Looking Back: How Google Has Changed Its Mobile SERPs in 2015
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Looking Back: How Google Has Changed Its Mobile SERPs in 2015

As the mobile market continues to take an increasingly large share of search activity, capturing the attention of these users continues to be a key objective of Internet marketing. But how Google displays search engine result pages (SERPs) has undergone a serious evolution in 2015.

Here is an easy overview of the way the mobile SERP landscape has changed in the past calendar year:

Rich Answers

These search results are designed to give the user an answer to their query – without having to actually visit a website delivered in the search results to obtain the answer. Google is serving rich answers – especially in mobile searches – increasingly often. The search giant also has been positioning them primarily above the first organic result, instead of between the first and second organic search result as it was prior to this year.

Examples of rich answers increasingly given by Google include:

Local Results: Google has been bundling Maps listings into a ‘Local Pack’ of local search results that answer a search query (making them another type of ‘rich answer’). Typically, these search results were served between the first and second organic search listing. But in 2015, Google made two significant changes: They reduced the number of listings in the ‘Local Pack’ of search results from seven entities to only three. Then, Google moved these Maps results above all organic search results for most mobile searches.

Google Answers: In an attempt to succinctly and efficiently deliver answers to Internet users, Google is increasingly delivering a box with a direct answer to the search query. The answers are typically drawn from information stored in Google’s databank of information, facts published on partner sites or featured snippets from third-party websites.

Paid Search Changes

Paid search results weren’t immune to Google’s SERP rearranging. Google made a few paid channel adjustments.

Sitelinks: Paid ads featuring sitelinks to a variety of pages under a domain used to include two columns with up to three sitelinks per column Now, paid sitelinks are limited to one column with up to four sitelinks linking to various pages under the domain. Paid ad sitelinks continue to display at the top of the SERP.

Product Listing Ads: In an effort to continue to facilitate the customer shopping experience on mobile devices, Google made product images and title text size larger for Product List Ads (also known as PLAs or Google Shopping). One other new feature was introducing PLAs that feature categories, instead of just individual product listings. By clicking on a category, a user is then directed to a SERP page that features the Google Shopping results for that retailer, in the selected category.

Organic Search Results: Feeling the Pinch

All these changes to mobile search mean that organic results are getting pushed further and further down the page, even below the fold in some instances. Websites that hold the coveted top ranking spot are finding themselves losing precious page position without experiencing a loss in rank. Instead, rich answers and paid search ads are taking up prime position in mobile SERPs and users are increasingly clicking on the first-available result that seems most relevant – often before reaching even the first organic result. This means a significant decrease in organic click-through rates.

This isn’t to say that optimizing for organic search isn’t important anymore. In fact, it’s probably more important than ever, since Google uses quality, authentic, user-focused content for new SERP features such as rich answers. Optimize your page correctly, and you may reap the benefit of being Google’s go-to source for questions related to your top keywords. Additionally, ranking in a top spot becomes ever more important as the coveted “Page 1” of mobile search shrinks due to encroaching paid channel advertisements.

It’s clear that keeping up with the evolution of mobile SERPs requires adaptability, strategy, and savvy use of paid search tactics. As Google continues to change the SERP landscape for mobile, businesses will continue to need remain on the cutting edge of Internet marketing best practices to reap the most benefit from organic and paid advertising.