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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.

About the author


Adrienne Erin

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.


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  • Theory #5: All the SEO guys should kneel down and praise Google for constantly changing the SERPs. A whole SEO industry breaks down, if a once optimized Website would stay optimized and just the changing real and quality content would improve.
    So have a drink on behalf all the google developers who constantly make sure, that the SEO companies stay in business.

  • If you remember a lot of the algorithm changes that started a couple of years ago came after Google announced a big drop in profits. It’s easy to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 5, but I think everything Google does is profit motivated, despite their claims to the contrary.

  • Hi,
    This blog post is really interesting that how google SERP page design has been changed from the entire new view is so attarctive.
    Thanking you

  • “Theory No. 3: An AdWords Power Play”

    Do we seriously still need to consider “innocent” or “functional” possibilities when everything Google has done over the last several years has all been conveniently beneficial to selling ads?

    Absolutely every change that Google has rolled out recently has been about increasing its domination of the core functionality of the WWW. Everything has resulted in less organic traffic for the majority, pushing people into AdWords.

    I swear sometimes a large chunk of the SEO community is naive beyond belief. There are far too many people who seem to believe Google is some nice and friendly community service of volunteers helping the elderly cross the road and telling kids to stay in school, when in reality it’s the local mafia running a protection racket, threatening small business owners and mugging those old ladies of their pensions while selling crack in every playground.

    Google is not our friend, it has become a corporate monster with the same corporate mindset and the same corporate desperation for MORE, MORE, MORE, no matter the moral or ethical consequences.

    Google wants complete control, it wasn’t to force everyone to spend money on AdWrods to get any traffic from it, and it will do everything from destroying natural linking and dictating global policy on SEO standards to actively attacking small business in favor of their friendly corporate buddies – corporate buddies who also happen to spend millions of $’s a year on Google.

  • I don’t understand what Google is trying to do. We see hundreds of fake pages, link farms in the search results and many websites are affected unnecessarily. Sites with every possible error are ranked higher than websites that have the least flaws. On some keywords, there are as many as 70 % fake sites in the serps. Check loan modification live transfers and open the first 50 sites. You will see 1 site appearing more than 30 times in search with different names. Whom to blame.

  • Great Article! I thought it was just me that started noticing these changes in my clients results. It’s good to know that it’s Google not me! LOL

    One thing to keep in mind if you stick to “Quality Content” and providing helpful information or good insight in your particular subject area your content will always be seen as valuable, and show in the serps.

    Thanks for sharing your findings.

  • What google has in it’s mind, no one knows? Title limit also went to 53 characters. what next change will google make?

  • Whatever is Google doing i think it’s to good to stop spammers. I have seen after Panda update slightly changes in SEO. It’s time to focus SEO and SMO same time

  • Google needs to get rid of the rubbish sites that are just there to make money and doing nothing other spamming the web. Build useful content and add value to the web – it’s quite simple really. If you can’t do that then don’t give up your day job since Google is not messing around with these updates. Great content like your post is King when it comes to SEO & Online marketing. Great info – thanks for sharing.

  • hahaha yes i do think google does this just to give us a hard time, it can be very frustrating watching months and somtimes even years of hard work go down the drain. bus as richard has said google does need to get rid of the spam and the rubbish non informative money making sites. brilliant site by the way, very informative.