out more prominently. This pushed down the organic rankings even more.
3. Featured Snippets
Google has found that they can answer questions for users right in the search result page. They are using featured snippets to surface answers right there so users don’t even have to click through onto the web page. That big box with the numbered list is a perfect example of how Google is doing this, and because of the size of this box, organic search results are pushed down even further.
4. Related Questions
If Google sees users searching for similar topics, they’ll surface those questions giving the user the ability to searching a new question before they even hit the organic listings! Didn’t see the answer you liked in the paid ads and featured snippet? Here are some similar questions other people are asking. Click here and maybe you’ll like these other ads better. This big box pushes down the organic listings even further.
The result? In this example, the first organic search result is now 1050 pixels down the page. That is 720 pixels lower than it was before. You could have the same exact ranking position (rank number 1) and now be below the fold and getting a fraction of the click-throughs that you would have had just a few years ago. With all of this information being listed in front of your result, people have less reason to actually click through to a webpage. They can get their answers right in the search result page. More and more users are searching for something on Google, getting the answer they need in the search result, and then not clicking through to anything at all.
The trend is that even without search engine algorithm changes to affect rankings, you’re still being pushed down the page. You can see your click-through rates and organic traffic drop significantly without changes positions at all, simply because all these new features being displayed on the search result pages.
So the question is, what do we do now?
1. Run Ads
If you’re not already running PPC ads, it’s highly recommended. You can target specific terms that people are searching and get your site at the top of all of these things being displayed. Since today’s ads look almost identical to organic results, users don’t even know the difference. With a strong PPC strategy, you target the keywords that have high intent for purchasing your product or service which will help you maximize your dollars spent to generate new business.
2. Optimize for These New Features
Outside of ads, you’ll want to make sure your Google My Business listing is set up, verified, and optimized. This is a huge tool for local businesses to show up in these results and one of the many features that has changed the organic result page landscape. You’ll also want to make sure your site is optimized so you can qualify for those featured snippets. It’s not easy to do, but with good site markup, schema, and quality content, you can get there. You still won’t out-place the ads with snippets, but engagement can be high and it’ll help you stick out on search engine results.
3. Up Your Game Using Other Channels
You don’t want to leave the success of your online marketing up to how Google decides to change their search result pages. You have to have other inbound channels in play to help drive awareness and acquire customers. Social media marketing, email marketing, influencer marketing, it all matters. Tomorrow, Google could decide that the first five pages are going to all be ads and you wouldn’t be showing up until page six.
You don’t want your entire inbound strategy based on organic traffic online. How does the sayin’ go? Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.