Google SERPs and How Browsers Use Them
This is a summary of a research paper entitled The Evolution of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages and Their Effects on User Behaviour which was conducted in September 2014 by Mediative.
We all want to rank first in Google SERPs because we know instinctively that most browsers will click first on this location to find the answer to their search query.
But what happens if they don’t find what they are looking for?
Do browsers really scroll down systematically and examine the other SERPs entries one by one in the order in which they appear?
Or do they follow some other type of logic for deciding what to click on next?
This was what Mediative were trying to find out when they conducted their research in September this year.
Participants were instructed to use desk top computers to ask Google to help them find a Toronto moving company that could assist with a move from Toronto to Vancouver.
All participants were provided with the same SERPs page regardless of the search terms they used.
Mediative was looking for answers to three principal questions:
– Which areas of the SERPs get the most views and clicks?
– How significant is the location of where the listing is placed on SERPs in terms of how many clicks and views it receives.
– Has the introduction of features such as Google’s knowledge graph and the carousel changed the way people use SERPs?
Their research shows that the way browsers scan SERPs before clicking on an entry has indeed evolved over time.
Previous eye-tracking studies carried out in 2005 revealed that people then moved their eyes in a triangular pattern across desktop screens, starting in the top left corner and scanning horizontally. They continued to read line by line but the horizontal movement got shorter and shorter with each descending line.
This area of scanned text became known as “Google’s Golden Triangle” and conventional wisdom said that if your website didn’t appear within this area, then the chances are that it would not get read by online searchers.
The new 2014 research shows that after nearly a decade of practice browsers have got better at scanning, reviewing and interpreting SERP entries more quickly. We now look at more entries and spend less time on each than we did in 2005.
In addition, the study revealed that browser eye movements have changed. Nowadays, the number one organic SERPs placement is not necessarily at the top left of the page and browsers have to scan further down to find what they are looking for.
This may be because we have become so accustomed to scanning vertically on our mobile phones. Or it may simply reflect that we now think we know instantly if a page will answer our search question or not.
Almost one third of browsers will still click on the organic SERPs number one spot first, but before they do so their eyes will have scanned the earlier advertising text located above – which presents a perfect location and opportunity for advertisers to get noticed.
Ironically, Google actually wants us to spend more time on SERPs
In another test, searchers were provided with the information they were looking for directly on the SERP itself.
When the Google knowledge graph provided exactly the answer that browsers were looking for some 80% of browsers took time to look at the result and around 44% went one step further and clicked on it.
At the same time, the number one organic SERP listing only received 36.5% of clicks – compared with some 82% of clicks when the knowledge graph did not have the right information.
Similarly, Google’s Carousel (that row of advertising boxes that rotates horizontally across the top of the screen) is designed to keep us longer on the SERP itself. When users click on a carousel listing, it opens to another SERPs page that contains further information about the specific business, rather than redirecting to the actual business website itself.
Both the knowledge graph and the carousel are all part of Google’s way to boost the number of paid ad clicks/impressions, which raises the question of what businesses need to do to maintain or improve organic position on SERPs?
Getting noticed organically on SERPS these days is a complicated business.
Mediative’s research revealed that anything listed below 5th place in organic placements was unlikely to get looked at.
You can raise your website profile by:
– Keeping your content fresh, unique, topical and meaningful.
– Using front loading keywords in page titles, and meta descriptions, etc.
– Getting your website mentioned in third party directories, listings, reviews, etc.
– Getting mentioned, shared, liked, etc, across social media.
– Using-schema-markups and rich snippets to make your website stand out
What are Schema mark up and Rich Snippets?
Schema mark-up is a very under-utilized, Google approved tool that is used to identify different elements on your pages so that search engines know exactly what they are looking at.
It won’t necessarily boost your SERP ranking but it can be useful for adding prices, numbers of reviews, star rating and more to your SERP listing – all of which draw the eye of browsers and will help to get your website more attention when it is listed on SERPs.
Similarly, with rich snippets you can add photos, images, additional text, etc, to your SERPs listing. Rich snippets have been reported to increase click through rates by up to 50% (BruceClay.com).
According to Searchmetrics, more than 1/3 of Google SERPs results include rich snippets but less than 0.3% of websites are taking advantage of schema markup – so this represents an excellent opportunity to those businesses that chose to include it in their website structure.
Figure Out What Your Users are Looking For
Small and medium sized businesses are always going to struggle to compete with their larger competitors who have bigger marketing budgets and can afford to pay more to use popular keywords and get noticed.
Which means you need to think outside the box and use niche keywords to attract attention to what you do or sell.
Try to use the same vocabulary as your searchers use when looking for a site like yours. Answer the questions your users are asking and build meaningful content based on what they actually want to know, rather than trying to sell yourself.
Even if you don’t make the top organic spot on SERPs, positions 2-5 still attract plenty of attention and if you make your SERP listings informative and meaningful using rich snippets and schema mark-up the probabilities are that you will attract more attention and see an increase in click-through rates.
So what about paid listings?
Mediative’s research showed that almost nobody clicks on adverts that appear to the right of the screen – perhaps because we have become conditioned to scroll our eyes vertically due to the increase in browsing on mobile phones, or perhaps because we have learned from past experience that these ads rarely provide us with the information we need.
However, paid for ads that appear in positions one and two above organic SERPs do attract attention and can serve an important role in establishing your brand and getting it noticed, even if they do not necessarily lead to more direct traffic.
In their research, Mediative showed that 84% of browsers scanned a restaurant ad that occupied the number one advertising spot compared with 73% of browsers who scanned the number two spot above the organic SERP entries. Ultimately 26% of participants clicked on the restaurant in the number one slot, compared to just 2% who clicked on the restaurant in slot number two.
So although restaurant number 2 didn’t get a great click through rate, it did manage to get a lot of impressions (ie, get seen by a lot of browsers) – which can be useful in raising your profile, establishing your brand and may lead to more click through attention in the future.
In a way, getting seen in the number 2 spot is free brand advertising since you only pay if the ad is clicked on!
Google analytics will let you know how many times you ad was actually shown and in what position, and you can estimate from this how many times it was probably looked at!
So the bottom line is – the top five organic SERP positions generate the most clicks but don’t rule out paid ads, particularly in the top two slots, both for serving a useful role in getting noticed and to some extent in increasing your online business.