How SERPs Have Completely Changed (And No, We’re Not Talking About Four-Packs or Carousels)

SEO wothout SERPs

When reading the countless SEO forums and sites like Search Engine Roundtable that track the many debates within SEO, how the layout of Google’s SERPs (search engine result pages) continues to change is watched with near-obsessive attention. To be fair, the past couple of years have seen enough changes in how Google displays organic results and paid ads that the “SEO is dead” cries for once have a certain point that in the past always came off as doomsday prophesying. 

After all, Google not only doubled the size of their product listing ads (PLAs) that appear at the top of the SERPs, but they also continued to increase the number of ads that could be shown above the organic results, going from three to four and effectively pushing all but the first couple organic results below the fold. Oh, and let’s not forget that Google no longer always shows a minimum of ten organic results, with some search phrases bringing up as little as six organic results (though the average is between eight and nine). 

Of course, for those paying attention to the rise of semantic search via the Google Hummingbird algorithm, signs that thing would change irrevocably for SEOs first started to appear several years ago. Gone are the days that ranking for a keyword was simply a matter of writing relevant text with plenty of keyword mentions in its. Instead, SEO’s and marketers need to know how to mark up the many different types of content Google now shows, from their business information to marking up photos, videos, and other multimedia content properly, not to mention making sure that you’ve optimized your site to appear for the desired keywords in the areas of the country where they operate. And the fact that Google memorizes searchers’ history and thus never really shows the same SERPs for an individual keyword for every person searching for it, with their past behavior shaping what they see, things have gotten much more precarious for those SEOs who like to follow a formula and struggle to adapt to change. 

So what’s an SEO to do? Well, the first thing to do is to take a look at all your keywords in Google itself and see what the competition is doing to stay on top and how you may be failing to stick out from the crowd. And this is a bit more work than it sounds like because SEO’s now need to track how they are appearing on desktops, smartphones, and tablets as well as diversifying the different content types involved in promoting a certain keyword. Instead of simply text, one also has to ensure that there are quality product images, a related video about the product or keyword, information on each local location for the 3-pack, and a Q&A section for the featured snippet.  

That’s fifteen different search results SEO’s should now be paying attention to, and while it’s far more work when your resources are lacking, this is where it helps to pick and choose which content type stands the best bet for ranking above the fold on a certain device. And thus, it becomes all about researching your desired search space and tailoring your content towards a format that will likely stand out and that no one is doing. SEO is no longer about shortcuts, it’s about doing one’s due diligence and adapting to the ever-change search-scape. But by starting now, you can give yourself a significant leg-up over even the most monied competition.