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July 30, 2014

Google SERP Displays Change Again

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Photo Credit: Carlos Luna via flickr

Do you ever get the feeling Google changes things up just to toss SEOs off guard?

In late June, the company announced it was scrapping parts of the popular Google Authorship program, frustrating marketers who liked the credibility and search advantages that using the “rel=author” tag had offered.

Google has decided to institute some other changes as well, it appears. On July 16, SEER Interactive noted that Google appeared to be limiting the number of video snippets shown in its search engine rank pages. Cue another round of panic in the SEO community.

Google has offered only a few official comments on the action, saying that snippets will continue to be shown in videos, so that means speculation is running rampant over the company’s motivation for cutting back and what the end game is. Here’s a look at why Google probably made the decision and what it means for SEO.

A Drop in Video Thumbnails

Comparing searches done earlier in the year with those done in mid-July, several web sites found major differences in how many video snippets come up. Mozcast put the drop in the number of video snippets shown in a search at 27.8 percent. For instance, a search on comedian Louis C.K. may have turned up a SERP with six videos in the top 12 before July 16. But since July 16, that number has dwindled to just a couple.

Immediately SEOs began getting twitchy over the change, especially coming so closely after the recent Google Authorship shift. Several web sites, including Moz, SEER, Distilled and Wistia, began sharing information to make sure they were gauging the dropoff in snippets correctly. The data kept coming back the same: There was, indeed, a marked decline in the number of video snippets per page.

Sites That Weren’t Impacted

At the same time, SEOs noticed a curious pattern. While video snippets from many other sites appeared to be removed, the video thumbnails for YouTube, which is owned by Google, were unaffected. This set off a lot of alarm bells.

Google appeared to be favoring its own site, at the expense of others. After all, it’s much easier for a search result with a video to stand out when it’s one of the only video snippets on display. When other video snippets pop up in a search, they don’t draw the eye quite as quickly.

That combined with Google’s decision to eradicate the Authorship program photos means one thing for SEO: It’s suddenly harder to capture attention for your client’s page. Many studies have shown that people are more likely to click on a search result with an accompanying video.

Of course, the big question is why is this happening? There are a number of theories for why Google snipped the snippets.

Theory No. 1: An Algorithm Tweak

Whenever anything changes for Google, there’s always a chance it’s related to an algorithm tweak. Sometimes such moves have unintended consequences. The search giant may have been playing around with something else and unintentionally cut down the video snippets appearing in search.

Or it may have been trying to do exactly that in order to boost YouTube’s visibility. It’s hard to say since Google has not come out and copped to the change, let alone offered a reason for it. Still, if there are other unexpected SEO changes that fan out from this, like aftershocks from an earthquake, it’s a good bet the video search was impacted by a tweak to the algorithm.

Theory No. 2: Exclusivity

Google likes to reward high-quality content, that much has been known for years. It’s possible that the company is cleaning up its search results in order to highlight only the really good video content that deserves a special designation, i.e. the video snippet in SERP, which has suddenly become an endangered species.

Intrepid SEOs have noted that, in addition to YouTube, a handful of sites including Vimeo, Vevo, Hulu, Ted and Daily Motion have continued to display video snippets in search results, suggesting that the site is fine with including good videos in its search results. It’s simply weeding out the lower-quality ones, much as it would weed out stories that jump on trending topics by content mills trying to grab cheap clicks.

Theory No. 3: An AdWords Power Play

This may be the most popular theory of all, which just goes to show what SEOs think about Google. There’s a theory floating around that the change is part of a greater push by the search giant to get people to buy AdWords. By eliminating things like Authorship and video snippets, which help a company’s results to stand out in a search, Google is essentially making people who had previously relied on SEO have to buy ads to stand out.

These changes will also help AdWords advertisements stand out from the pack, because they continue to have photos with them. That sets them apart from the now photo-less and video-less majority of search results.

Theory No. 4: This Is All Nothing

Remember what I said at the beginning – Google likes to keep SEOs off guard. There’s a very real possibility that all this means nothing.

It could just be a few quirky days of searches that don’t add up to anything. Maybe there’s a chance that Google was experimenting with removing the snippets, saw the reaction, and backed up a bit. Perhaps this has been going on for quite a while and no one had really noticed. Or the engineers at Google were bored one day and decided to have a bit of fun. If so, they’re undoubtedly laughing at all this speculation right now.

The Final Verdict?

It’s hard to say without getting better direction from Google what the company is thinking. But since most everything SEO-related comes down to money, the AdWords push is probably the most likely answer. The fact that video snippets declined almost at the same time that Google Authorship photos disappeared can’t be a coincidence, and that points back to wanting AdWords to stand out.


Adrienne Erin writes twice weekly for SiteProNews about online marketing strategies that help businesses like Yuma Dental succeed. Follow @adrienneerin on Twitter to see more of her work or get in touch.