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The Future of Google SEO: What's Next for SERP Features?

By Joe Kiely
on 16/11/18

Over the past decade or so, Google has been ‘sneaking’ more and more SERP features into its traditional organic results.

What is a SERP feature?

Well, this all started way back in 2001 with AdWords, when Google started displaying paid ads as part of search results. These days, there are over 16 different SERP features, such as featured snippets, image packs and map results.

Featured snippets have been important to SEO for a while now. If you can gain the featured snippet for a certain search term, Google is essentially saying that your content is an accurate and trustworthy answer to the query. Therefore, it displays a teaser of your on-site content, which users must click on to see the rest. However, today’s SERP features are much more comprehensive in answering search queries. Let me explain:

If you search for the weather in your local area, you’re going to see something like this:

Weather image

As a user, this is great! No need to scroll through the results and click through to a site; a whole weekly forecast is right there in front of you. Efficient and effective. For businesses who rely on organic traffic to convert on-site however, this isn’t so great…

For mobile users, this is even more prevalent:

 

February 2016

February 2018

Organic

Paid

No Clicks

Organic

Paid

No Clicks

Desktop

65.56%

2.50%

34.44%

65.72%

3.82%

34.28%

Mobile

58.43%

1.83%

41.57%

38.97%

3.12%

61.03%

SparkToro data - (sums are greater than 100% as searchers can click multiple results per query)

Over the past two years, search queries on mobile have seen a 20% drop in organic clicks and a 20% rise in no clicks (search queries that result in no traffic to a particular page), while on desktop over the same period, the stats have remained fairly steady.

So, why is this? Let’s examine the SERP of the same queries on both platforms:

thor

 

mobile google

These are the SERP results for ‘thor’ on both desktop and mobile. On mobile, you have to scroll through at least three pages of overviews, snippets and carousels before you get to the #1 ranking search result.

But this is happening with almost all types of search query. For example, sports:

premier legue

It’s also the case for almost any type of calculation:

pounds to euros

So Google, what gives?

Back when the search engine landscape was much more competitive, content creators could just noindex google bots and favour the other search engines to give them an advantage. But these days, Google holds a 92.74% market share, so it’s basically free to do whatever it feels like.

In fact, back in 2013, Google ran an experiment where it swapped its own search results with Bing’s, but put kept Google’s logo on the Bing results and vice versa. Guess which results users preferred? That’s right, the ones with Google’s logo on… that is power.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. Surprisingly, voice search provides a silver lining. In 2016, Google said that 20% of mobile queries were voice searches. By 2020, it is estimated that that number will rise to 50%.

Voice searches are usually questions, for example: “Where’s my nearest…”, “What is the best…” etc, which means they utilise long-tail keywords. Long-tail keywords have typically lower search volume, as they are more fixated on a particular query. Because of this, users have a higher intent to purchase, as they’re searching for something specific. By their nature, long-tail keywords are harder to answer with SERP features, so optimising for the growing number of voice searches is certainly something to consider when planning out content marketing strategies, especially for mobile.

What does this mean for the Future of SEO?

Search these days is all about usability and these growing numbers of SERP feature are, admittedly, very quick, efficient and user-friendly. But what does it mean for sites who depend on traffic to convert on-site? Well, if this is the way search is going, we need to be realistic.

Now is the time to be investing in SEO and optimising on-site content for on-SERP SEO; if Google is going to bias maps, GMB listings, YouTube search results, snippets etc., we need to be making sure content is optimised for these listings. Organic traffic still outweighs paid results, but in a world where organic results are being pushed further down the SERP, it’s more important than ever to rank as highly as possible for your key terms.

The harder a tactic becomes, the more of a competitive advantage it is.

Need help making sure your site is fully optimised to rank about your competitors? That’s what we’re here for! Get in touch today to find out what we can do for you.

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