3 Key Google SERP Updates & How You Should Adjust

Simrans Serp Post
Simran Sahni
April 7, 2016

If you’re an SEO analyst like me or you’re just savvy to the digital marketing world, you’re no stranger to the fact that Google has been quickly making huge changes to its search engine results page (SERP).

While the SERP has never been static, most changes are typically minor and unnoticeable to most. In the last couple of months, however, there have been a series of more significant changes and tests that have altered the face of online search and SEO as we know it.


Google SERPs are becoming unrecognizable—here’s what you need to know

With more advanced technology, Google SERPs are changing faster than ever and are becoming increasingly complicated. Gone are the times when you could improve your site’s content, metadata, and domain authority and pretty much guarantee increased rankings and visibility.

Google is determined to provide a seamless search experience and thorough answers to users as quickly as possible. The addition of knowledge graphs in 2012 and the removal of right-column ads in February 2016 are two key updates that illustrate Google’s intentions.

To help you stay up on the evolving SERP, here’s a list of what you need to know about Google SERP changes so far—and what to expect from upcoming changes.


1) The disappearance of right-column ads

Towards the end of February 2016, Google removed all paid ads from the right-hand side of the search engine results page and instead began showing four ads at the top of the page. Learn more about the SERPocalpyse (still hoping that starts trending) here.

 In many cases, the four ads at the top of the page have filled the space above the fold with paid ads which prevents any organic listings from being visible. This is a concern to businesses and digital marketers because visitors now have to scroll down before seeing any organic listings.

In our fast paced world, consumers have developed relatively low attention spans which makes it that much more important for businesses to be as visible as possible.

The Google ad changes may decrease immediate visibility and CTR (click-through-rate) of organic listings, but it’s not all bad. There are now more organic listings below the fold, giving your business an increased opportunity to rank on that first page of Google.

Just like any major change to the SEO industry, this is no cause for panic. Despite having little to no organic listings above the fold, ads still remain irrelevant to many searchers. The change in ad format may just alter the norm of searching. I believe that many users will simply start scrolling down and skipping right to the organic listings, bringing traffic and CTR back to normal.


2) The onset of travel guides

Building upon the idea of making the search process as seamless for its users as possible, Google launched a new feature in March 2016: “Destinations on Google.” Destinations on Google is meant to help wanderlust searchers figure out where they want to go on vacation, when to go, where to stay, how to get there, and what to do while there.

Instead of driving users to sites like TripAdvisor, Google now provides all relevant travel-related answers directly on mobile SERPs. Google Destinations is complete with everything from location photos and descriptions to itineraries and cost of travel.

It should be noted that this big change has so far only been implemented on mobile, and does not have the capability for users to actually book individual flights and hotels through the platform.

Although this feature allows travelers to find the information they’re looking for rather quickly, it pushes all non-Google content even further down on the search results page. This, in combination with increased ads above the fold, will certainly cause many travel and tourist sites to lose organic traffic.

It seems obvious that the further organic results are from the top of the page, the less traffic a site can expect to have and the greater the decline in CTR. However, it is still too early to see the impact of these additions. Keep in mind that Google heavily tests any changes before they roll out, so, for now, continue writing quality content and refreshing your site regularly.


3) The rise of celebrity and business SERP posts

In February 2016, Google began experimenting with a whole new format of search results.  The experimental “Google Posts” allows businesses, celebrities, or organizations to post directly to the SERP via their own feed.

We got a glimpse of this last month when Google allowed Presidential candidates to post debate facts and positions on key issues directly to the search engine results page. This same opportunity will soon be available to small businesses and later to celebrities and larger brands.

If this experiment actually rolls out, small businesses will be able to post directly to SERPs. Upon clicking on a post, visitors will be led to a Twitter-like feed of ads, photos, and information on the business.

This opens the door to an entirely new type of search that we’ve never experienced before, one that allows businesses and individuals to promote themselves directly and socially to consumers. The experiment reflects a merge of traditional search with the ever-expanding world of social.

Currently, Google Posts is only available for the 2016 Presidential Candidates, but there is a wait-list for businesses eagerly waiting to participate in this new feature.

Google Posts can be a tremendous opportunity for local businesses, but there’s also a downside. The “posts” or “business cards” are not only restricted to branded search queries. They will also show up for non-branded search queries.

This changes the game of search entirely. If a business’s post comes up along with their social media pages for a non-branded keyword search, then other local businesses will be pushed further down the results page, becoming even more irrelevant.

Local businesses with well-developed websites, quality content, and popular social media pages will likely benefit the most from Google Posts. If you’re worried about this new feature, don’t fret. Start improving your website by optimizing existing content for high-value non-branded keywords, adding new high-quality content regularly, and improving user experience.


What next?

The changes and experiments outlined above showcase how rapidly Google is altering its platform in an effort to provide direct answers to its users and remain relevant.

Although some of these changes seem drastic and sudden, rest assured that Google extensively tests each and every change to minimize any negative impact on users and businesses. Think of these changes as a challenge for the SEO and marketing world—and start getting used to it, because it doesn’t look like Google is going to slow down anytime soon.


How are you adjusting to the Google SERP updates? Do you have any tips? Tweet us at @Perfect_Search! We’d love to hear your thoughts. 

Ready to Take the Next Step?

Our digital marketing services will take your business to the next level.

Start your journey with a free site audit.