Understanding the New Google SERP

Jonas Sickler SEO Manager
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. While ads still appear at the top of the SERPs, most searchers have developed banner blindness and ignore them.

In this post, we’ll walk through the biggest changes to the Google SERP, and how they affect SEO.

The Ever-Changing Google SERP

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.

  • Image search came on the scene in 2001
  • YouTube made online video a thing in 2005
  • Google introduced Universal Search in 2007. That feature combined local packs, related searches, images, videos, news, etc. in the main search results.
  • The Knowledge Graph started to fill a large percentage of the screen in 2012.
  • In 2016, the ads in the right rail disappeared.

Fast forward to today, and you could argue that the Google SERP is no longer just a search engine. It’s a stand-alone website.

Welcome to the No-Click SERP

For some queries, you might find your answer right there in the SERP. Whether Answer Boxes, Featured Snippets, Related Questions, See Results About, Tweets, carousels, shopping results, or the Knowledge Panel, 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.

Get this: For some definitional searches, you don’t even have to actually search. Google’s autocomplete includes the definition in the query bar before you even hit “return.”

Google SERP autocomplete example

It’s not just quick answers that are affected, either. Informational queries have also lost clicks.

Case Study: Falling Google SERP CTR

According to Jumpshot data, 34.28% of desktop searches now result in no click. That number skyrockets to 61.03% on mobile because Google wants to provide users with an answer right there on your phone.

In fact, 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 long-tail keywords, the trend is clear.

I saw the impact of diminishing clicks firsthand on a long-standing customer. 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.

You might expect traffic to be similar. Not even close.

lower CTR from Google SERP

Two years later, the same page with the same organic rankings got 26,000 fewer sessions. That’s more than a 27% decrease! That particular SERP is now overwhelmed with advertisements and instant answers from Google.

As a result, you must spend time on SEO within the SERP itself. If you limit your optimization efforts to only your own website then you’ll miss out on key factors that enable you to compete effectively in the Google SERP.

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

Is the Google SERP Becoming a Website?

No-click queries are bad, but there’s another significant development that SEOs need to know about:

Google is becoming a sales facilitator. It interjects itself into the sales process and keeps the searcher on Google properties until the final checkout.

Let’s look at hotels as an example

Want to book a hotel in Chicago? The Google SERP now provides you with a widget to book your room. What’s more, it also lets you filter results right in the SERP! 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).

If you’d rather bring your pooch, just let Google know. Maybe you need free parking? No problem. How about a kid-friendly hotel? Yep, designate that, as well.

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

Easier to interact with a map view of your hotel options? No prob, just click into the map that’s listed in the SERP. 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 Google SERP. That’s a paradigm shift for how hotels attract guests online. Instead of a starting place to find hotels or review websites, the Google SERP is now essentially an aggregation site.

Although the final checkout may be on the actual hotel domain, 90% of the process occurs in the Google SERP. In other words, the search results page will do the heavy lifting for the sale.

Sometimes, you can even book the accommodation within the Google environment, too.

What Can You Do About It?

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 through 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 may eventually insert itself into the process across various industries. You can already find similar experiences if you search 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 Google SERP

Due to the shifting Google SERP, you need a more holistic approach to be successful in organic search today. That means SEO is no longer just about optimization. Terakeet’s Enterprise SEO includes a deep analysis of the SERP features to help you compete for the keywords that actually drive traffic.

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?

Don’t waste your SEO resources on click-less queries. Contact our team to drive real results!

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