Google Shuffles SERP Feature Trends & Overhauls Product Search
December 4, 2017 |
November was one wild month on the Google SERP. Google's update to its ccTLD policy, which saw accessing global search results via a Google country-specific top-level domain vanish, sent SERP feature trends into an international whirlwind. On top of that, Featured Snippets saw a loss on mobile while Knowledge Panels jumped off the charts. If that weren't enough, Google revamped product search on the SERP with what was nothing less than a strategic SERP feature strike force aimed at its retail rivals (or should I say rival
?). This, and a deluge of SERP feature data changes and upgrades!
Featured Snippets on Mobile Take a Hit
November saw Featured Snippets on mobile undergo a global reduction. There was a clear and significant decrease in mobile Featured Snippets that resulted in significantly less snippets appearing on the mobile SERP as of November 13th. While Google's mobile Featured Snippet reduction was widespread, it was not universal, as many markets did not see the same trend. That said, markets such as the UK and France saw a 13.5% and 28% reduction respectively.
Featured Snippets on mobile see a notable decline that results in a new data trajectory
Interestingly enough, the same reduction was not apparent on desktop. Both the US and UK saw no decline. And while France did show a dip, it was not nearly as dramatic as on mobile. In fact, Canada saw a slight uptick. Go figure!
Knowledge Panel Soars
No entity too big, and certainly none too small as Google has gone gaga for Knowledge Panels. November saw a wild
spike in Knowledge Panels around the world. Across the board, the SERP feature underwent two large upward shifts during the month.
Knowledge Panel's SERP presence increases dramatically across the board
Just take a look at the percentage increases some markets initially saw, it's astounding:
Despite a slight downtrend late in the month, the Knowledge Panel increases are still massive. But that's really not the half of it. The oddest thing is the actual panels that now appear. Traditionally, Google has shown the panel for more "complex" sort of entities that ranged from anything from people of some notoriety to local businesses. With the recent increase however, Google is showing the panel for more simplistic sort of entities (and that's an understatement). Now, even socks
have their own Knowledge Panel!
Google is now showing basic Knowledge Panels for a host of entities
What you basically get here is a Wikipedia snippet, some pictures, and a carousel of related items. In all honesty, I don't get this at all. There is nothing new being offered by the panel. I've known what socks are and what they look like since I was about three years old. I really don't understand what this is all about. Wild and
Organic Search Result Descriptions Get Significantly Lengthened
Just when I thought I had a handle on SERP feature data changes, Google went and pushed a historic change to the average length of organic result descriptions. For those who struggle to adequately describe the pages on their site(s) while avoiding truncation, you'll like this one.
On November 18th we saw the average description length of organic results on desktop in the US jump from 162 characters to 177. (Yes, technically this is not about characters, but pixels. However, we translate the data into characters so that you have something a bit more tangible to work with.) But wait, there's more. There was a second spike on the 29th that pushed the average character count to 180 and then a third on the 30th that pushed the average to 222 characters. That's an 60 character swing!
The average characters found within organic result descriptions jumped 60 characters after three separate increases on the desktop SERP in the US
The same pattern evolved in international markets as Google increased the average character length across the board.
Google has drastically increased the length of meta-descriptions globally
Just to give this some context, it took a year for the average description length to go from 158 characters, as of late 2016, to an average 162, as was seen in the days immediately preceding the increase. Google does constantly change the average, but never more than a character or two. Meaning, this spike is simply unprecedented. We have never seen such a drastic change in the length of meta-descriptions since we began tracking it in May of 2016, not even close.
Data for the past year indicates that November's meta-description length increase is unprecedented
All-in-all there were some pretty extensive increases to the length of meta-descriptions worldwide. Below are the character gains for the countries shown in the graphs above:
I warned you, some wild stuff happening on the SERP these days.
Google Shakes up SERP Features Around the World as Part of Its Global Search Result Restriction
On October 27th, Google made a downright enormous change to the accessibility of global search results that sent the international SEO community into a bit of a tizzy. Since the end of October, Google has hyper-localized search results by restricting users from accessing country-specific SERPs by using a Google ccTLD. In simple terms, you can no longer see UK search results by doing a search under the google.co.uk domain, or Canadian results by going to google.ca, and so forth.
Besides forcing users to access international search results via a VPN (although there are actually two workarounds that allow you to access country-specific search results without a VPN
), the ccTLD update had far-reaching ramifications. In fact, I think the industry has yet to fully appreciate how deep this change to the SERP really is.
Restricting results to be hyper-localized, in a way, restructures the entire underbelly of the SERP. In essence, it's a new way of going about showing you results. Now, if you're in the US, this may sound a bit peculiar, but think about Europe, where many countries previously showed overlapping search results. For example, a Belgium SERP would commonly present French sites, depending on the query, but no longer. Ponder if you will, what has to happen within the inner-workings of Google for something like that to happen? Now let's reconsider how "big" this change actually was.
Highlighting just how profound Google's change in ccTLD policy was, were far-reaching SERP feature shifts. Coinciding with the update, AdWords and Local Packs all underwent a bizarre shift globally. The data is pretty extensive and nuanced. For our purposes here I just want to highlight some of the data changes that were part of a larger study
For example, in countries where English is an official language, ads saw a huge spike that went along with the Google ccTLD revision. Ads in these countries saw a slow reversal that went well into November:
European countries saw the same spike, with an almost immediate reversal in early November:
South American countries saw the same, but with its own unique data pattern:
Paralleling ads, Local Packs in numerous market groupings underwent reductions that coincided with the Google ccTLD update. Here too, some English speaking countries saw a steep decline in Local Packs that lasted well into November:
Below are but some of the European countries that saw a somewhat similar data trend:
Note that by the end of November, most countries saw their Local Packs return to the levels seen before the ccTLD update.
Changes to Ads on the Google SERP - November 2017
There were some notable changes to ads on the SERP in November, which of course makes sense since the month marks the opening of holiday shopping. However, the holiday season is just one of the ad events that were on Google's calendar.
Promotion Extensions Released from Beta
Just in time for the shopping season, Google took its new AdWords promotion extensions out of beta
. Promotion extensions are actually a bit of a big deal, especially this time of year. The extensions enable ad creators to insert special offers, like those typical of the holiday shopping season, into preexisting AdWords ads. Consider then, that with these extensions PPC managers and marketing teams could opt for the add-on instead of creating new ads to promote their holiday specials.
Home Service Ads Get Rebranded
Over time, Google's Home Service Ads have expanded to new cities and new trades. In fact, because the ad form (which offers vendors that Google guarantees and vouches for) has expanded to so many new service categories that don't apply to the "home" (i.e., windshield glass repair), Google has given them a new name, Local Service Ads
. With the new name, Google also gave advertisers a new app with which to manage their ads.
A panel of vendor information found within Google's Local Services on mobile
All of this Local Service Ad
news comes on the verge of Google's 2018 Chrome ad-blocker. Could the expanded Local Service Ads
be a way to offset what will surely be some ad revenue losses?
November's SERP and Feature Changes
Far-reaching. If I had to describe some of the changes Google made to its SERP features in November, that's the word I would use. Some of the changes we saw last month have tremendous implications in a of lot ways. Far-reaching.
A New Mobile UI & Possibly Some New Features
Starting off as globally as I can here, Google pushed a new, shall we say, well-rounded mobile interface in November. Google had long been testing a mobile UI that saw a rounded card format for its results.. In early November, Google officially confirmed that they had updated the mobile interface with the new round card format
(hence the corny "well-rounded joke, if you can even call something that lame a joke).
Google's new interface on mobile utilizes rounded cards
More SERP Features Coming
It's worth noting that Google indicated that there are more SERP features coming. Speaking at Pubcon, Googler Gary Illyes indicated that the search engine wants to push some new SERP features
by pulling structured data from sites.
I can't say this is unexpected, I've long thought Google would roll out a local real estate listing SERP feature. I'm actually surprised it doesn't exist yet!
New Product Elements on the SERP
As I mentioned at the outset, Google's November SERP feature updates and upgrades have far-reaching implications. This concept is no better accentuated by the various upgrades Google has made to its product search on mobile.
There were two big upgrades to Google's mobile product search. The first was a revamped Product Knowledge Panel
. The panel is a retail beast that occupies a vast portion of the the SERP. When expanded, the panel leaves organic results to the absolute wayside by reverting back to utilizing an overlay functionality. Meaning, the panel doesn't expand, but becomes an entirely new page that visually appears to cover the initial SERP.
The Product Panel is packed with information, and perhaps more importantly is a natural segue to Google Shopping.
Google Shopping information as found within the newly upgraded Product Knowledge Panel on mobile
Shortly after pushing the upgraded Product Panel, Google posted that they had released a host of new mobile product search upgrades
. The mobile upgrades include:
- A shopping carousel Quick View button for easier access to product details
- Buying guides
- Latest model indication (for tech products)
The timing is obvious, the holiday shopping season. However, the impetus of change is Google's product search woes, as the search engine giant consistently lags behind Amazon in this regard. While you can look at the product search upgrades as a way to help the user shop this holiday season, there is a less transparent facet to the upgrades. Google's product search revamp on mobile is a symptom of its relative performance to Amazon, and its ambitions to change the online retail dynamic
to be in its favor.
Along the same lines, and for product related queries, Google tested a carousel of articles on how to choose a product
towards the end of the month as well.
Knowledge Panel Enhancements in November - From the Newsworthy to the View-Worthy
The Knowledge Panel saw some important changes this past November, with consequences for those entities they pertain to. The Knowledge Panel gets almost continuous updates since it is so diverse. November however was unusual in how potentially impactful these changes are to a business's bottom-line.
News Publisher Knowledge Panels
News publishers now have their own mobile Knowledge Panel. Google, as I've mentioned often, has tremendous difficulty deciphering between legitimate and fraudulent news content
. Due to its limitations, Google has resorted to a slew of extrinsic solutions. Its latest is a Knowledge Panel meant to give you information on a news publisher you may not be familiar with. That is, instead of eliminating the problem, which Google can't do, the search engine is giving you a way to possibly identify fake news via a News Publisher Knowledge Panel
The panel currently indicates if the publisher has won any awards along with the topics the outlet generally covers. The idea is to paint a general picture of the publisher so that you can better ascertain its legitimacy. As it stands now, that's not exactly a fastidious set of information. However, Google indicated that they plan on adding to the panel, so we'll see where this one goes.
In fact, I do see that for certain publishers where Google has determined there have been alleged "false claims," Google has inserted a Reviewed Claims
tab into the panel.
The new Publisher Knowledge Panel showcasing reviewed claims
Google Adds Two New Time Elements to the Knowledge Panel
There were two updates to the Knowledge Panel that can have big consequences for businesses who are not on top of things.
First, Local Panels may now showcase a restaurant's estimated wait time. Located within the Popular Times
section of the panel, and as it already does with entities like department stores, Google is showing the estimated time you can expect to wait to be served at an eatery
. At times (no pun intended), the feature will indicate live wait times as well.
Live restaurant wait times as found within the Local Panel on mobile
Thus, users can easily tell if a local eatery isn't worth visiting because the wait time is too long. This can either be an eatery's best friend or worst nightmare.
Along a similar vein, those businesses that have activated the mobile Knowledge Panel's messaging feature (which allows a business to communicate with their customers via the panel) are best advised to ensure they are timely in their replies. Google now indicates how long a business generally takes to reply to a message
. Which is great if you're super snappy, and horrible if you're super sluggish. Either way, like the element added to the Local Panel for restaurants, time is of the essence.
Where to Watch Now in Mobile Panels
Last on this list of Knowledge Panel advancements, while researching something else entirely, I stumbled on a Movie Panel that had an additional tab entitled "Watch Movie." Within the tab, and similar to what already exists on desktop, the tab tells you what movie services have the movie available. Included as well is when the film will be on TV in the near future.
The tab does include organic results, and I've found that no matter the movie, illegal streaming sites appear towards the top of these results. Which is obviously problematic.
SERP Feature Roundup - The Other Changes Google Made in November
I'll admit it, I had two more items that I wanted to discuss, but couldn't think of a heading that unified them, we all have our limits! Writer's block aside, Google gave its relatively new job feature, as well as its Stock Answer Box, a nice update.
Google for Jobs Gets Salary Data
This past summer Google released its jobs SERP feature, Google for Jobs
. While bountiful, the SERP feature did lack in the way of salary information. In mid-November, Google announced that they would now offer salary information
within the feature (when possible). The new element is a nice upgrade to a feature that really does not have a lot of SERP visibility, unless of course you are running a lot of job related queries.
Newly added salary information found within the Google for Jobs feature
Our desktop SERP feature tool
shows that the feature appears on 1.4% of all desktop SERPs. The feature is even sparser on mobile according to the Mobile SERP Feature Tracker
, with just .6% of all SERPs displaying the jobs database. However, I speculate that Google is giving the feature so much attention since within the job search niche Google for Jobs is supreme.
Google for Jobs has a limited SERP visibility on both desktop and mobile
Google Finance Gets a Boost on the SERP
Google has updated its Stock Box, a form of Answer Box. Now, when searching for a public company, Google enables you to easily compare the stock for the company to other similar public firms. It's a nice touch that makes a ton of sense and I am sure it will be helpful to anyone researching a stock.
Google's Stock Answer Box now allows for easy stock comparisons
The updated Stock Box comes as Google indicates that searches for financial related queries has doubled in a five year period. As these queries have become increasingly more common, Google has announced that they will be adding a new Finance tab to the SERP
(like the current tabs for images, videos, news, etc.). Here, you'll see data and related information for the stocks you may be following as part of Google Finance. Be warned though, as Google pushes your finance data to the forefront of the SERP, they are shelving the ability to download your portfolio and historical tables. It appears that this data will be available to you within the new Finance
Leaving Off with a Feel Good SERP Moment
This is what happens when you try to get a head start on a post like this, something comes out at the last second that you have to add in, but in this case I'm more than happy to do so. Here's one for all Google naysayers, an on the SERP donate button
A mobile Knowledge Panel for a nonprofit entity displays with a donate button
The button appears within mobile and desktop Knowledge Panels for nonprofits. In order to have the Donate
button appear, organizations need to opt into the Google for Nonprofits
Now, I must have worked my way through three dozen of the top nonprofits in the US, and the only organization that I found with the button was Direct Relief, which is the same example Google used in their announcement. That's not good, we can do better than that folks! If you have a nonprofit that you are fond of (US only as of now), let them know this exists (because they probably have no clue), it's important.
The Google SERP: Wild and Free with Changes
As someone who writes about the SERP and its features quite frequently, it's not often that I will say, no mas
(or in English, no more). Google's ccTLD update threw SERP features into a tizzy with dozens of markets seeing bizarre trends for multiple SERP features (not just the ones shown here). Then, on top of that they tacked on a mobile Featured Snippet reduction and the weirdest Knowledge Panel spike in the history of the SERP (not to mention a historical shift in the average length of meta-descriptions). Of course, there was Google's product search upgrade frenzy and some more Knowledge Panel changes that can reach right into your pocket if you're not careful. Wild, just wild! It's as if Google got a wind of unbridled free spirit, which makes me think they took upon the swooshy
slogan of a certain shoe company.
By the way, I'm in the hunt for bizarre Knowledge Panels (think panels like the one for Mawashi
, also known as the towel thing sumo wrestlers wear). If you come across something that just doesn't make sense to be in a Knowledge Panel, or is about as basic as you can get, let me know