The Changing Landscape of Google: Shrinking Organic Listings and Its Impact on SEO
Seeing rankings go from NOT IN TOP 100 to the first page of Google is what we live for as SEO specialists. Thank you rank tracking software!
But a few days go by and you noticed that your website’s organic traffic is still low and it got you thinking – “my website is ranking on the first page of Google but, why am I not gaining any clicks and visitors to my website?”
Only to find out that your website is not even on the first page!
WHAT?! (As we all know, no one checks the second page of search results) This is because some search queries on Google will result in showing only 9 or even worse, only 7 search results.
Wait, you didn’t know that?
Yes, this has been happening since April 2012 and you may not be aware of this up to today. Because in the past, it wouldn’t happen so often but now search results pages are using this as the staple. 7 – 9 results are far more common today than ever before.
Google Search Results: Shrinking Number of SERPs
If you try searching on Google right now, there is a good percentage of results pages that only show 7 to 9 results on the first page instead of the usual 10. This has been first noticed by Dr. Pete in April 2012 which he wrote on his SEOmoz blog
Here’s the graph from the first time he noticed it:
This just shows the rise of first-page search results that show less than 10 listings. From 2% it drastically increased to 18% within two days.
Another follow-up study was done by Larry Kim, in support of what Dr. Pete discovered. Based on his investigation, he noticed that:
- 100% of the organic search results that contained sitelinks also had other SERPs features with 7 or fewer organic listings.
- 100% of the organic search results that did not contain sitelinks had the usual 10 organic listings.
But the data you’re showing is from 10 years ago, is it relevant until now?
As Google never looked back and instead implemented it into more of its search results.
‘7 is the New 10!’
Gone are the days when you will see precisely 10 search results on the first page of every Google search result. This has been the case for a lot of search queries for branded keywords ever since that change in April 2012.
And now there’s a new trend on Google’s search results, this is where it only shows 9, 8, and worst 7 links even for non-branded, generic keywords!
A thing I noticed is that in many search engine results pages (SERPs) nowadays is a rising amount of SERPs Features on every search query. And this has impacted every organic result as most of these SERPs Features have taken over and knocked down some of the coveted organic ‘blue links’ down to the second page.
Another thing that changed the world of ‘search’ is that it functions more like a ‘search feed’ rather than a ‘search listing’. As these two things may sound the same but they are not. A ‘feed’ is more like the idea of social networking platforms, where the content shown is intended to keep users scrolling with endless results. Wherein the concept of a ‘list’ before is specific and straightforward Top 10 results and that’s it.
This certainly indicates how the digital world has evolved, at which point users are conditioned to scroll endlessly. The domination of social networking platforms in user engagement and retention has made search engines adapt to it. At the end of the day, both search and these social networking platforms are advertising-based industries that earn through ad impressions.
‘Finding 10’ – Nowhere to be found!
Try searching on Google on a desktop device right now, and I bet you that most of your search results will show fewer than 10.
Here are a few examples you can try searching:
- Advertising: 9 results
- Glamorous Camping: 8 results
- Food Delivery Manila: 7 results
- Kid-friendly Places in Makati: 9 results
Those are just some of the results I got while testing multiple queries on a desktop in incognito and normal mode of Chrome. As you can see I tried to search using short-head terms and longtail terms, and most of the results do not show the 10th listing in the SERPs.
But also keep in mind that these SERP results and layout may differ in every country so the number of snippets on the first page can change.
Organic Results V.S. SERP Features
As I got curious about SERP Features (events, top stories, and knowledge panels) and how it affects Google search results, I tried to look for other people’s analysis regarding this. I found a very interesting case study done by Kevin Indig, an SEO practitioner.
And the image below is the data Kevin gathered with his investigation into knowing the relationship between organic results and SERP Features.
Note: “1” means the SERP Feature appeared above the first organic results; “5” means it appeared before the fifth organic results, etc
The data above also supports the assumption that SERP Features do affect the number of organic listings in Google search results – the more SERP Features appear leads to less number of organic results.
More data and research is needed to fully establish the relationship between organic results and SERP Features. But the research above shows a pattern in its results and this could help jumpstart a full thesis on this topic.
How does this affect SEO?
These changes will profoundly affect SEO. As it is already visible and taking effect on Google search results – however, we do not have enough data regarding the shift of search engines from showing the classic ‘lists’ to user engagement and retention-focused ‘feeds.’
So this is very alarming, especially for SEO companies and practitioners that rely on software in tracking the rankings of their clients. Rank-tracking software does not necessarily display if your website is on the first or later pages of results – so checking directly will be the only logical solution.
One of our partners, SEranking, is working on a solution to show TRUE first-page rankings as we write this blog. You might want to check them out!
Yes, we are still looking at this from an outsider’s view through a blurry lens. But some things became clear:
- Go for at least 7, not 10!
– Being in the Top 10 means a lot less now compared to a decade ago! You should be targeting to be at least in the Top 7 to make your website relevant. Because even the bottom 3-5 results do not matter anymore if a more eminent SERP Feature hovers above them.
- Organic Real Estate is Shrinking!
– Google adding a handful of SERP Features takes up the supposed spots for organic listings in the search results. This lowers the opportunities for you to increase the organic traffic of your website.
- ‘Search Feed’ over ‘Search Lists’
– Search results are much more crowded! The diversity of search results is shrinking. As Google is prioritizing some of its SERPs spots for different types of sites such as affiliates, brands, and marketplaces. But we cannot blame Google for this, as those links generate profit for them – after all, Google is still a business. And all businesses need to grow their revenues year on year.
From 10 to 9 to 8 to 7 results, this goes to show how much search results pages have changed over the years. As SEO practitioners we should adapt to this, from strategizing to getting into that ‘list’ to embracing the new format of endless ‘feed’.
We have all known since day one that SEO is ever-changing, but for a long time, we believed that getting into the Top 10 would deliver at least some traffic. And I say that thinking is now outdated, that is why you need to have a very capable and competitive SEO service provider that won’t just help you reach the top but will make sure to maintain your position.
What do you think about the shrinking organic results page? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!