We are creatures of habit and there are some things in life we would just prefer didn’t change, and for me as an SEO, I really would prefer it if Google stopped changing the SERPS (Search Engine Results Page). I’m definitely a creature of habit, so much so that I found it alarming and troublesome when my fiancé decided to get milk delivered instead of just buying it on the weekly shop. It’s this kind of radical change that I just can’t handle! But before I digress from SEO too much, I would point out that this isn’t a sudden change in Google’s results because they have been altering and tweaking their delivery for the last few years and this has had a significant impact on the way we monitor website rankings.
Generally it was considered that a page listing of results in Google would consist of 10 listings. Aside from the PPC ads at the top and sides, the 10 listings were the “organic” natural listings which mattered to customers and SEO’s alike. So in 2009 it came as a shock when the 7-pack Local Universal results for Google maps was introduced and started to skew the actual visible number of listings on the page.
Google Maps was playing a part in what we were seeing in order to provide a localised result which made it almost personalised to the searcher. Over time, results varied depending on the search terms and there eventually became a multitude of types of search results that we were seeing. Some included:
• 7 pack – 7 local place/map results at the top, with 9 organic results at the bottom (with the 7 pack counting as listing number one)
• 3 Pack – 3 local map listings/or place listings with 7 organic results underneath
• 7 Pack with links – 7 place listings at the top, followed by 10 organic results and location tag links at the bottom
• 7 Pack with 6 – 7 Place Page listings at the top followed by 6 organic results and a map on the side
These are just some of the variations of listings we’ve had over the years and the SERPS have become overcrowded with various types of results. These also included a map in the sidebar, with emphasis towards delivering localised results depending on where you were searching from. After all, if you are looking for a plumber you don’t want one in Edinburgh if you live in Southampton. This is where the Venice update really made an impact.
The Venice update was relatively low-key but was an important update in the algorithm changes from Google. It meant that you didn’t even have to be logged into your Google account for Google to deliver localised results as it made an estimated guess on where you were searching from. This localisation changed SEO and was thought to give the “little companies” a leg-up in competition against the national companies that dominated the results. Local SEO would then undoubtedly affect our listings, showing personalised results specific to our current location.
Unsurprisingly, another Google update has been introduced and will start to influence what the SERPS show us. In-depth articles are now a rich SERP entry that reside in the left hand column. They are not considered by Google as an organic result but it usually consists of an image, title, description and a domain name or a relevant publishing name. Worryingly, however, Google states it is not part of the organic results and yet there are only 9 listings on the page in some instances, indicating that either number 10 has been pushed over to page 2 or that the host of in-depth articles are indeed counted as number 10. At this stage there is a lack of clarity but as this feature becomes more common I’m sure we will learn to understand it better.
The main issue with these various changes to the SERPS, from an SEO standpoint is that it definitely makes it harder to ascertain exactly where a site is ranking. With localisation rife in SEO now there isn’t much you can do to isolate the result, the fact is your customer could see slightly different results where they are (for better or worse) and you can see something else. I believe this is why it’s important that it’s time rankings were not the only prioritised element of website marketing. Rankings have always been the easiest metric to review but it’s been literally years since we’ve been able to effectively and manually check rankings accurately. Google have just changed too much, albeit in an effort to personalise our results and I don’t think this is a bad thing. But we must ensure that our customers are aware that there are so many more ways to be successful when performing online marketing and that SEO is an integral but small part of that process, with many other channels available that are proving effective when combined with a strong marketing campaign.