November 8, 2012
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:
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:
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.