Understanding the New Google SERP

Keith McComb Director of Terakeet Labs Back to SEO Blog
Key Points
  • The Google SERP is constantly evolving, and the latest changes have serious ramifications for your SEO strategies.
  • Get ready for no-click searcher behavior.
  • Uncover how the Google SERP is transforming into its own stand-alone website for certain searches.

Don’t look now, but the Google search engine results page (SERP) is evolving, and searcher behavior is changing right along with it. Chances are, even your own search behavior is different now than it was in the past.

Remodeling, Reconstructing, and Remaking the SERP through the Years

Back in 1996, Google was actually called BackRub. Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin then changed the name to Google in 1998, and the presentation of 10 organic search listings in the SERP started to become ubiquitous across computer screens. Every listing was organic. Pretty much every link went to a third-party web page. Period. End of story.

Google introduced AdWords in 2000. At first, AdWords was available to only 350 advertisers. The Google team was probably excited to see some dollars come in as a result. Now, ads are a staple of the SERP, and Alphabet (Google’s parent) happily profits approximately $12.6 billion annually, mainly from those ads.

In 2001, image search came on the scene.

In 2005, YouTube came to be, making online video a thing.

In 2007, Universal Search, in which Google started combining local packs, related searches, images, videos, news, etc. in the SERP, was included in the main search results. This was a significant paradigm shift for the SERPs.

In 2012, the Knowledge Graph started to fill a large percentage of the screen.

In 2016, the ads in the right rail disappeared.

Fast forward to today, and you could argue that the Google SERP is morphing from its roots as a search engine into a stand-alone website.

Welcome to the No-Click SERP

Look at the Google SERP today, and depending on the query, you’re likely to find much of the information that you were seeking right there in the SERP itself. From Answer Boxes to Featured Snippets, Related Questions, See Results About, Tweets, carousels, shopping results, the Knowledge Panel and more, the SERP is filled with many of Google’s own creations. In the case of Answer Boxes, you don’t leave the SERP to get your answer. If you search for the weather, Google will provide it for you. If you search for the game time of your favorite sports team, the SERP will serve it up right then and there.

Jumpshot data has revealed that 34.28% of desktop searches now result in no click. That number skyrockets to 61.03% on mobile (Google is obviously looking to provide you with an answer right there on your phone, and is striving to make clicks within the mobile SERP more of an ancillary concern.). For every 10 organic clicks in the SERPs, there are 8.8 searches that result in no click. Although this phenomenon is occurring more on popular searches than on the long-tail, the trend is clear.

I’ve seen the impact of this play out firsthand for a long-standing customer I have worked on for years. The client’s site held the number one organic position for a 60,000+ monthly search term for the first six months of 2016, and the first six months of 2018.

Two years later and the page, with the same organic rankings, is getting 26,000 less sessions, a 27% decrease! The SERP has become overwhelmed with advertisements and instant answers from Google.

As a result, it behooves you to spend time on SEO within the SERP itself. If you limit your optimization efforts to only your own website, you’ll be missing out on key factors enabling you to compete effectively in the SERP, even if your website is ranking well.

Interested in Exploring SEO Strategies to Win in the New Google SERP?

The Google SERP is Nothing Less than a Website

Along with the no-click phenomenon, there’s another, no less significant development with the SERPs. In more and more industries, Google is entering the market as a facilitator of sales, interjecting itself into the process and keeping the searcher on Google properties entirely through the process in certain cases.

Take hotels.

Want to book a hotel in Chicago? The Google SERP now provides you with a widget to book your room, with filtering functionality included, right there in the SERP itself. Enter the dates. Sort by best match, lowest price, or highest rating. Designate the number of guests. Specify your preference for customer rating or hotel class (or both).

Looking to bring your pooch? Specify that to Google. Need free parking? No problem. Want a kid-friendly hotel? Yep, designate that, as well.

You can even toggle among options at different max price points, down to the exact max dollar amount.

Would you be excited to find available deals? A current list is just one click away. Want to change your criteria while in the middle of your deals search? Yep, just a click away or toggle away.

You can even opt for Google’s selection of “Top Choices,” based on your search, prices, and quality.

Easier to interact with an interactive map view of your hotel options? No prob, just click into the map that’s listed in the SERP right there alongside all of these sorting and filtering options.

Sift through your options until you find the exact hotel, room, price, location, and amenities you’re looking for. Then click the call-to-action button “Book a Room.”

Keep in mind, all of this is taking place right there in the SERP, without going to a Marriott, Intercontinental, Hilton, or other hotel website. This is nothing less than a paradigm shift for hotels looking to attract guests online. Instead of the SERP being a place for prospective guests to simply find links to hotel, aggregator, and review websites, the SERP is now acting as its own aggregation website.

Once you’re ready to complete the booking, you’ll be taken in many cases to the hotel website to complete the transaction. In those cases, the final checkout may be on the actual hotel website, but 90% of the process has already taken place in the SERP. In other words, the SERP is doing all the heavy lifting for the sale.

In other cases, you can complete the entire process, including the actual booking itself, right there within the Google environment.

If you hope to capture the booking, you better believe you need to get off the bench and get in the game. If you’re a hotel, you cannot ignore this new SERP landscape and the challenges it poses for your brand.

Want the SERP to display your latest prices? Better send them to Google using the Hotel Prices Application Programming Interface (API). Want to show up under “Deals”? Need to keep Google up to date. Your SEO program now should consider Google an essential partner (or competitor) just as much as focusing on your own digital assets.

Not a hotel brand? You may be safe for now, but Google is continually inserting itself into the process across various industries. Already, you can find somewhat similar experiences when searching for flights, cars to purchase, movie tickets, and more. Even if your industry has not yet been targeted, it may be just a matter of time.

SEO and the New SERP

To be successful in SEO today requires a more holistic approach, one that includes a deep analysis of the actual SERP make-up itself and a strategy to deal with the many ways that Google is trying to keep the searcher in Google without sending them to a third-party website.

It’s no longer just about optimizing your website and other digital assets. You can no longer hope that your participation in aggregation sites is sufficient for your search success. Winning in the SERP now is just as much about navigating this new search engine within a search engine.

Want to win in the new SERP? Ask yourself whether your current SEO program includes these areas of analysis:

  • Where are the options for searchers to get answers to their queries without a click?
  • What are all of the different listing types in the SERP for your target keywords?
  • How can your brand be the source for answers in the SERP itself?
  • Which keywords have a higher CTR from the SERPs (and are less likely to be cannibalized by Google’s new features), and how can you weight your SEO efforts accordingly?
  • Spend more time on long tail keyword analysis. Longer lower volume keywords are less likely to have an instant answer and tend to have better CTR.
  • Is Google entering the process, making a Google partner program or widget, etc. a new factor in a searcher’s decision-making journey?
  • How can you increase your competitiveness in the SERP against no-click options? Against Google-powered new options?
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