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SERP News: SiteLinks Prevalence Dropped, Ads Rose

Another week is upon us which means another seven days of SERP shenanigans is yearning for expression and analysis. In my final SERP Snapshot for April 2016 I bring you right to the Rank Risk Index which ended off the month hot to the touch. 

Rank Risk Index Heats Up 

Though starting off the week cool as a cucumber, the Rank Risk Index couldn't stand leaving the month without a grand finale. From the 29th though the 30th the index was muy caliente ("very hot" for those who don't speak Spanish... you'll have to excuse me, I'm still on a high after our recent find of Featured Snippets appearing throughout the Spanish speaking world).  With the index this high, the only question is, who is the culprit? Which SERP Feature, or Features, is behind this sudden spike of "SERPness?"



Rank Risk Index Spike April 29th-30th



Rank Risk Index Spike April 29 - 30, 2016

Fig 1. Rank Risk Index shows a spike in SERP fluctuations between April 29 and 30


Finding a specific, or specific few, SERP Features spiking in correlation to a rise in the Rank Risk Index has been noted in this blog series before. Earlier in the month I presented a sudden data shift within various SERP Features that possibly correlated to the index's April 13 - 16 spike, as shown in Fig 1. 


Ads Ads Everywhere and Not a SiteLink to Spare

 

My first maneuver in solving the SERP spike sighting, as seen on the index, was to look for any sudden SERP movement, specifically on the 29th through the 30th. Using the Insight Graph, I plotted a few SERP Features until a pattern began to emerge and the culprit identified... Ads. If you have been following the news coming out of the SEO world you may have noticed that Ads have taken up a good portion of the spotlight as of late. Green Ads... purple Ads.... Ads in Local Pack... Ads everywhere. What's of particular interest is that this past week saw the introduction of a new Ad format, a longer Ad format to be exact. It was reported last week that Google has been capitalizing on the absence of Ads on the right of the SERP to double the length of Ads headlines and description lines.  Armed with this knowledge, I noticed an interesting correlation between Ads and Sitelinks, or the lack thereof. 



Ad and SiteLinks Correlation April 29th-30th 



Ads and SiteLinks Opposite Data Shift

Fig 2. Ads and SiteLinks show an inverse shift that started on April 29, 2016 



The Space Between (Ads and SiteLinks) 

 

What tickled me about the inverse data shifts between Ads and SiteLinks wasn't the shift per se, but what possibly caused it. Follow me for a second... Google has been playing around and testing Ads in a variety of ways... which could explain why Ads spiked. Now, who is the natural space enemy of Ads (assuming you want to keep Organic Results up)... SiteLinks! Each SiteLink could be the equivalent of three organic results (in terms of space). That's some significant real estate. If I'm Google and I want to test out my new Ads, well then SiteLinks, specifically SiteLinks displaying as the first result, would be the first feature to go. If you'll notice (see Fig 2.), that appears to be what happened when SiteLinks as a first result flew the coup starting on the 26th... just as Ads started to rise...


Space Consuming SERP Features

 

Actually, if you look at the data shown on the Insight Graph (Fig 3.), you'll see that SiteLinks were not the only space consuming SERP Feature to fall from Google grace. Starting on the 29th, and in accordance with the spike on the Rank Risk Index, Search Box, as well as Knowledge Panel took on a sharp decent.



Search Box, Knowledge Panel, and SiteLinks (1st Result) Dip 

Search Box and Knowledge Panel Decrease April 29, 2016

Fig 3. Ads increase starting on April 29 while Search Box, Knowledge Panel, and SiteLinks 1st Result trend downwards 


In fact, for almost the entire week last week there was an inverse relationship between Ads on the one side and SiteLinks as a first result, Search Box, and Knowledge Panel on the other. Knowledge Panel is interesting considering the character increase in Ad headlines and description length. Perhaps during its testing Google decided that the new Ad format's length didn't jive with Knowledge Panel... 


On the Right Trail

 

What makes me think that this sudden death of SiteLinks was purposeful is the simultaneous increase in Breadcrumbs. As SiteLinks began to dive on the 29th, Breadcrumbs started to surface. In other words, if Google was perhaps discounting SiteLinks in favor of Ads, the best way to compensate for the user's loss of SiteLinks might be Breadcrumbs. Google might have been attempting to offer us the next best thing while it played with its Ads and took SiteLinks off the market. 


The Resurgence of In-Depth Articles


Proving that there's life after death (at least in the "Googleverse"), In-Depth Articles came back from the dead last week. Starting its hiatus on April the 10th, this SERP Feature was brought back to us last week on April 26th. 


In-Depth Articles in Conjunction with Results per Page 



In-Depth Articles Reappear

Fig 4. In-Depth Articles begin to display again while Organic Results per page rise concurrently 


With the reappearance of the feature, and quite logically (as In-Depth Articles are considered to be organic), Organic Results per page started to sharply rise. 


April SERP Features: Trending Towards...



As this is the last of the analysis of April's SERP trends, I thought it appropriate to take a fond look back at how various SERP Features in the USA performed over the course of the month. 


SERP Features Overall Trends (USA): April 2016 

Overall SERP Feature Trends for April 2016

Fig 5. Features such as Related Search and Breadcrumbs rise significantly, while those such as Related Questions trend downwards


For the better part of the month, SiteLinks and Related Questions trended downwards, with the latter showing a slight resurgence on the 30th (better late than never I guess). As I'm sure you noticed right away, Related Search showed a relatively incredible increase, starting its spike on April 6th and never looking back. Breadcrumbs didn't do too shabbily as well, with a spike coming between April 21st and 22nd. Rounding up my selection on this fine day would be HTTPS, which following the tortoises' sound advice of slow and steady wins the race, continued to climb pretty much all month long. 


A Deep Dive Into the World of HTTPS



As a last treat for this warm and springlike month of April let me take you on a tour of HTTPS around the world. Which countries and regions are ahead of the secured site game, which are trying to play catch-up, and which just can't seem to get themselves on board with Google's push for a secure and safe web experience? 


Showing Some Life: HTTPS Asia

 

Some of the most electric HTTPS movement this past month has come out of Asia. Japan, who had been only above Hong Kong in sites showing for HTTPS on the SERP, ended the month as the region's HTTPS victor. Hong Kong, who was trailing the region's leaders, put their foot on the HTTPS gas with a momentous spike between April 3rd and 4th. By month's end Hong Kong had picked itself out of the gutter and into the middle of the pack. 


April HTTPS Trends Across Asia 



April HTTPS Trends in Asia

Fig 6. HTTPS in Thailand falls to relative 0 on April 27, while Hong Kong ends the month significantly higher than it was at the month's start  


The real shocker out of Asia was Thailand, which started the month out on par with the region's other top performers. However, on April 26th the floor fell out beneath its HTTPS feet and by the next day Thailand was showing an on-page average of almost no HTTPS sites. Between the 27th and 30th, the country did rebound slightly, but was still not near its former secured site glory. 


HTTPS in Europe: Safe and Sound? 

 

Moving west, and in expanding our knowledge of HTTPS trends across the world, we arrive in Europe and the UK. For the most part, UK and European countries performed quite well with plenty of results being HTTPS sites. The UK and Europe (as a rule) in fact surpassed America's performance with Germany above the fray. France on the other hand is the black sheep of the European family as it underperformed in comparison, despite a slight trend upwards by month's end. 


April HTTPS Trends Across the UK and Europe



HTTPS UK and Europe Trends for April 2016

Fig 7. HTTPS in France appear less than in the UK and Germany, who display with a greater HTTPS frequency than the USA


HTTPS of the Americas: Not What You Might Think 

 

Coming full circle back to the USA, we see some interesting results. The United States is not at the head of the HTTPS class, in fact out of the countries I monitored in North and South America, the US was only ahead of Brazil and Mexico.


April HTTPS Trends Across North and South America 


North and South American HTTPS Trends for April 2016 
Fig 8. Overall HTTPS trends for North and South America, with Peru showing peak performance despite a sharp dip between April 6 and April 7 



King of the HTTPS Castle: Which Region was Tops in HTTPS Results?



Mirror, mirror on the wall who had the highest number of secured sites displaying on the SERP in April 2016 of all? Taking the leading performer within the regions/groupings analyzed, I arrived at a makeshift global comparison. For the sake of catering to a priori notions, I threw the United States into the fray as a benchmark of sorts. 


April HTTPS Trends Across the Globe 



Global HTTPS Trends for April 2016

Fig 9. Global representation of HTTPS results benchmarked against the USA  


When comparing the data in this manner, the lead performer within the UK and Europe (i.e. Germany) showed more HTTPS results on the average SERP than the USA, as well Peru and Indonesia (the lead performers in North/South America and Asia respectively). More significantly though is Asia's performance compared to its regional counterparts, when comparing the leaders of each grouping. Though Asia had the most unique HTTPS trends of the month,  there is a noticeable difference between how the Asian leader performed when compared to the "rest of the world." In theory this could impact these Asian countries when competing online within a global market. 


SERP Participation Requested 



How did changes to the SERP impact you in April? 

Does the return of In-Depth Articles hold any significance to you (other than perhaps nostalgia)? 

What other trends and patterns have you noticed last week (or month)? 

Per the usual and friendly sign off.... share away, for send and I shall receive! 

About The Author
​Mordy is the CMO of Rank Ranger as well as the host of The In Search SEO Podcast. Despite his numerous and far-reaching marketing duties, Mordy still considers himself an SEO educator first and foremost. That's why you’ll find him ​regularly releasing all sorts of original SEO research and analysis!




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