After June’s monumental algorithm update you might have figured that Google would lay low for a bit. Not so. The search giant merely shifted its focus from fine-tuning algorithms to adjusting the proportions of its SERP features. More than that, it would seem that Google took this lull in algorithm activity to bring some of its SERP features into the shop for a series of readjustments. Actually, that’s an understatement. I can’t recall a month with as many tests and updates to Google SERP features as this past July. Even I had a hard time getting it all straight, and I spend way too much time tracking these things!
SERP Feature Data Trends – July 2017
Due to the simply enormous volume of changes, tests, reconfigurations, and what have-yous, I’m breaking this post into two sections:
1) SERP feature frequnecy shifts
2) SERP feature tests and alterations
In regards to the former, SERP feature data shifts, July had an unusually high amount of activity. A series of data shifts took place, not just in the US, but across the globe. Accentuating these data changes was the fact that the SERP features in question were generally high-profile. The combination of these two factors made for some interesting and newsworthy SERP features data.
SERP Feature Trajectories Changed as Part of Last Algorithm Update
As you may recall, and as I mentioned above, Google rolled out an monstrous algorithm update towards the end of June. The story however did not end there. Google, per their own statements, has indicated that they find releasing multiple changes at once to be the most efficient method of updating their algorithms and SERP. In the case of the June 2017 update, Google changed the data path of multiple SERP features as it changed its organic ranking patterns.
The shift coincided with the latter part of the algorithm update, and generally began circa June 27th. However, Google will often execute a quick test to the data paths of its SERP features. Meaning, it’s not uncommon to see a one or two day shift in the trajectory of a given feature. Thus, it was not until July that I was able to determine that indeed Google had changed the very trajectory of certain features and that this shift was enduring.
Getting down to the details of the shift, both Local Pack and Knowledge Panel saw the largest changes in 2017.
Local Pack underwent a 7.5% increase that constituted the largest shift of the year:
As Local Pack spiked, Knowledge Panel lost two percentage points. While this may not seem like much, it constituted a nearly 20% decrease and was by far the largest data shift the feature saw all year:
The shifts were relatively consistent on both desktop and mobile (though on mobile AMP also shifted a bit). As an aside, Local Pack did return to its previous trajectory circa July 20th while Knowledge Panel still displays at the reduced levels.
HTTPS Hits a New High
As of July 25th, an astounding 99% of all Page One SERPs contained at least one HTTPS result. On these 99% of Page Ones SERPs, roughly 5 of the sites are HTTPS. With the average organic results per page near 10, half, or 50% of all results on Page One of the Google SERP are HTTPS.
AMP In News Box Reaches New Markets
July saw AMP articles come to News Boxes in multiple new markets. While Google had previously tested showing AMP within the News Box in these markets, the feature had not been rolled out in any substantial way whatsoever. That is, until July 18th. As of then, and per the Mobile SERP Features Tracker, Israel, Poland, Norway, Austria, Switzerland, and New Zealand have received AMP within the News Box. In this case, the latter three countries have a substantial percentage of News Box results that are AMP. In these countries at least 40% of news articles in the News Box are AMP results.
Practically, this means that publishers in the aforementioned countries should weigh the option of going AMP.
At the same time, organic AMP also saw a global spike of its own. Taiwan, Germany, and Norway all saw July AMP spikes within their organic results.
SERP Feature Tests and Changes – July 2017
As I mentioned earlier, I can’t remember a month with more changes to the SERP and its features than July 2017. These changes run the full gamut of what we typically see from Google. Some are/were mere tests, others official changes, while other alterations seem here to stay despite not being officially heralded in. In many of the cases, as I’m fond of mentioning, there are real implications that come with the changes (and I’ll do my best to point them out along the way).
Google’s Mobile Homepage Get Enhanced
What better place to begin than with Google’s homepage on mobile, which underwent a significant change in the US. Mobile users in the US will now notice a set of icons that appear under the search box on the Google homepage.
These are not mere icons. These are a set of customized search categories that consider your previous queries. Tapping on one of the four categories brings up customized results suited to what Google thinks are your needs. This means that the results shown improve with time, i.e. with the additional searches you execute related to the category.
This change comes amid rumors that Google is set to revolutionize its desktop homepage by including “feeds” under the search box. Currently how the homepage appears within the Google app, there has been speculation that the card-like feeds will be coming to desktop as well. Google however has denied it has any intention of doing so.
Google Instant Is Gone
Continuing with the SERP as an entity (as opposed to specific SERP features), Google has done away with Google Instant. As such, Google will no longer show results for a query while it is being typed. The significance of the move is the reasoning behind it. According to Google the feature was removed to bring desktop search more in line with mobile (where instant search results never existed).
What’s interesting is that Google sees a benefit in creating the parallel altogether. Meaning, desktop is its own entity, it has a different context and functionality than mobile does. How then does Google’s reasoning follow? It doesn’t, if you deal with their statement in isolation. However, running with the theory that Google seeks to bring the increased level of engagement that comes with mobile functionality to desktop, moving forward with increased device synthesis is quite logical in its own odd way.
SiteLinks Get a New Mobile Format
Over the last year or so Google has been testing SiteLinks carousels on mobile. On July 25th, Google officially informed Search Engine Land that the carousel format is here to stay. Aside from being more dynamic than the traditional format, the carousel offers Google a distinct advantage, more room. As real estate is a highly desired commodity on the mobile SERP, going horizontal with a SiteLinks carousel frees up some highly coveted space on the mobile SERP. Meaning, Google could throw another organic result in, or perhaps an ad (my bet is on the ad winning out).
Editing Business Information on the SERP
Ensuring that your Google business page has the most up to date information sounds easy enough to do. Yet many local businesses have either incomplete or inaccurate content shown. That’s why Google’s early July test was so significant. Reportedly, Google was testing giving business owners the ability to edit their profiles right from the SERP. The test had an edit panel appear on the SERP when a business owner searched for their business while logged into their account, thereby significantly streamlining the editing process and making it a bit simpler for the uninitiated.
Google’s New SOS Feature
As firefighters battle summer wildfires, Google has introduced a new mobile feature to help you navigate a natural crisis (when the query is of course relevant). Partnering with agencies such as the Red Cross, Google’s new SOS alerts provide you with what the search engine calls “timely, actionable information” such as maps of affected areas, emergency phone numbers, etc. Google has released similar features in the past, its earthquake feature comes to mind immediately.
Video Stats and Recipes Come to Image Results
Again a mobile-only feature (noticing a pattern?), Google is showing video statistics within its image search. So say an image is sourced to YouTube, Google will show information such as when the video was published, how many views it has, etc.
Similarly, when an image is reflective of a recipe Google will now show the full recipe upon tapping the image. In the case of recipes, having the information here could disincentivize heading over to the site per se.
Local Pack July Updates
It almost seems as if Local Pack is in a constant state of flux as Google continuously modifies the SERP feature. July saw two noteworthy modifications. The first was a test that had a toggle button placed within the Local Finder on mobile. The button allows users to easily switch between the result cards and a map. I personally like the idea since accessing the map on mobile is not as convenient without the toggle button.
A toggle button within the Local Finder on mobile is certainly convenient, a whole new series of results is something else altogether. That’s precisely what happened in July. For certain hotel queries, Google has begun to show an option that enables you to forgo hotel results within the Local Finder in favor of vacation rentals. Once engaged, Google substitutes rentals for hotel listings. Aside for being a sign of the times, this is a big boost to sites offering vacation rentals as Local Finder placement brings with it a tremendous increase in accessibility.
Knowledge Panel July Updates
If Google has a favorite, it is surely Knowledge Panel. No other feature is privy to as many tweaks, updates, improvements, etc. Simply, the feature is constantly morphing. July was particularly heavy on Knowledge Panel adjustments, with five notable revisions taking place (there were in fact too many tests than is appropriate to fully discuss here).
One of the most discussed initiatives was Google’s test of auto-play videos within Knowledge Panel. This limited test was initially spotted by Jennifer Slegg of The SEM Post towards the end of July. The test appears to have been relegated to select TV shows and movies (I personally could not replicate it). What is of course interesting is that auto-play videos are mostly associated with social media, not Google. In fact, traditionally, Google has advocated a non-intrusive sort of user experience. However, auto-play videos run squarely against that philosophy as they offer the user no choice and force a certain level of engagement. I personally highly doubt Google will run with the idea anytime soon, but the fact that they tested it could mean that down the line Google will undertake a philosophical change that will have tremendous implications.
Google has confirmed that is has rolled out a new option that allows businesses to chat with customers via Google My Business. After activating the option and configuring a mobile device, customers will see a messaging option appear within the business’s Local Panel. From there you and your customers can chat it up as you will receive the messages on the previously configured mobile device.
Tagging and Rating Movies in the Knowledge Panel
Google has often used its mobile Knowledge Panel as a means towards engrossing and engaging users. As part of this pattern, Google gave users the ability to rate/describe movies with a new tag voting option. The new feature introduced in July allows users to describe a movie via tags. Users can vote for the tags that best describe the film or suggest a new one. Again, the story here is Google’s continued focus on a highly engaged mobile experience.
Menu Tabs & Other Locations Now in Local Panels
The tabs format within Local Panels on mobile was introduced in June. Along these lines, July saw Google introduce a separate menu tab for selected eateries.
This was not the only change to Local Panels. July also saw Google running a carousel that lists a business’s other locations.
For the SERP It Is A Changing
Like the “times” according to the 1964 Bob Dylan song, the Google SERP is changing. The headline stories for July were of course the changes in SERP feature data trends (HTTPS, AMP, etc.). However, if you really want to understand Google, to see the direction it wants to head in, the changes and additions to its SERP features are far more telling in my opinion.
Google puts in a lot of effort to spruce up its SERP features and taking note of where and how Google allocates that energy can be more insightful than anything. July was unique in the sheer volume of changes to Google’s SERP features, particularly on mobile. That’s the real story here. Google has, is, and will be going all in when it comes to mobile and it has one goal in mind… keeping users engaged within Google’s own ecosystem. Google knows that the mobile experience is more captivating, that users are more engaged, and as a result Google is fully intent on capturing the magic of mobile. The question is, can Google keep its magic touch as time goes on?