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November 8, 2012

Google Changes Placement of Search Options in Results Pages

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No, it’s not your imagination. Google’s fooling with the format of its SERPs yet again, and this time the target is the list of search options on the screen. As with all format changes, Google extensively tested the new arrangement before it made the update permanent.

The search options have appeared on the left-hand side of the search results for quite some time now, and the shift to top navigation is a change that makes the traditional SERPs strongly resemble mobile results.

You may have intermittently seen the change in action already. However, if you’re unsure of what we’re talking about, allow me to regale you with a little screenshot of the new layout to bring you up to speed:

Image 1:

Immediately following the rollout, Google formally announced that all US-based searches would now feature the new format. Google is currently working to extend the change to search results outside of the United States as quickly as possible.

Why is Google Changing the Format?

Great question. At this point, it’s all speculative, but many marketing and SEO sites have some pretty sound theories about the change. Take, for example, this musing from a State of Search post:

Image 2:

This theory would be in keeping with Google’s recent trend of adding more and more AdWords blocks to its search page real estate. After all, AdWords is still Google’s bread and butter – we know that from the leaked earnings report that halted the stock market last month.

Big G’s been up against some pretty fierce competition these days, too – people are beginning product searches in Amazon more frequently, Apple’s dominating mobile, and patent wars are rampant. It behooves Google to keep AdWords front and center if it wants to keep the lights on, which would make freeing up the left-hand sidebar for more ads a logical conclusion.

On the other hand, Google is straining to make its social network a success. It’s priority numero uno for the company for a variety of reasons, but for the purposes of this particular post, the point is simply the sheer importance of G+. Freeing up that space may be a power play by Google to add some kind of interactive feature that interweaves the social network with the SERPs at some point. Only time will tell.

The Great Organic Listing Debate

If you’re a webmaster or SEO and you depend on Google for any portion of your traffic, then you understand just how crucial occupying a top spot in the organic listings is for your bottom line. Fighting your way to one of those priceless top ten spots – and staying there – is a battle all its own, so when you get to the top, you want to be seen.

That’s why there’s a hardcore Internet backlash against Google’s trend of moving the organic listings further and further down the page. For highly competitive terms, the organic listings don’t even begin until the user scrolls down. Many are speculating that we’re on the verge of completely paid SEO by way of – yup… you guessed it – AdWords.

No one knows yet what kind of content may occupy the newly freed-up white space in the SERPs (if anything), but if it turns out to be AdWords, that’s yet another detractor from organic results. I don’t believe non-paid listings will completely disappear – after all, those results are what Google is founded upon. It’s the commodity the search giant offers users in exchange for their visits.

If users can’t find what they’re looking for without sifting through ads, they’ll use another search engine. Don’t think for a second that G isn’t keenly aware of that fact. However, I do think Google will do its best to arrange the page in such a way that AdWords displays as often and as prevalently as possible for every term out there. That’s what all this testing is about – and it won’t be letting up any time soon as long as there are investors involved.

Yet Another Warning for Webmasters

I think I’ve written this a thousand times this year, but it bears repeating. It’s ridiculously unwise to rely solely upon Google for your traffic. Google doesn’t care about your traffic, your site’s placement in the SERPs, or your optimization efforts. Google cares about its users and its shareholders.

That’s why it’s imperative to take control of your traffic – it allows you retain full power over your website. If Google’s ranking your website for a handful of terms already, great! However, you should never let that pigeonhole you into getting comfortable. The bottom could fall out with the next algo change and you’d be stuck with bottom-barrel stats and no contingency plan.

Instead, implement a wide variety of traffic-generating tactics. Use social media. Build a fan base. Get involved with others in your niche and create relationships that encourage other webmasters to link to your stuff naturally. Begin guest posting. Relentlessly build up that email opt-in list. Run contests. Post controversial or thought-provoking material. Be edgy.

All of these things will earn you repeat visitors who will share your content and find traffic for you. Once you get to this point, any traffic you receive from Google will be nothing but whipped cream atop an already delicious sundae.


Nell Terry is a tech news junkie, fledgling Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs. She thrives on social media, web design, and uncovering the truth about all the newest marketing fads that pop up all over the ‘net. Find out more about Nell by visiting her online portfolio at Content by Nell.

25 Responses to “Google Changes Placement of Search Options in Results Pages

    avatar jayeshkhandor says:

    As with all format changes, Google extensively tested the new arrangement before it made the update permanent.

    Yes, but its only work on Google.com not in Google.co.in

    avatar Wilf Staton says:

    If Google continues to ravage its search pages with more and more google ads I think there will become a backlash from users. We have already seen the original ads on the right turn into ads at the top and then the bottom. As you say the left is next. Searchers will soon realize all they are going to get are ads when a lot of the time they are looking for real in formation.

    Google should remember they reached where they are purely from the organic searches showing websites giving people information.

    I am sure we are going to see the resurgence of search engines that are going to do this. Then probably bye bye Google.

    avatar Anmeldon says:

    WOW ! google has finally realised that ads appearing on the left hand side of the page recieve a higher CTR than the right, Especially with mobile device users – how much testing would they needed to do to realise that ?
    I guess they are trying to increase clicks for their ppc adwords program advertises.
    Google may as well make the most of the above the fold space as they keep recommending to webmasters using the adsense program.
    Its a shame you cant select no ads on SERPs results and just get interesting relevant organic websites.

    avatar will adams says:

    what is the real purpose of spending money on seo ? on any given day i can check my site. in the morning my site come up first page on all 3 SE’s, check again in the evening , the listing is gone.

    It’s obvious with all the alternative options today, efforts in good organic listing on Google can be minimized.
    Just focus on providing valuable content for your target market.
    Besides that the other traffic generating tactics you mentioned promise more fun than chasing big G’s algo changes, which follow a different agenda than webmaster and siteowner interests, as you outlined precisely.

    avatar SAK says:

    google is rapidly changing algo as apple changes its devices LOL :P

    avatar ibps says:

    @will adams

    Well my friend, you are right, but someday if you find your website on first page suddenly that shows the process going on inside search engines with their algorithm updates and other junk.

    But it also indicates that your site has a potential on ranking on first page, you only need a little tweaks to make it permanent.

    “That’s why there’s a hardcore Internet backlash against Google’s trend of moving the organic listings further and further down the page. For highly competitive terms, the organic listings don’t even begin until the user scrolls down.”

    Stop the panic. Look, people will scroll and look at organic listings even on the 2nd and 3rd page. If you were diagnosed with cancer, are telling me you would only click on the first 2-3 organic listing because you couldn’t be bothered to scroll? If you had an expensive solution to purchase where the cost of choosing the wrong was high, are you telling me that scrolling and even looking at listings on the 2nd or 3rd page would be too much trouble?

    ” Many are speculating that we’re on the verge of completely paid SEO by way of – yup… you guessed it – AdWords.”

    Real, i.e., quality, SEO is hard work and that makes it expensive. That was the whole point of black/gray hat seo — to avoid all the time and hard work, so that type of seo was cheap, until you added in the costs of getting de-ranked after you got caught.

    If you only have $500 or less a month to spend on your marketing, then using SEO to get free traffic (and it’s NOT “free” — it takes work) is out of your reach. You’ll need to purchase the traffic you need using paid advertising or you’ll need to learn to do quality SEO on your own

    avatar Carlos says:

    I agree. Chasing the algo is not the best use of our marketing spending or time. I do think AdWords is important, but only in the context of a broader marketing and advertising strategy. In other words, it has its place, but it shouldn’t be your only egg in your basket.

    What will G do with the left side? Hard to say. I don’t think they’ll slap more ads there. I do think they may shift the ads from the right to the left, then use the right for G+ content. This is consistent with studies showing we tend to look at the upper left of the screen first. Bing does something similar with Facebook on the right.

    avatar Denise says:

    Hogwash. Google does not care about its users. They need to go back to displaying relevant results. Nothing is more infuriating than doing a search for a company’s website and seeing where they are located and have to dig to find their website. I would use mapquest if I want to find their location. People use the Internet to go to a companies website to see if they have what they’re looking for, check prices, get information, etc. Google needs to stop playing games by changing their algo constantly. They have become the biggest narcissist on the Internet.

    avatar Joe G says:

    Does Google.com REALLY wonder why their revenues are down? Forget about the retailers, consumers don’t like what has been going on with Google search results. Do a search for any product, from a common shoe to a toothbrush and odds are you see the identical (and badly written) description for the top 10-15 listings. So much for SEO and “quality” pages or descriptions: it’s how much retailers bid for listings.

    avatar Mav says:

    Google with the many changes have shot themselves in their own foot.

    Their revenue along with thousands of small publishers have dropped substantially. I personally saw revenue drop 50% which means Google lost thousands just on my small websites alone. There is no telling how many millions or maybe billions have been lost by the Google person who pulled the trigger on all these changes.

    And the results are now showing up in the smaller amount of revenue generated which Google can no longer hide from investors.

    If Bing would drop their senseless aversion to small time publishers and welcome their contribution to the internet, they could actually grab a larger share of the search engine market.

    Small publishers are looking for a company that treats them with respect which in my opinion Google does not at all. Try to talk to a Google person about a problem if you are a small publisher.

    Go ahead Google, load that gun again.

    avatar Foxcrawl says:

    I do not think I would mind so much Google´s modifications

    avatar Dante says:

    Yeah, I agree with most of comments, Google have have become the biggest narcissist of the internet, their main goal to help on the internet is totally gone; this was his quote “Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line”, but now they could add a line but only if you are a big company and can pay for it; because all the changes they keep doing, most of the time hurt micro business that can’t afford the spend of contract an expert or don’t have even a 100 bucks for advertising. I’m very disappointing with Google. Hope a new genius creates another web search engine that obliterate Google.

    avatar Homeopath says:

    It’s getting increasingly difficult to keep up. I’m still trying to get my blogs Panda’d and Penguin’d, thanks for the heads up on the big G. I have all unique content, well presented and organized and it still dropped me to page 800. I don’t like having to go through all my blogs and replacing relevant named links with click here. It seems childish to me, and they may revert with another algo.

    avatar T Moore says:

    I don’t use Google anymore for search, I use Bing. It comes standard with any laptop these days. It features only two paid site links at the top and the rest are organic, with only one level of paid ad patches on the right side of the page. Google’s Product Search has failed for me, and so has its Book Search feature. Every time there is a change in Google’s search engine it loses sellers as well as buyers. If this is the way Google will do business for the future, I’ll stick with the engine I’ve got. It is as good or better than Google.

    avatar Nina says:

    Terry, I agree with you that putting “all ones eggs in one basket of Google is” a waste of time. I am looking forward to seeing other search engines emerge to complete with Google and users will have alternative ways to search for their needs on line rather than doing all searches on Google.

    avatar Rom says:

    I agree with your conclusions and looking forward to your coming updates. Thanks for sharing

    avatar Johnny Chan says:

    I don’t care what Google changes anymore, as other say just get traffic from other methods instead of rely on google search traffic.

    I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

    avatar Tony Seruga says:

    OK then we can see that Google is going to help the people who spends Money. Google told that it will only favor the organic search but now it is favoring the Pay Search so how that promise work out though you said that “I think Google will look at give attention at organic search” as it is founded on that. Basically Webmasters are spending 100’s of hours of time & then are badly hitting by Google Panda and now this “Paid Option Only Works” system is a kind of nightmare to them. We don’t have an alternative right now. Yahoo & Bing doesn’t give Google’s standards search results. So this is really bad.

    & Many Thanks for your Thoughtful Writing.

    Tony Seruga

    avatar phil says:

    glad you explained about google changing the search options, i thought my computer was playing up when the options didnt apear on the left and only in .com, i use .co.uk most of the time and its there were you would expect it but not for long i should think

    avatar Wanda Anglin says:

    Totally agree, Nell, that “a wide variety of traffic-generating tactics” is the way to go. Using social media will not only provide more customers, but also will help with ranking. All the tactics you suggest will ultimately build a more diverse and reliable customer base. Check out my related post on dealing with the (continuously changing) new Google.

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