The Times They Are A-Changin’
When you’re doing online marketing it’s really easy to get stuck in a pattern of looking at analytics, your SEO tools, or your spreadsheets to determine your next move on your own site. This time last year I created a post to help understand the SERPs, and explored what you could expect from the results page when you search on Google. It’s shocking to see just how much has changed in the past year and how it could impact your strategic decisions for your online marketing. When I started writing this blog post, we still had authorship photos. When I reached out to a couple of my SEO friends for their input, we’d just had the bombshell drop that authorship photos were now gone from the SERP.
R.I.P. Author Photos in SERPS. Google doesn’t want any visuals distracting from paid search real estate. With Google+ leadership shakeup, is Google Authorship next on the chopping block? – Steven Shattuck
Of course, as just a little more time passed, the removal of Google Authorship from the SERP in it’s entirety happened. There’s plenty to digest here in this change. The most important thing though is to truly understand that Google is not going to sit still. They’re constantly releasing changes to their algorithm, and aren’t afraid to shake up the SERPs just because they’ve made a significant investment.
Knowledge Graph- It’s Growing, and Becoming More Important
“The biggest changes I’m seeing with SERPs is the use of scraped content and Google’s promotion of their own services. Google is increasingly displaying publisher content at the top of their search results, thus negating the need to visit a publisher’s site. In addition, they’re promoting their own properties well above other competing sites. A good example of this can be seen with the search “Weird Al, Word Crimes” – Jon Henshaw of Raven Tools
Some other SEOs are thinking that not only is there a broadening of their own content or scraped content, but it’s something that SEO’s truly need to be concerned about. Tadeusz Szewczyk is a well known voice in SEO, here’s what he had to say:
“In 2014 Google’s tendency to resemble a portal become less apparent. Google still wants to prevent users from clicking through to third party sites but attempts to reduce clutter while at it. With the recent removal of Google authorship images and follower counts as well as video thumbnail previews from SERPs Google cleans up so that there are fewer distractions from their ads. The most unnerving recent change is the increased scraping of third party sites. It has been already going on in 2013 but mostly for long tail “how to” queries. Right now already two word keyphrases like “treat sunburn” lead to a content pages on Google that scrape from a third party site while the link to it is far below. Additional results are mostly below the fold even without ads showing. So Google is effectively stealing text content from sites without sending traffic their way.
In many cases all you need to know is already displayed on Google or at least enough advice to start with. You can click for an additional bullet point or two if you really want to. This is a dangerous development for webmasters both of the scraped sites and those showing below the scraped results. After books, news, images, music the big Google content grab finally reaches the main stage, all other websites that were meant to “just create great content”. Now we know why. It’s for Google to steal and republish for free.” – Tadeusz Szewczyk of seo2.us
Let’s take a look at some of these queries Tad is talking about to get an idea of what’s going on in the results.
Artist Queries [Weird Al]
A search where you can see the impact of Google playing the role of data provider is on a search for a musical artist. Try searching for [Weird Al] and you’ll get a full length, multi-section knowledge graph entry. This includes additional knowledge based entries about his spouse, parents and movies that don’t even send to third parties but to additional queries! It’s really important to also note that there’s now direct monetization of the Knowledge Graph.
Knowledge Base For Movies [Karate Robo Zabogar] & Books [Snow Crash]
Here we again see wikipedia cited as a source, and additional searches for more information about the characters, the book series and the Author. There’s also review data from 3rd party sites in addition to Google Books.
Notable Issues with Knowledge Graph
While Google is generally very good about how it displays information stored in it’s Knowledge base, it’s not perfect.
“Google Knowledge graph is everywhere and not always quite right…Apparently Terry takes photos of President Obama and IS Obama…so I guess this is a selfie.” – A.J. Ghergich
The Rich World Of Snippets
The very clever AJ Kohn wrote this must read analysis of rich snippets and the separate algorithm that triggers them in your results. It really does help to understand that it’s not enough anymore just to add schema markup in order to get rich snippets, there are other factors at play.
“The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” Neal Stephenson
We have now become suspect when we see a 5 star rating on a restaurant with more than 5 reviewers. We know that within every group of customers, there’s always going to be a curmudgeon, an oscar the grouch who will always be that 1 star review.
The Big 2014 SERP Style Update
One big change that you’re going to notice if you’re comparing the SERP to yesteryear is the styling. Dr. Pete over at Moz detailed all of the changes in his before and after post. In short though, you can see changes to Adwords display, Title link underlining and general text styling.
Developments in Personalization & Customization of SERPS
“Customization is going to continue to to risk creating a bit of an echo chamber for SERPs. Marketers will need to sharpen their social and targeting games to reach broad audiences.” – Paul Nicholson
My SERP is directly impacted by the people in my G+ circles, when I search for [Best restaurant in Nashville] this G+ result comes up from Robert Warren who I only know through G+ and Ingress (Viva la Resistance!). This is important to keep in mind if your planning your social media strategy and are not thinking about using Google Plus. No other social media outlet is going to impact people’s SERP results directly like this.
How Google Displays Brands
“Brands have been the big winners in organic search lately. It’s only a matter of time until Google does the same thing for local search, and recent updates like Pigeon only put us one step closer. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next 6-12 months with local search results.” – Tanner Petroff
Google is still providing advantages to established sites by providing Sitelinks to deeper content, powered by your Titles and descriptions providing even more incentive to get your metas right site wide.
If you properly deploy Rel=publisher markup, then you can also expect to see your recent G+ activity on your brand term SERP. Given the recent treatment of Authorship, it’s no guarantee to stay around forever but for now it’s worth the small effort.
You also now have incentive to try and get a Wikipedia entry for your company if it’s of a large enough size, as you will be attributed a brand knowledge graph element. Good luck navigating the process of getting a Wikipedia entry created without being marked as spam though.
Google Local SERPs
“The Google ‘Pigeon’ Update Boosts Local Directories such as Yelp. It also aligned local search results more closely with the ranking factors they use in normal web search. – A.J. Ghergich”
In the early Summer of 2014 Google announced an update to the algorithm that affected local searches. Not only did it alter the order of local results, it also had an impact on which SERPs for specific industries would contain the local mapped results. Let’s take a look at some local queries to see what the local search scene looks like here in 2014.
The Google Carousel is alive and well, and now includes a filtering option to allow you to sort by price, rating or more.
While [Nashville realtor] and [Nashville real estate] won’t trigger local results after the Pigeon update, there’s still plenty of reason to fight for local placement on queries where local is still a result.
If you provide a service where you come to your client’s home, like landscaping, then you now get special demarkation on your local result showing your service area.
Let’s See What Google Can Do!
There are more and more queries are giving more and more functionality to the Google SERP. Here’s an exploration of queries that will trigger some novelty and possibly useful SERPs for you.
Plan a Trip with Google Flights [BNA to Norfolk Cost]
With the increase in air travel this SERP could be really helpful for planning. Of course, you should note that these are actually paid advertisement deals that the airlines have worked out with Google.
Set A Timer [Timer For 20 Minutes]
Need to cook something and don’t have a stopwatch handy? Use this SERP to set a timer with a surprisingly loud alarm.
What Is My I.P?
Need to filter out your traffic from Google Analytics, here you go.
Need Awnser To Maths?
If your query has a number of results from forums or answer sites then you may see this type of result, showing how many answers and when they were posted.
More Advanced Maths
While you can do advanced graphing now with Google SERPs if you’ve got an updated browser, you can also put in less specific terms and still get the results you’re looking for from Google calculator.
What’s For Dinner?
What To Do Tonight [Nashville Concerts]
You can expect to see some rich snippets here and there for event based queries.
Let’s Wrap This Up: Keep Ahead Of The SERP
“Due to Google’s increased understanding of users’ needs, traffic coming from the SERPs performs better and better. Is it more challenging to rank appropriately these days? Yes. But the increase in quality traffic is worth it. If SEOs have the same goal as Google, provide better web experiences for their users, then the internet will be a happy place. The most most attractive thing about being an online marketer is the constant challenge to better our skills. Bring it on Google!” – Ashley Balstad
There’s plenty of changes this year to the SERPs and you can expect just as much change in the coming days. Just be sure to surface from your client reports and check out what it’s actually like to search Google in a real way that people would use to find your service or product. Take advantage of advanced tactics, but know that they aren’t always going to give you the same advantage over time.
If you’ve seen some other unusual SERPS or have a useful observation then be sure to share it in the comments!