The Changing Landscape of SEO


Out of Work Stormtrooper


According to a recent study conducted by Dr. Pete Myers of Moz, 85% of today’s search engine result pages (SERPs) contain new features. These new features have been slowly rolled out over the past couple of years, but are growing in the markets that they impact. And while these new features can be seen as Google trying to put us marketers (or Stormtroopers) out of work, it’s actually good news! These new features provide us with new opportunities to distribute our content through organic search.


The Old Search Results

As recent as 2010, the majority of search results consisted of 10 organic listings along with the paid ads on the right. Below is a SERP for the query ‘maternity clothes’ that was taken back in 2010.

This type of SERP placed a premium upon a number one ranking, as it offered the most visibility and the strongest likelihood of being clicked. According to the same study by Dr. Pete Meyers, only 15% of search results today contain the traditional ten listings and do not contain any of the new features.


The New Search Results

Today, Google has introduced nearly 100 new features into the SERPs that have completely changed the landscape of how we market in search. The SERP below was recently displayed for the same term (maternity clothes) that was used in the old search result example from above.


As we can see, the new SERP looks completely different. In this one SERP, we have paid listings blended with the organic listings at the top, local listings in the middle, Google reviews, Product Listing Ads with a Shop by Brand filter, and a map. Noticeably missing at the top of the page are the traditional listings, which are further down the page, thus diminishing the value of ranking number one. This is especially true due to personalization, which takes into account factors such as your search history, social activity and community, and location to display a unique SERP. Two people can search for the same exact term and receive a completely different result. The order of listings might be in different order as well.


Other New Features

Some of the other new features that Google have launched include:

  • Social Inclusion – Listings from social media are now being included in the organic search results. Posts from Facebook, tweets from Twitter, posts on LinkedIn, videos from YouTube, and even boards from Pinterest can be crawled, indexed, and displayed in the SERPs.
  • Localization – Local search is nothing new, but some queries have become localized even without including the name of place. Google has determined that these queries have local intent and will display local listings above the traditional results. For example, the query ‘coffee shop’ will yield a list of any coffee shops in the vicinity of your location. Note that this is determined by your IP address and not limited to just mobile devices.
  • Knowledge Graph – In May of 2012, Google introduced the Knowledge Graph, which aims to understand  the intent of queries and provide relevant content directly in the SERPs. For example, a search for an actor will display their picture, birthdate, height, hometown, filmography, and related actors directly in the SERPs. Google will also display the answer to math equations, sports scores and standings, time, and holiday dates (to name a few) also in the directly in the SERPs.

How to Take Advantage of These New Features

SEO has become a true marketing channel. It is no longer a checklist of tactics aimed at gaming the system. In order to succeed, we must think beyond our websites to leverage social channels, local listings, images, video, and other mediums to distribute content through search. Before the goal was to make our web page rank number one. Now we want to consume as much real estate as possible by producing content and optimizing the various mediums depending on the target market.

Start by performing a search for some of your most important keywords. How do the SERPs look? Are they the traditional ten listings? Or do they contain new features? Have you optimized for these new features?

If you don’t rank number one and have not optimized for these new features, then I suggest gathering your team, whether it be internal or an agency, and define content that can be used for each feature. This content should align with the intent of your target audience. For example, if social listings are showing up in your SERPs, then chances are that your target audience is seeking awareness content and is not ready to buy. This content should be focused on education and brand awareness. Or if you notice local listings showing up, then optimize your Google+ pages and collect citations.

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