“Lots of companies don’t succeed over time. What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future. I try to focus on that: What is the future really going to be?” – Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google and CEO of Alphabet, Inc.
There is no company in the world more obsessed with innovation than Google.
This is evident in the myriad of changes coming to the lifeblood of their business, the illustrious SERPs.
Outside of major transitions like mobile-first indexing, the company is altering a variety of functions and features related to desktop and mobile search pages. In recent months, the search giant has announced or begun testing a variety of SERP alterations that seek to expand, enhance, and otherwise reshape search results.
Let’s look at what’s transpiring within Google’s search engine results pages.
1. Search Snippet Shifts
Search snippets (the bit of text that lives below the links for various results) have recently been confirmed to be increasing in length and will soon be more dynamic.
As a Google spokesperson told Search Engine Land:
“We recently made a change to provide more descriptive and useful snippets, to help people better understand how pages are relevant to their searches. This resulted in snippets becoming slightly longer, on average.”
The user-friendly blocks of text that describe how a page relates to a given query are currently restricted to 160 characters. Under the altered state, however, these snippets have grown to roughly 230 characters, on average.
In most cases, the snippets will dynamically change, depending on the nature of the query; these are designed to answer the user’s question without forcing them to click on the linked page. If the answer is too complex to flesh out and will ultimately require a click to address, the snippet is likely to remain at 160 characters.
2. Featured Snippet and Knowledge Panel Additions
Alongside amplifying the search snippets, Google has also opted to expand select Featured Snippets, with more likely on the horizon.
Featured Snippets, for those who are unfamiliar, is the block at the top of the SERPs that provides an extracted answer from a given webpage.
Originally announced in Google’s Keyword blog, the company stated:
“Today, we’ve added more images and related searches inside select Featured Snippets to help you learn even more about your topic, or to discover new things related to your interest.”
In addition to expanding certain Featured Snippets, Google will also be augmenting its Knowledge Panel to incorporate related content or searches:
“For example, while looking at the Knowledge Panel about skiing, you’ll see related searches for sports such as snowboarding directly inside the result.”
While these are newsworthy changes on their own, Google still has a lot more up its proverbial sleeve.
3. Announcing the Answer Carousel
While currently in beta testing, rumors are swirling as Google has been spotted testing out a new feature that employs a carousel structure for various answer snippets to a given query.
This content seems to be picked from forum threads or similar answer pages where multiple answers are likely to be given. In addition to this new feature, Google is also stamping specific results with a “Best Answer” badge, which is likely the answer that receives the most positive votes within the thread it was pulled from.
While this feature is still in beta, it is easy to foresee potential problems relating to offensive and dangerously incorrect information infiltrating the SERPs once again.
4. Celebrities in the SERPs
In early December, Google started spicing up the mobile SERPs in a fun, new way: Celebrities answering commonly searched questions about themselves via video content.
These selfie videos will show up at the top of mobile search pages for questions like, “Can Will Ferrell really play the drums?” or “How many languages does Priyanka Chopra speak?”
Googling these terms on a mobile device will bring up pre-recorded videos of the celebs within a dedicated application.
As of now, Google is working with a small group of stars such as Nick Jonas, Kenan Thompson, and the aforementioned celebs with plans to expand outside of the traditional celebrity realm in the near future.
Now comes the real question: How do these changes impact SMBs?
How Recent Changes to the SERPs Can Impact SMBs
You’ve likely already postulated this for yourself, but these search alterations hold the potential to have a sizable impact on the organic search traffic earned by a myriad of brands across an assortment of verticals; and not necessarily in a positive way.
Google, however, has opted to remain largely silent in face of these concerns from webmasters, only echoing that, “. . . Search is not just about answering your questions — it’s also about discovery.”
While these transitions are clearly aimed at enhancing the consumer experience of Google search, it is equally as crystalline that the search engine is seeking to boost the time that users spend interacting with the SERPs, with little to no regard for how this impacts the traffic businesses receive.
More than just providing additional information in-engine, many of these changes also consume more real estate onscreen, driving organic results further down the page.
Over time, this means that what may become more important than ranking highly in the SERPs is to develop and deliver informative content that gets used in Google’s featured snippets or Knowledge Panel. Doing this will not only give your page prominent placement within the SERPs, but the organic traffic you stand to gain from this positioning is likely to be a significant driver of site rankings.
The lesson to take from this is to craft the absolute best, most user-friendly, and deeply informative content that you can possibly muster. Keep your answers within these long-form pieces succinct so that Google can feature your answer as a snippet.
As Google continues its very clear evolution, website owners and marketers will need to bend and unfold right alongside the search engine if they wish to survive. Take these changes into account when formulating your content and SEO strategies as they can be useful guides in your site’s maturation process.
How do you think these changes will impact high-rankings sites? What other mobile-focused changes do you foresee coming down Google’s pipeline?