Campaign Analytics and Reporting Transparency

How the Google SERP Continues to Change the Way We Think About Search

jmiklusOver the past couple of years, the Google search engine results page (SERP) has gone through some of its most impactful changes ever, continuing on its evolution from simple search to instant answers – and, with Google Now, almost a digital personal assistant. The introduction of different elements such as the Knowledge Graph and the more recent Local 3-Pack have changed the way that users interact on the SERP, which, in turn, has changed the way that marketers look at their SEO and SEM strategies.

A recent Mediative eye-tracking study outlined some key changes in the Google SERP from 2005 to 2014 and their effect on searchers’ interaction with paid and organic listings. Although the sample size used during the study was small, the use of eye tracking provides a unique look at users’ behavior, rather than just showing which areas of the SERP are receiving the most clicks. Here are some key takeaways of the study:

• In 2014, searchers look outside the “Golden Triangle” because: 1) Top SEO listings are no longer always in the top-left corner, so users must look elsewhere to find them, and 2) Mobile devices have conditioned searchers to start scanning vertically more than horizontally.

• Searchers are looking at more results during a single session, but spending less time viewing each one. Now, searchers spend just over 1.17 seconds viewing each listing. In 2005, it was just under 2 seconds.

• Paid Search ads continue to hold users’ attention, particularly when the Local Carousel is present. (Note: the Carousel was recently replaced by the local 3-Pack so it will be interesting to see how this change affects the results seen in this study). Top ad rank is more important than ever, since right rail ads either get pushed down by the presence of local listings, Knowledge Graph, etc, or else users just ignore them.

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So what should search marketers do to ensure that their strategies reflect these changes? Here are 4 tips:

1. SEO strategies cannot be limited to top rank. Let’s be honest, a #1 rank is still nice to have, but it’s becoming more difficult for many brands to compete with the Expedias and Targets of the search world. Local marketers need to pay attention to how their reviews, ratings and photos are affecting how users are (or aren’t) interacting with their brand. Creating high-quality content has become a huge focus this year, and social media has become key to disseminating that content and driving traffic. Search for “girls’ nursery” and you’ll likely find a bunch of Pinterest listings mixed in with online stores. The smartest brands are leveraging SEO and SEM keyword research to help guide these strategies – Google’s Paid & Organic reporting is often a good place to start.

2. Paid search strategies should focus on visibility and relevance. Given what we’re learning about where users are looking as well as waning attention spans, it is necessary to ensure that ads are visible in top rank and that keyword/ad copy strategies are very relevant to user intent. Taking advantage of all ad extensions that Google offers is a best practice, given that they take up more space in the top ad rank slot and increase CTR. Location Extensions, Enhanced Sitelinks, Callouts and Mobile Call Extensions are some examples.

3. Don’t ignore Google’s metasearch ad opportunities. Hotel Price Ads and Product Listing Ads are the two most obvious examples of ways that Google has entered the metasearch world with its own pay-for-play products. These ads are continuing to take up more real estate on the SERP, and cannot be ignored – especially for travel and retail marketers that are continually looking for ways to increase direct website traffic. Campaign management platforms such as Koddi and Kenshoo can help marketers achieve success with these ads through automated bid rules and streamlined cost and revenue reporting.

4. Consider a customized eye tracking study. For marketers that are trying to understand how these changes are affecting Google traffic volume and referral sources to their website, a customized eye tracking study may shed some light. Identify search queries or keyword categories that represent high volume opportunity for your website, and reach out to a research company (such as Firefly Millward Brown, Mediative or Time Warner MediaLab) to understand how users are interacting with the SERP for your particular vertical. We know that Google is not slowing down anytime soon and neither are their algorithm updates, so the most successful marketers will be the ones who look outside the “Golden Triangle” (pun intended).

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