The Future of SEO is on the SERPs
William Rice’s notes from Rand Fiskin’s talk at Brighton SEO
The future of SEO is on the SERPs… That sounds pretty scary. Or does it? Well to understand what’s going on let’s go back all the way to when Google had serious competition. Yeah, a long, long time ago.
Back in the good old days there were actually other search engines that posed a serious threat to Google. Yahoo, AskJeeves and MSN were all big players. This meant that Google had to work hand-in-hand with content creators and play ball with digital marketers.
You see, back then, creators and businesses used to create content and put it on Google and it was seen as a favour to Google! If Google had content on their search engine, that was great because they wanted more content than the other search engines. Creators would also allow Google to use their hosting bandwidth, scrape their content and rely on them to optimise to their standards all for free.
In return Google had to provide the creators and businesses with the clicks. Google had to actually try to get creators and businesses clicks otherwise the creators and businesses would just apply robots.txt files so that their content didn’t show up on Google anymore. That would be bad for Google and great for their competitors. So Google had some incentive to be nice.
But everything changed when Google got 90%+ of the market share. By this point Google were a towering powerhouse. They even did a little experiment to see how powerful they were. Google swapped their logo with a competitor’s. Google put the competitor’s logo on Google’s search results and Google’s logo on their competitor’s search results. It was found that the vast majority of people actually preferred whichever search results Google’s logo was on regardless of the content of the search results.
Google knew they had a monopoly and thus was free to treat content creators badly.
Every year there had been more clicks available apart from Autumn 2017. Then something changed.
On Desktop, this is what things looked like in terms of clicks:
Desktop is pretty much as expected, but Mobile had a massive amount of searches occurring with no clicks. This is the important part. Because Google had seen the large amounts of searches with no clicks, they thought that they should answer queries on mobile straight away in the search results. Because mobile users are less inclined to click.
In February 2016 41.57% of searches had no clicks.
In February 2018 61.03%
20% of organic clicks had been taken away from organic and were now no-click-searches. Making no-click-searches the most common.
Nowadays there are 15 organic clicks for every paid click. However, that’s a drop from 20 organic clicks for every paid click last year.
Across both platforms, for every 10 organic clicks there are 8.8 searches with no clicks.
So where are the changes happening?
They are certainly happening more on mobile than on desktop. They are also happening more for popular queries rather than longtail. However, they are happening equally among transactional and informational queries. But I’ll be showing what it looks like on desktop.
If you use Google now you can see these changes and how Google is adapting their browser for the ‘non-click-searchers’. When you search for restaurants on google, you’re bombarded with Google rich snippets, MyBusiness cards and many more pieces of information.
These snippets show the restaurants in a list to compare them without even having to click on their website. In fact, it has become quite difficult to actually navigate to a business’ website rather than its SERP card.
There is an extremely heavy bias towards YouTube videos. If you haven’t marked up your content using Google Tag Manager, Google Search Console or any of the developer plugins, your content is going to be shown after the ones that have.
That’s right, even if you have a video on YouTube, but haven’t marked it up then it will be shown after the ones that have!
The situation for weather is just laughable with an organic click through rate of less than 30%.
When was the last time you searched in ‘weather in *location*’ and actually clicked on something? If you don’t have an app already and just use that, then the Google SERP will answer the query anyway.
Google flight box is a SkyScanner killer and it’s only going to get worse.
The Google flight box shows the cheapest flights it can find for whenever you want to go, wherever you want to go. Literally cutting out the need for websites like SkyScanner.
Shows fixtures, results, tables and many more details including ‘top goalscorers’ for every sport. You have no need to click on any website because nearly everything that you would want to know is displayed on the SERPs.
Just like restaurants. It’s hard to find the actual websites. But why on Earth would you need to?
Famous and Notable People
Here you will find incredible amounts of information on notable people. What is scarier is that Google even extracts information from different articles to appear in the SERPs. Some of these extracts include ‘notable moments’ and ‘notable quotes’.
This is really worrying because Google is actually taking information from these sites and thus giving no reason to visit them. You’ve already seen the content, so why would you? Just scroll through the SERPs pressing those little arrow buttons.
Gives plenty of information about every company before you even click on them. If you’re just after doing some simple research then your query is answered in the SERPs.
Film and Television
Film and Television has to be one of the worst in terms of how far you have to scroll down before you can even click on a website.
To click on a website to actually watch a film or television series is sometimes requires even more scrolling.
There’s plenty more as well such as jobs, ‘best…’ and events.
The user is now Google’s only customer.
In all honesty, you can’t blame Google because the SERPs do make their search engine so much more efficient and usable. Think of how lazy you can be when you’re searching. That’s what people want. When having to do something people tend to want to do it with the least amount of effort possible. Google is just providing that.
However, Google aren’t the only ones being a bit sneaky. Twitter and LinkedIn now have a strong bias towards content that keeps people on-site. On-site references get a big metaphorical thumbs up and nudge by the social media sites.
YouTube (although it is Google) cuts off descriptions to avoid making links visible. This is because descriptions often hold links to other sites in them. So now you have to go through the added effort of clicking show more for them to even be visible. What a drag…
Voice devices might even make this worse. Think about it, you’re much less likely to click if you’re using your voice. You just want answers there and then because it’s conversational.
So this leaves us with two conflicting truths:
So how can we respond?
Leverage every scrap of traffic Google and others still send. Now is the time to put money into acquiring organic traffic. You need to get as much organic traffic now so in the future when it’s less available you are already a step ahead of the rest. So put those links in descriptions and keep trying to direct as much traffic as possible to your site.
Use CTR% as a key metric in keyword research so you can see which keywords still yield a lot of clicks. For example, using ‘weather’ as a keyword would be a terrible idea because it has a CTR of less than 30%. Because the SERPs have dominated that keyword now. So find a keyword that the SERPs haven’t taken and aren’t going to take anytime soon. These will typically be longtail. So keep an eye out when using Google Search Console Old and New.
It’s time to get that brand name known! People knowing your brand and desiring your brand will be invaluable because that is one thing Google can’t take away from you. They can give a bit of information on it, but they can’t actually be your brand. You are your brand and you sell your products on your website. So spread the word and make people want to come to it. Do it before the SERPs take over and you can’t even get a message out!
Invest in organic now so you’re stronger as more traffic goes paid only.
Invest in On-SERP SEO
Control what appears for your brand
If Google biases to YouTube, Images, G News, Maps etc… Then create content for these platforms.
If you’re using featured snippets, then be a bit clickbaity, you need to entice the click. Only give away small amounts on information and bring in the reader to want to read more.
If other sites rank but you can’t, use barnacle SEO. Create guest contributions and blog posts for other sites to gain those all important backlinks to boost your sites authority. If you’re going to be featured in the SERPs, you need to be authoritative to get there in the first place. Get that authority now before it’s too late!
While you’re at it, double down on getting those immaculate Google reviews. Incentivise leaving reviews so they come up in that increasingly important my business card. Reviews are an excellent way for you to build a trust between your product and prospective customer before they even buy! All because someone else trusts it. However, you will also need know how to deal with bad reviews.
So there you have it, the future of SEO is on SERP. Now go and make those changes to your marketing strategy so you are prepared of the rise of the SERPs.
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