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SERP Shifts in Focus - Actionable SEO for the Modern World

Posted on 4.30.2014

The results pages that Internet users encounter each day at Google and Bing (or any search engine for that matter) are far different – and more interesting some would argue – than ever before.

Web searchers can find information, the “right” information, faster and, increasingly, in a format that is distinctly more visually appealing and richer with interactive possibilities. Make no mistake; these aren’t the search results you likely first encountered when search engines became a fundamental element of online marketing — so you shouldn’t treat them the same way either.

Search result pages today present far more powerful opportunities to attract users. The digital brands that understand the ever-shifting state of the SERPs are those positioned for the greatest ’Net success.


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The Visual Design of SERPs

The search results pages have changed in many ways over the years, but Google’s recent redesign confirms that its attention remains focused on the quality of the user experience — and your focus as a search marketer should be the same. The leading search engine, whose search market share remains constant at slightly higher than 60 percent, recently retooled not just the look, but also in many respects the function of its search results pages.

Today’s Google searcher will encounter listings whose titles have a slightly larger font (18px Arial), no underline and more even line heights in general (which improves readability and creates an overall cleaner look). The changes aren’t related exclusively to searches conducted on the desktop but mobile as well, which leads to improved consistency and a unified experience across all platforms. These changes extend to basic results, expanded site-links, image and news results, as well as the local pack results. So what does this ultimately mean for the methods your enterprise uses to create listings?


Way Back When

See how Google, Yahoo and Bing looked long ago at wsm.co/oldsearch


Search marketers will need to consider how Web page listings appear with the larger font as the space afforded to the actual container size of the title has not changed which means fewer characters available for use. That means it is probably best to avoid using capital letters and in general, being aware of the average title length currently being displayed on listings appearing under the queries for which a website is competing.

In response to this new challenge, SEO software solution Screaming Frog’s announced their SEO Spider tool now calculates the actual pixel width of page titles and meta descriptions (with a SERP snippet emulator) that will reveal if you’re in jeopardy of exceeding the 512 pixels that Google allows.

Action-Oriented Search Results

It’s not just the subtle and specific design elements on the search results pages that are changing, but the functionality and depth of information available in many respects as well. Google, for example, recently announced upgraded Schema support for additional phone types and detailed specific recommendations for using Schema.org on location pages. Websites will be able to include different phone numbers (customer service, billing support, etc.) and provide location-specific details through the Schema.org structured data markup. Google isn’t alone however; Bing is also taking great effort to improve its results pages.

“Search” is about far more than just submitting a query and browsing the results; it’s also about obtaining information and acting upon it — quickly. Bing is well aware of consumer’s shifting attitude toward search and their growing affinity for richer and more interactive results. The search engine recently announced it has added more than 150 million new “entities” to its snapshot/Satori engine, incorporating data on doctors, lawyers, dentists and real estate properties. Today’s search engines are giving users access to information directly from the results page, changing the approach that many search marketers have long taken.

When users of Bing search for a medical professional, for example, Bing now returns the snapshot of the professional that includes their specialty, experience, education as well as their address and phone number. Bing’s Snapshot feature also takes its entity search a few steps further, offering up opportunities for its users to delve more deeply into topics by connecting the intent of a user to specific actions. For example, say that your query is “Tom Hanks.” Bing will provide information that it culls from several rich data sources and services across the Web, including Wikipedia, LinkedIn, IMDB and Netflix.

How Will Search Results Look Tomorrow?

In many ways however, Bing is still playing catchup with Google, but one thing is for certain: Search engine optimization, as it has been practiced in the past, limits the possibility for exposure. Those that can make the necessary adjustments, using rich markup and being aware of how users experience listings on the results pages, are those positioned for the greatest amount of digital awareness.

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