The appearance of Google’s SERP (Search Engine Results Page) changes periodically as they experiment with new ways of showing paid and organic search results to customers.
The latest iteration removes paid text ads in the right column (on desktop results only), but expands paid results in organic search results. Now up to four ads are displayed above organic results.
Like Larry kim pointed out, Google is a zero sum game that someone has to win and someone has to lose. According to Kim’s data, PPC will be the winner in this case, while organic search will be the loser. He cites these reasons:
- Paid search results now look more like organic results
- Number four paid ad took the spot that was taken by number one organic result
- The number of pages returning four ads is increasing, and these pages are pushing organic results below the waterline
So we adjust. SEO is about problem solving. It is constantly evolving, trying to keep in step with Google. You’ve worked on algorithm changes in the past. It’s just one more egg to fry.
Here are four ways to adjust your site’s SEO strategy to reflect the new face of SERPs.
1) Start aiming for the answer box
Stay in the SERP spotlight by having your website selected to appear in the response box. The answer box is always below the paid results (if there are any), but it is clearly marked.
With the proliferation of voice research, including the introduction of Gboard into phone conversations, you should already be upgrading your web copy to more natural language.
As Andy Crestodina notes, voice requests tend to be longer sentences and tend to be questions. Therefore, you should move your content into a question-and-answer format to respond to searcher queries.
As an added benefit, writing for natural search can increase your chances of being in that coveted answer box.
James Perrott further elaborates on his criteria for reaching the answer box – check out his advice here: Google Answer Boxes: How and Why.
2) Make local optimization a priority
If you have brick and mortar business locations, getting into that local pack is more important than ever. Otherwise, organic search space on the first page of this SERP is virtually nonexistent after four paid results and the local pack.
Let’s take a look at men’s suits.
Follow these recommendations to make sure your site is part of the local package.
- Make sure your NAP (company name, address, phone number) is in readable text on your website across multiple pages or in your header.
- To add local business schema markup to your code.
- Start a Google My Business page for your business (if you don’t already have one).
- Start collecting reviews. Comments can help your presence in the local pack. Think about non-intrusive ways to gently ask your customers to leave a review if they like your products and services.
- Make sure your business is listed in all local directories. Local MOZ is a great tool for this. As you can see in the image below, MOZ Local allows you to browse your business listings in all major online directories to see where your listing is complete and where it needs work.
3) Stop writing for keywords, start writing for topics
Hope you still aren’t targeting a keyword with your content. Keywords are by no means dead, but it’s still a better idea now to write articles that target topics, using a variety of semantically related keywords.
First of all, the search engines are far enough advanced at this point to create a bigger image of your webpage without you typing a specific keyword into them over and over again.
Second, however, creating a semantically optimized article around a topic potentially helps the article rank very high in the SERPs for several different queries. This dramatically increases your chances of landing in SERPs that show one or no paid search results at the top of the page.
As of February 23, MOZ noted that 36.4% of the top ad units on SERPs had four ads. The same number of pages only had one ad. And these only count the pages that contain advertisements.
Yes, there are still SERPs without ads – for example, I just searched for “auto repair” and there was no ads in my SERP.
4) Form a closer alignment with paid search
Paid and organic search teams need to coordinate to maximize brand exposure in search. As Thomas Stern recently noted, a mutually beneficial relationship in between will allow paid search to increase visibility while organic search will identify gaps in the competitive landscape.
Your paid search counterparts should focus on placing in queries dominated by four paid results packs, where your organic efforts are going to lose significant amounts of clicks.
Meanwhile, you are free to focus your organic search efforts more by optimizing on topics that have more leeway without ads in the SERPs and that competitors have neglected to target.
Your paid research team is not your opponent. Coordinate efforts to dominate SERPs and attract more visits.
The agile will win
A big part of being successful in SEO is being nimble and adaptable. Rather than worrying about the small changes Google might make next, you’ll be better served by looking at the larger themes that develop and prepare for them:
- Start writing for natural language and improve your chances of being in the answer box
- Go the extra mile to make sure your site is optimized for local search (if possible)
- Reach more SERP by writing for topics instead of keywords
As we lose organic SERP space, this is a good opportunity to re-evaluate your approach to search optimization and to be better positioned for the big changes to come.
Ryan Johnson is the SEO Manager at DigitasLBi and a Contributor for SEW. You connect with Ryan on Twitter.