Search Engine Saturation: The Ever Evolving SERP and How Manufacturers Reply
30 second summary:
- The evolution of search results on top of this insane pandemic has changed search results more than ever. Including new features to drill down by brand, view news and reviews.
- Brands appearing in both paid and organic offerings were at their lowest level in 11 years, with only 8% of brands appearing in both categories.
- The results of the local Google Map package are shown in 47% of the search results. The highest value since this study was carried out in four years.
Yes, we know this year is different from any other. The world is constantly changing around us, but this year the pace of change is faster and more harrowing than ever. The world of search engine marketing has changed massively. This made my annual look at search engine results very interesting. Starting in 2010, I tried to understand how brands handled paid search bids when they were also in organic search. Lately it was also reported how often the local card package + the shopping results were included. At the macro level, this year has brought about massive changes – for example, travel is basically being phased out, the roadside is now a word that not only are we all familiar, but that we expect brands to deliver, and e-commerce has recorded explosive growth.
Search engine saturation at its lowest level in 11 years
How have these macro changes affected the number of brands that have appeared in both paid and organic search? Simply put, it crashed. Overall, it fell by 60% compared to the previous year and by 78% compared to 2018. This was mainly due to an overall reduction in paid search results. Travel alone has decreased by 78% since 2019. The trips are very logical and make sense given the reduction in consumer and business travel. Given the low likelihood of conversion, travel brands are choosing not to invest in paid traffic at this point.
The reduction in retail overlap was surprising. The retail volume has not been reduced, just switched to a more digital DTC model. The overlap in searches in retail is down 77% year over year to just 3%. This means that only 3% of the entries on page 1 in both organic entries and in either paid search or shopping entries had the same brand. This statistic is really incredible. We peaked in retail a few years ago with 33% of brands that had listings in both areas. So why the decline? I think you can directly attribute this to two key factors:
1. The rise of the DTC brands
This year, brands aimed directly at consumers have seen massive growth. Take a look at the screenshot below. The search results shown without scrolling are all ads and the two most important are DTC brands (Bombas and Mack Weldon). These brands increase the number of competitors to "traditional brands" that would traditionally have fought for these listings. This makes it harder to have your listing in both paid and organic search.
2. Google Shopping switches from paid to free
This democratizes the ability of smaller brands to appear in shopping results. Moving from paid to free has not only removed financial barriers that allow more brands to step in. Also, brands that have only submitted part of their product feed can submit the entire feed.
Shopping and local card lists appear in 40% of search results
Long gone are the days of 10 blue links. Now the search results are populated with a selection of different results from the local map package, shopping results, news, images, “brand refinement” and reviews to name a few. These results make brands difficult. It is not easy to understand how all these pieces fit together and how they affect the customer journey and customer experience.
In this article, we'll just focus on how often these different types of listings appear. Starting with shopping lists. The frequency with which a purchase offer is included in a search result was fairly constant at around 40%. One theory would be that changing from paid to free offers would reduce the number of Shopping ads displayed by Google in order to maximize sales. However, this is not the case. Instead, the results are in line with Google's overall strategy of continuing to offer consumers choice and battling Amazon as the first source of retail research.
For the local map package, that's a different story. This has grown from year to year. This year, at 47%, it was the highest since I started tracking it 4 years ago. That realization was fascinating given the economic environment we are in. However, Google wants to continue to offer consumers choice and support local businesses. There have been numerous updates to the Google My Business product over the past few years and these investments will be reflected in additional search results.
Maximize your SERP for your customers
We encourage our clients to think about three things when trying to figure out how to best optimize their search engine strategy.
1. Understand the customer experience
You should always go through the experience your customers would have. Understand what they might see and experience. Are landing pages and ad copies targeted? Does another brand offer a more streamlined scheme that provides direct responses to an important consumer query? You need to understand what you are experiencing in order to develop a strong search engine marketing strategy.
2. Understand your KPIs
Not everyone can afford $ 60 for a paid search click. Understanding what you can afford and what your main business drivers are is important. Your strategy and ability to be aggressive may be different for different goals, keywords, etc. This is a great place to understand your various customers. Some are more valuable than others and can affect your bid modifiers. You can't manage what you can't measure. This is the key to this important pillar.
3. Always test
As you can see from these results, things have changed a lot over the years and will continue to do so. Personalization continues to produce these results on a person-by-person basis, making it even more difficult to understand the impact on the journey. The key is to accept changes and create a plan that enables testing and optimization. This will help you keep your website up to date, make the big strategy agile, and blame your technical architecture for SEO results. These elements help you stay one step ahead of the competition who may be distracted by other elements or rely on previous successes.
Jason Tabeling is CEO at Air tank. He can be found on Twitter @jtabeling.