Last week, a Searchmetrics study confirmed that – no, you’re not imagining it – Google has reduced the number of organic listings on their front page from the traditional 10 to an “average” of 8.5. But why the change?
Having worked in the SEO world for the past 10+ years, I’ve seen many changes and shifts in the way websites are ranked. Google has maintained its status as the search behemoth in large part by adapting to the behavior and demands of the user. In recent years, these shifts have been driven by several major factors:
- Money: Yes, Google is a business and yes, the have changed their search listings to better showcase their advertisers. From product listing ads to sponsored videos to the expansion of traditional search display ads, the SERP (search engine results page) of today has blurred the lines of distinction between paid and organic. While some might find this discouraging, to me, it simply means that there are more opportunities to build your company’s digital presence – and further highlights the need for an integrated approach to SEM and SEO.
- The shift to mobile usage: As user behavior has shifted to favor mobile devices more and more, so has the search engine’s format, in an effort to deliver more succinct and accessible content. This has meant algorithm changes to favor mobile-friendly content, but it has also lead to an overall shift in the format of the SERP.
- A more complex decision making process: Think about it…do you base your online purchase or sign-up decision simply on the first link you click in the organic search results? Whether you’re shopping online, looking for a new hair stylist, or researching a topic, chances are your process to reach your final decision includes multiple online “pit stops.” Depending on what it is you’re looking for, your process may include maps listings to determine local business proximity and reviews, combing through Google Images, Yelp listings, Pinterest searches, and even crowd-sourcing on Facebook.Your “first touch” might not even be with a Google search, but might come instead from a blogger that you follow or a strategically-placed Instagram ad. The way that we search and make decisions online has broadened and shifted with the proliferation of social media and user-driven review sites and directories. Google’s algorithms have, as a result, shifted to take into account all the different signals of a brand’s presence, and incorporate this behavior into their actual SERP.
And so with this development – that there is no longer a set number of 10 organic listings on Google’s first page – the need for a diversified and holistic SEO and digital marketing strategy is further reinforced.
“Gone are the days when optimizing for search was all about trying to appear in the classic ten blue organic links on Google’s first page,” said Lars Hartkopf, EMEA marketing director at Searchmetrics. “Now marketers must also plan their strategies to include opportunities around a variety of Universal and Extended Search boxes, understanding how to create and optimize content which Google will consider useful for each.”
What does this mean for your business’s SEO strategy? This will depend largely on your market, but the nutshell answer is that you need to be thinking beyond the traditional organic results – making sure your content is optimized for all of the ways that the search giant is now displaying it.
Not sure where to start? Contact us for a free analysis of your online presence. We’re happy to help!