In 2018, Google celebrated their 20-year anniversary with the announcement of three major shifts that shook the digital marketing world:
- Shift from answers to journeys
- Shift from queries to query-less ways of finding information
- Shift from text to more visual ways of finding information
In the first of our five-part 2019 Organic Search Trends webinar recap series, Brandon Schakola, Senior Director of Earned Media & Strategy at The Search Agency, breaks down these major announcements and gives us a glimpse into where Google is heading in the next 20 years.
Date: April 23rd, 2019
Time: 11am PST
Full Webinar Recording + Q&A Recap: 2019 Organic Search Trends Webinar Recap
Search Is Always Changing
Hi everyone! First, I want to kick things off with a little bit of scary news. This past year, Rand Fishkin from SEO Moz, now of SparkToro, released this slide in one of his presentations about the ever-changing SERPs and on-SERP SEO, to discuss some trends that we’ve been seeing in terms of where traffic is really headed. In his presentation, Rand compared organic traffic starting on February 2016 to February 2018, to see what big changes occurred in terms of traffic. If we start with the top row and look at desktop, we can see that in general, desktop between 2016 and 2018 is the same-ish. Paid traffic grew just slightly. And then there’s this “no clicks” category – and this no clicks category is really intriguing, because this means there’s information that’s coming from Google’s own properties, or from various search integrations that basically are not delivering traffic to your site, so that’s 34% of searches that don’t result in a click.
But the scary bit is what’s been happening on mobile. Between 2016 and 2018, we see that there’s a 20% drop in organic traffic that’s actually getting to your site. And if we look to see where that traffic’s moving, it’s moving into that ‘no click’ searches category. So, what does that mean for brands moving forward? Well, if we look for some clues, we can find them pretty easily.
Google’s 20-Year Anniversary: Announced Three Shifts
This past year Google had their 20-year anniversary, and they announced three big shifts. So, what did they say?
The first major announcement was that they are looking to begin to shift from answers to journeys. Google explained: “To help you resume tasks where you left off and learn new interests and hobbies, we’re bringing new features to Search that help you with ongoing information needs.”
The second shift that they mentioned is the shift from queries to query-less ways of finding information. This is a way of saying that they’ve gone through years and years and years of understanding search – but now they’re moving into understanding how to just discover information for the user. How can they predict the right information to surface for a particular user? Google said: “We can surface relevant information related to your interests, even when you don’t have a specific query in mind.” They are now capable of predicting – at scale – what sort of interests we have, based on previous queries that we may have in our search history, or relevant sites that we may have visited surrounding a topic.
The third announcement that they mention is a shift from text to more visual ways of finding information. This is a trend that even people like Leonard Shlain have mentioned over the years – that we are moving to becoming much more of a visual culture. What they’re looking to do here is revamp and branch more visual content to search, and completely redesign Google images. There have been lots of announcements about that this week. We won’t be talking quite as much about this particular shift today as we will the first two, but we will be having many more upcoming webinars to dive into the deeper sides of these.
Activity Cards & Collections
One of the first things Google mentioned in their shift is Activity Cards and Collections. Activity Cards, which we can see on the left here, this is from someone typing in “camping” into the search bar, and they can see all their related activity. You’ll also notice you can kind of tell when these are showing up because it says, “Related activity – only you can see these”. These are basically to help you pick up where you left off, enabling us to revisit a query that you’ve had in the past, related to something that you were searching for. Then it’ll just start displaying relevant pages from your history, and previous queries that you may have had related to an overall topic. These cards are only shown when they’re deemed useful to a specific search that you’re returning to or querying again, and they’re not going to appear for every search.
The second integration that we are looking at on the right-hand side is what we call Collections. This is the ability to add content from previous Activity Cards or previous searches into larger collections, making it easier to keep track of content you’ve visited. For example, if you’re building up an idea board for a vacation or travel opportunity, you can collect all of this information in one place. Along with this, Google will begin suggesting content to help further explore those topics or content that you save and things that you’ve searched for in the past.
Topic Graph & Google Discover
This brings us to the biggest shift that Google is taking on right now: the shift from searches into journeys. Building upon that, and building upon the previous developments that they’ve had around the Knowledge Graph, we now have this third layer called the Topic Graph, and the revision of what we’ve known prior to this as Google Now or Google Feed into what they’re calling Google Discover. We are making a shift from search to discovery.
Let’s look at what this Topic Graph and Discover look like. If I’m logged in on a mobile device by default, I have the chance to follow topics in the Topic Graph, which will then prompt me in the Google Discover feed later on. So, if I do a search for sports-related topic like Baker Mayfield on the mobile device, you’ll automatically have this little ‘follow’ button that’s showing up.
If you are in the Google app on the bottom left-hand side, you will also see this little new tab called Discover. When you launch this, Google starts pulling information in from previous searches, search history, and then starts to surface information that it believes that you’re interested in. This is query-less search, which is what they mentioned in the second big shift. I don’t even have to search, Google’s just able to surface relevant information for me. You can almost think about this like the “Instagrammification” of Google search as we move into discovery.
You can check this out with your friends and your coworkers, and compare your Discover feed versus someone else’s. You will see drastically different things here. You also have the ability to go in and click the three little buttons next to anything that surfaces, which allows you to either ‘turn up’ or ‘turn down’ your level of interest in that topic. You can hit, say, food photography, and you can follow that topic, and Google will continue surfacing information around that topic. You can also share topics. If you’re you were a brand and a specific Knowledge Panel is super interesting to you, you can also claim that as your own. So, if I’m Baker Mayfield, I can claim my own Knowledge Panel and have a little bit of control over my personal brand.
But the bigger point I really want to express to you is just how drastically different this is from an organic search perspective. Within this topic, you can see that Google already recognizes from the Knowledge Graph that Baker Mayfield is a football quarterback. Then it’s also providing these additional paths: there’s Overview, Top Stories, videos, stats, More People – and each of these tabs is a completely different set of separate results. And, just to make things trickier for us SEOs, this is a case where we can really only track what’s showing up on that first page of results. So, the challenge is on us – time for us to step up, right?
Let’s take a little bit of a deeper dive into what’s happening with some of these. If we are looking at the Overview tab, the first thing that we’re getting here is not a standard organic result. It’s not a standard set of 10 blue links. What we are getting is the Top Stories integration, and they typically include usually one to two text-based results. Oftentimes you will see side-scrolling SERP experiences. Each integrated URL here has a little AMP icon. This means if you are looking to even get accepted into Top Stories, you definitely need to have AMP, and you need to be available for the Google News feed for Publishers as well.
Mobile SERP Results in 2019
Let’s dive a little deeper into how this mobile search result appears. So again, we have Top Stories, we have Twitter integrations, we have a Knowledge Panel about Baker Mayfield, we have video integration, we have More People, and we have Top Results.
Let’s go through these and discuss what’s going on here, to show you how drastically different this is from a user experience level. Here we can find all the side-scrolling SERP integrations. A few that we should point out One is called Notable Moments. This is very new. So, let’s say I’m a sports fan looking for information about various team players and stats and information. One of the ways we used to optimize for things like this, is we would build pages that are sort of a large biography of interesting moments for a person’s life – but Google’s just going ahead and sourcing these from various sites around the web. If were a publisher, this would probably scare me to death.
Another feature worth calling out is in the top-right – you’ll notice it says ‘Heisman Trophy Award Winners’. This is where Google is now stepping above the Knowledge Graph into the Topic Graph. Google is recognizing Baker Mayfield is a football quarterback, and he’s won a Heisman trophy – oh, by the way, here’s a bunch of additional Heisman trophy award winners. If I’m a real sports geek, I don’t even have to leave this search result in order to get the information I’m looking for in a very quick way.
So, what happened to the organic results? Where are they? Well, here we get our standard results. You have one, two, three, four… so we do actually still see 10 of these. But we’ve also seen and will continue to see instances in the search results when you’re looking at your information, conducting regular searches on a regular basis, that some of these go as low as four organic results, in some cases. So, this shows where all those “no click” searches are going: they’re going right into Google properties and staying within Google itself – right within its walled garden.
Overview Tab: Side Scrolling SERP Integrations
If you were to unfold what’s happening here, just from the search integration standpoint, we saw that there were seven side-scrolling integrations included. What that actually means is there are an additional 59 results crammed into what used to be just 10 blue links. And that’s only on the first half of what’s appearing here.
Let’s just let that sink in for a minute.
“More People” Tab
Let’s look at what’s going on in some of these other tabs, in particular, the More People tab. If we think back in time, Google went through this whole shift with entity recognition back in 2012, when it started building out the Knowledge Graph. Again, it’s noting that people are recognized by Google as an entity. This is driven by entity recognition as well as semantic markup. The Knowledge Graph relates these initial factoids, and the SERPs that are to the right here, are below the fold on this tab, and you can see that these are very information rich, very data dense. So, if you’re looking to get involved in this area of the tab, you really need to be writing long-form content, and definitely be including AMP and structured markup. This is where you can see, on an even deeper level, how much Google is connecting entity search and topical search. They’ve gone up a layer in terms of information complexity in a way that’s much more human. So again, this is all tied to Google starting to look at connected searches over time and history, and being able to predict those out into an exploration of a larger topic.
The third shift that we spoke about earlier is how much Google is beginning to focus on moving away from text towards images. One of the ways that they’re doing this is through the expansion of Accelerated Mobile Pages, or AMP and AMP Stories. Here, we can see just a general search with CNN. This is back when Hurricane Michael was coming through. We can see that those visual stories from CNN are popping up. If you launch them, you get, again, this kind of Instagram-like, Snapchat-like, Facebook-like Stories integration that’s showing up in the search results. This is definitely something we’ll be exploring more. These do have a dedicated space within the search results, and if you’re a publisher of any kind, we would highly recommend taking advantage of all of the new markup available. If you’re a WordPress user, I believe they just recently updated some of the AMP plugins for WordPress along with the Gutenberg. You would need the latest version of WordPress to be able to develop these stories directly from inside your website. Thank you everyone for joining our first round of looking through what’s new and happening and trending in the Google search results.
Meet Our Expert:
Brandon Schakola is our Senior Director of Earned Media and Strategy, focused on Technical SEO and SEO Strategy for direct response and performance-based marketing. Brandon is passionate about on-SERP SEO optimization, using Google as his guide to optimize on-site content and structure to align with searcher intent. He is co-responsible for the development of our company’s Strategic Framework. Brandon is also entrusted with our measurement and analytics platforms and customized R scripts for SEO reporting. He also advises on many beta programs, including our strategic partnerships with Searchmetrics.