Posted by Dan Malachowski, Product Marketing Manager (Search and Perf. Media)
The search engine results page (SERP) is evolving before our eyes. Most importantly, the SERP is continually becoming more relevant to consumers—its content is more integrated, social, mobile/local and personal. Advancements in usability and relevancy that are driving these SERP changes can be grouped into three content categories:
- Paid Content-paid search ads
- Owned Content-native website, video, social, local and blog content
- Earned Content-user-generated content (UGC) like YouTube videos, tweets and consumer reviews
Performics has reviewed and weighed in on many of the influences that are either already changing the face of the SERP – or will change the SERP within the next couple years. As brands implement SERP domination strategies, it is important to consider these eight key trends:
1. Embedded Rich Media
Image and video search results increase user engagement. For instance, a Performics’ electronics retailer client using Yahoo! Rich Ads in Search (RAIS) saw a 774% clickthrough rate increase (CTR) and a 504% increase in conversions over traditional paid search ads. We believe that the SERP will continually incorporate more rich media—video paid search ads, product ads with images, more video natural search results, and more image natural search results. Going forward, brands must leverage all their rich media assets in paid and owned SERP listings.
2. Sitelinks and Deep Navigation
Recently, Google added sitelinks to paid search ads, as well as to natural search snippets and URLs. For an electronics retailer, Performics saw up to 23% more clicks from paid search listings after implementing paid sitelinks. The SERP of the future will continue to incorporate more anchor links and clickable ad text, clickable search snippet text, and clickable URLs. Sitelinks and deep navigation enable users to more easily find the exact page they’re looking for right from the SERP—especially for broader queries. Brands should incorporate sitelinks into their paid search ads, as well as utilize breadcrumb navigation, clear URL structure, and clear sitemaps to help spiders display more links in natural search listings.
3. Real-Time Content
The breadth of Google and Bing real-time search results now includes blogs, news sites and tons of tweets. In 2009, Twitter’s massive 1,000% growth contributed to the advent of real-time search (comScore). Real-time search results are currently triggered only for high volume search queries, but as Google and Bing refine real-time search over the next few years, searchers should expect to see real-time listings for queries with less volume. The SERP of the future will distribute breaking news faster than TV or radio. Users will be able to set alerts by locale, supported by local Twitter trends. The SERP of the future will be a one-stop shop for breaking news. Brands can break into the real-time results by creating buzz on the social networks or through the press.
4. User-Generated Content (UGC) and Word of Mouth (WOM)
Search for a top brand and you’ll likely see a user-generated first page result like a tweet, YouTube video, image or even an entire user-created website about that brand. Striving to satisfy searcher needs, the SERP is increasingly incorporating product reviews (good and bad). This trend is likely to continue, as 66% of people trust consumer opinions posted online and 96% of people trust their friends’ opinions (Nielsen, July 2009). The SERP of the future is controlled by consumers and earned content. It amplifies consumer opinions by bringing tweets, reviews, videos and other social chatter that used to be confined within the social networks to the SERP. Brands must embrace social listening technology to understand consumers and control the creation of earned content. For instance, brands must respond to consumer gripes before negative conversations breaks out and makes their way to the SERP. Brands also must identify and encourage brand influencers to start positive conversations about the brand.
5. The Growth of Mobile
Predictions show that mobile search will rise from 24% of the mobile ad market in 2009 to 73% of a much larger mobile pie in 2013 (Kelsey Group, Sept. 2009). Additionally, estimates show that worldwide mobile social network users will grow from 141.1 million in 2009 to 760.1 million in 2014 (eMarketer, Nov. 2009). Consumers hold the future SERP in their hands; therefore brands must ensure visibility in mobile search. For instance, new mobile apps enable users to search for a product on their phone, see what store has the product in stock at what price and see exactly how far they are standing from that store. Brands must be positioned to capture consumers who are looking to walk through their doors.
The growth of mobile ties nicely to the localization of the SERP. Thirty-seven percent of consumers who searched for a local business in 2009 ended up visiting the store in person (TMP and comScore, Oct. 2009). Predictions show that local searches will rise from 28% of all mobile searches in 2008 to 35+% in 2013 (Kelsey Group, Sept. 2009). Brands must leverage all their owned, earned and paid content to influence local search results. This means ensuring that addresses, phone numbers and maps show on the SERP by making it easy for spiders to understand the local info on a website. For instance, brands should make sure their store location info is not hidden behind a ZIP code function that spiders cannot get through. If it is, the spiders will not be able to index that info and display it on the SERP.
7. Integration with the Searcher’s Offline World
The SERP is increasingly being influenced by the searcher’s outside world—whether by offline content or content from the physical world. For instance, Wolfram Alpha offers a service where businesses can integrate their hard drive/company data into Wolfram’s search results. Google Goggles for Android returns search queries for pictures users take from their phones. The SERP of the future will give users the ability to take pictures or scan a product with their phone to pull up search results that incorporate the price of the product, consumer reviews, and perhaps even where the product can be bought for less elsewhere.
Google is currently personalizing search results for everyone, even if they are not logged in. Based on the search results that users click, Google changes the results over time to make them more relevant. If a user is logged in, Google also personalizes their results based on the sites they visit. Google’s social search is also now pulling in results from the searcher’s social circle, such as tweets or Picasa pictures from the searcher’s friends. Over time, the SERP will become vastly different for every user. The SERP of the future will become as personal as users let it become based on how comfortable/uncomfortable they are from a privacy standpoint. The highly personalized SERP of the future makes search marketing more complex—brands must have a deep understanding of their consumers to be able to most effectively target them.
Managing the Future SERP
Brands can manage the SERP of the future by creating and embracing holistic strategies to fully manage owned, earned and paid content that lives on the SERP. Understanding and implementation of these eight trends all enhance user experience and relevancy. When developing a comprehensive search strategy for SERP domination, also be sure to take into account all three types of content – paid, owned and earned. Specific tactics to capitalize on this content include:
- Consumer Research to understand the why, what, when and where of consumer queries to more effectively and efficiently target consumers on an increasingly personalized SERP.
- Social Listening to understand how consumers are talking about you brand to facilitate the creation of positive UGC and prevent the creation of negative UGC.
- Data Mining and Compilation Technology to leverage the mass volumes of search and consumer data to make more efficient dynamic optimization and buying decisions on the increasingly personalized SERP.