The Google search engine results page (SERP) has undergone a number of impactful changes over the past couple of years, which has in turn changes searcher behaviour. The introduction of items such as the recent Local 3-pack and the earlier Knowledge Graph has changed the way searchers interact on the SERP. Consequently, marketers have to re-evaluate their SEO and SEM strategies.
A recent study by Mediative Eye-Tracking to identify key changes in the Google SERP between 2005 and 2014 revealed the following:
Searchers are beginning to look outside of the box because of two reasons: first, the top SEO listings are no longer always positioned in the top-left corner – forcing searchers to look elsewhere on the SERP to find what they are looking for; and second, mobile devices have conditioned users to scan information vertically as opposed to horizontally.
Searchers are spending more time on SERPs as they look at more results during each session, but are spending less time assessing each option. In 2005, searchers spent around 2 seconds viewing each listing, compared to 1.17 seconds in 2014.
Paid search ads are still relevant and capable of drawing the user’s attention, especially for local searches. This may, however, be influenced by the entry of the local 3-pack carousel, making the top 3 listings more important than ever.
The changes in SERPs have been attributed to a variety of factors. SEO experts suggest that:
Google is beginning to utilise its huge data access – Looking at the numerous changes that Google has made to its algorithms and SERPs, it is safe to say that Google has analysed the massive amount of data it has and fully understands what users are looking for. For instance, searchers must appreciate the instant access to company/product reviews and comparison data on SERPs – so they can make their own choice - instead of simply being directed to a few websites that made their way to the top of organic rankings.
Google intends to keep its main revenue stream alive – advertising accounted for nearly 90 percent of Google’s revenue in 2014, and one of their key earners, display, has not been performing that well. So, if you want intend to sell directly via the Google platform, you have to pay.
So, how are changes to SERPs affecting SEO?
The changes in SERPs suggest that marketers should pay to appear at the top of Google searches for specific keywords. Indeed, using highly targeted paid ads is one way to get traffic.
But this does not mean that organic SEO is dead. Marketers, however, need to take the necessary measures to draw traffic, such as:
Optimising their website for the web, taking advantage of all opportunities in addition to Google, like YouTube, social networks, Quora, etc.
Creating valuable content
In fact, as long as users rely on Google search, SEO will remain relevant.