[FORBES] Face it: We’ve gotten too used to our familiar search results. The simple lists, the basic titles, the easy tags and categories; they’ve all been with us since the dawn of the search engine age. 2013 saw a few changes in search engine results page (SERP) format, but for the most part, our SERPs remained the same.
Now, times are changing. Going forward, the old-fashioned SERP to which we’ve become accustomed is going to be drastically updated to accommodate a new Internet era; the rise of mobile. In the next few years, a series of changes will add more color, information, targeted data, and key sections that we have never seen before.
Search engines need to evolve to remain useful and relevant. But as the changes start to pile up, users are going to start to learn to adjust. Furthermore, the SEO (search engine optimization) industry is going to feel huge changes and pressures to change as well. We’re already starting to see some changes, and more are on their way. Let’s explore some of the most interesting SERP changes that I predict are heading our way.
Sneakier Ads vs. Obvious Ads
The battle between sneaky search ads and obvious search ads will heat up in 2014 and beyond. The tinted windows and ad-alert notices that differentiate ads these days will disappear. Ads are already nearly the same color and style as all the other search results, making it much more difficult for users to differentiate them from organic results at a glance. This subtle distinction in background color between ads and organic search results will decrease, resulting in an increase in ad visibility and clicks on those ads. This will result in increased revenue for Google, and more exposure for its advertisers.
Meanwhile, the faction campaigning for greater ad visibility is hard at work creating regulations that require ads to be more distinguishable. Ad flags, banners, and notices help searchers easily locate ads and avoid getting fooled into clicking them accidentally.
Both sides will be trying to implement their changes in the SERPs, which could lead to some conflicting and confusing changes. For example, ads will probably become subtler, or lose their altered background color altogether, while also gaining new ad markers. Ads, instead of being grouped in obvious windows at the top and bottom of the search page, could wander innocently among the other search results, set apart only by their distinctive markers that advertisers secretly hope no one will notice.
The Rise of the Knowledge Graph
Google’s knowledge graph has been a point of emphasis for the search giant over the last couple years. The knowledge graph displays data above all other search results when a suitable query is entered by a user. For example, try the query “famous jazz composers” and you’ll see a carousel of results, with names and dates of birth and death. Other example queries that trigger the knowledge graph are “Seattle weather forecast,” “nba teams” and “seahawks roster.”
The knowledge graph is, of course, designed to quickly answer questions so that searchers have quicker and easier access to answers. Frankly, it does a great job of that; user feedback has been generally positive, with a few exceptions.
I expect that graph to become larger and trigger for more search queries as time passes. Google wants it to attract more attention and thus keep users on Google’s pages for longer. This gives them more time to click ads, and gives users a better overall experience with Google, which helps to keep them away from Bing.
I predict that definitions triggered by the knowledge graph will become longer, small infographics will start appearing, and more queries will trigger knowledge graph results . Images will become more important, and charts will appear more frequently. A “related topics” section will help users dig deeper into the details. A “context” section will show several lines from popular websites that use the search phrase.
This is all built to help give people their basic search engine answers. The good news is that it will work well for Google and its users. The bad news is that websites displayed in Google’s search results for these types of queries will see decreased traffic as users no longer need to click through to those websites to get their answers.
More Specialized Returns – The “Expert” Effect
Google pays closer attention to quality than ever these days; this is evidenced by its Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, which were focused on identifying and enforcing both on-site and off-site low-quality indicators. The latest updates to Google’s algorithms have ensured that quality links, quality authors, and quality content are all required for a successful SEO campaign and search visibility.
Part of this effort includes more specialized sections in SERPs; places for articles or content that are the cream of the crop. The reason is that Google wants to save people time by immediately showing them the best it has to offer for any particular search query. More frequently, as people search, they will begin to see in-depth articles from well-established authors via Google Authorship.
For SEO professionals, the goal will be to appear within these specialized expert areas. This is one major reason why high-quality content and Google Authorship are both growing into key parts of the new SEO mix. The top results are becoming hallowed ground, and the battle for them will intensify within the industry. For more information about how content marketing is changing in 2014 and Google Authorship, see “The Top 7 Content Marketing Trends That Will Dominate 2014” and “Google Authorship: How to Dress Up Your Search Results to Demand Attention.”
Personalization has been a goal of search engines for a long time. With Google Plus and Google Authorship, Google is now ramping up its ability to deliver personalized search results. More frequently, the search engines are going to start pulling in data from your past searches, your social activity, your location, your favorite authors (as determined by Google Authorship), pages you have +1’d via Google+, and other factors, then create a customized SERP based on your history profile.
How it’ll change SERPs, however, is a little unclear. In theory, people will find results more suited to their own tastes, which will lead to greater accuracy in search results, higher conversion rates for beneficiaries of resulting clicks, and more time for people to spend time Googling things.
From an SEO perspective, these changes will place even more importance on social activity, social signals, Google Authorship, and participation in Google+. Rankings and results will become more influenced by how much data search engines can pull from individual browsers. Users browsing with Google Chrome will see even more personalized search results.
The Mobile Creep
Mobile SERPS will see – and are seeing – some of the biggest changes of all, because the mobile search screen is just too different from the desktop or tablet screen. It needs to be reworked with major adaptations based on unique needs of mobile users. This leads to a series of key questions:
- Will we see SERPs made entirely out of tiles, similar to Google Now?
- Will we see only location-based returns designated by map pins (local results are already more common in mobile vs. desktop SERP)?
- Will intelligent searches offer real-time autocomplete returns as mobile users are typing?
- Will returns consistently include one-touch commands like “buy” “call” or “download”?
This is a vast and still largely unexplored field, but it also serves as an important testing ground for all new SERP changes. If they work or survive in the mobile playing field, they stand a good chance of migrating over to the desktop SERP in some form or another. Google’s rollout of its Hummingbird algorithm already shows the search giant’s emphasis on the rise of mobile device usage. It’s likely we’ll see major changes in this arena; Hummingbird is just the foundation for more changes.
We’re in a golden era of SEO and search engine usability. Search engine policies have successfully been enforced across the SEO industry to the point that SEO professionals and their clients fully understand the importance of quality; as such, we’re seeing better content emerging in search results across nearly all industries. Furthermore, changes to SERPs are coming which will highlight this high-quality content.
We’re in a golden era of SEO and search engine usability.
Ultimately, users will get what they want; quicker, better answers to their search queries. Likewise, Google will get what it wants; more satisfied users due to a better user experience. Search results are changing; let’s embrace these changes and look forward to a new, better era of the Internet.
Credit: Forbes. Image: Treasury.gov