I have written extensively about how Google is continually making its SERPs richer, more feature-led, and increasingly intuitive.
Of course this is happening on desktop, but how the SERPs are being displayed across mobile devices deserves special attention from marketers. It’s a space that presents its own challenges and opportunities. It is also highly competitive and evolving in a unique way.
One such change to Google’s mobile SERPs in recent months is the launch of its ‘More Results’ button (MR). I spoke to Adthena’s Ashley Fletcher about the MR tweak, his reaction to it, and how he sees mobile search changing throughout 2018 and beyond.
Fletcher’s interest in the evolving landscape of the SERPs goes back 13 years to when SEO was in its infancy. Since then, he has worked within agencies, on the client side at Criteo and Beatthatquote, at Google itself (launching its insurance comparison tools in the US and UK), and now at Adthena as VP of marketing.
Adthena specializes in competitive intelligence – using artificial intelligence (AI) and gathering unparalleled levels of data about the SERPs. “There’s so many moving parts in paid search campaigns at scale,” Fletcher tells me. “Retailers might have 1000 product lines. That’s 1000 battlegrounds. AI and tech helps give a clear picture of these battlegrounds.”
Decluttering the SERPs
The quest for clarity amid the SERPs is not exclusive for companies like Adthena and its clients however. Google’s decision to include the MR button could well be partly attributed to cleaning up the mobile search space. This is something Fletcher agrees with, and it is in keeping with other tweaks from the search giant.
“It’s quite a subtle change,” he says. “But there’s such an influx of ad units on mobile SERPs, it is quite cluttered. It seems the MR button is part of a bigger move by Google to streamline the mobile SERPs.”
We know that user experience is high on Google’s agenda. A more efficient UX on the SERPs gets us to the information we desire, the product we want, or the destination we want to visit as soon as possible. This keeps us satisfied and keen to return to Google again, and again, down the line.
Fletcher notes more than a passing resemblance between the MR button and the way content is navigated by users on social media. “We’re seeing Google trying to encourage a sort of infinity loop,” he says. “It’s a single page UX more like what we see on the Facebook newsfeed or on Instagram. Users – and mobile users especially – are now very used to scrolling the same page forever rather than clicking through numerous pages.”
This is a curious realization. The notion of Google wanting users to ‘scroll forever’ is surely counter to the overarching agenda of keeping things as efficient as possible.
But as Fletcher highlights, sometimes the SERP doesn’t do the job and the MR button is a faster way of perusing other search results. It is more in-keeping with dominant trends of mobile navigation, and thus more accepted. There is now no need to load page two of the SERPs. “Page 2 is a graveyard anyway,” Fletcher says.
Impacts: clicks, rankings and happier users
The MR button is quite a subtle design change on Google’s mobile SERPs, but Fletcher and Adthena are already noticing a change in CTRs.
“We’re expecting CTRs to climb on paid and organic listings,” Fletcher says. “It’s what we’re seeing in our latest Paid Search Benchmark report and I would think it will continue.”
Indeed, Adthena’s recently published benchmark is already seeing average CTRs up 10% toward the end of 2017, compared to around 3% for desktops. As the report states, it’s “a measure of the robustness of paid search, and an indicator that advertisers are continuing to get value from the channel”.
If it continues, this will be welcome news to search marketers and SEOs who are striving to ensure their content is getting clicks and keeping users engaged.
“Google rewards pages with good high CTRs and low bounce rates,” Fletcher adds. “And the overall result is simpler SERPs and happier users.”
Takeaways: mobile search is still a battleground
While the MR button has – in effect – eliminated the second page (and beyond) of mobile SERPs, it will still be best practice for marketers to want to be visible above it in the same way page one is still favoured on desktop.
As Fletcher points out: “Beyond the ‘more results’ button is still a graveyard. Search advertisers know this, and they know that they still have to keep up to retain visibility above the fold.”
With the addition of features such as the MR button, the number of battlegrounds that search marketers need to have an understanding and clear view of is not going down – whether across mobile or desktop, more numerous key phrases, within paid search, in organic listings, or across maps on a local and even hyperlocal level.
The SERPs are continuing to diversify, but ultimately, the users are reaping the benefit. With tweaks like MR, Google as a tool is even more efficient and intuitive. The power of mobile search – even with the limitations of the small screen – is being further refined to meet its capabilities.