Is 7 the new 10? Decreased domain diversity and SERP results makes it harder to stay on page one.

August 23, 2012

Collective Measures
It's getting much harder to stay on page one due to decreased domain diversity and decreased results in the SERPs.

If it seems like it has been getting harder for you to land one of the coveted first page SERP positions, that’s because it is. There are two reasons for this.

Reason number one: Since the beginning of June, the number of unique domains has been minimizing on the first page of the SERPs. Dr. Pete at SEOmoz refers to this change as the Bigfoot Update (and while the article is now 3 months old, I highly recommend reading it if you haven’t yet). He explains his discovery of the change by first showing us a graph of the increase in ranking changes that occurred within a 24-hour time period. (For a point of reference, his change in ranking scale 30-day average was 2.29 and the spike he noticed was a 3.24. This was the second highest in 60 days; just behind the Penguin update that had a rank of 3.32.)

After receiving some validation on his discovery from @SERPmetrics, Dr. Pete began digging in the SERPs to see what exactly was changing. The first image below shows the top ten listings for “kohls store locator” the morning before the update. The seven different root domains have been color coded for easy viewing.

 SERP Rankings before Bigfoot Update

Now look at the data for morning after the update:

 SERP Rankings After Bigfoot Update

As you can see, we lost three of our root domains in the top ten results. The Kohl’s site listings did not expand and power domains like Wikipedia lost ranking which means that this change wasn’t due to domain handling or brand power. Also, you can see that the Kohls listings 4 and 5 changed to show more specific landing pages.

He goes on to explain a few other things, but the main point is that the rankings are changing due to more algorithm changes than just Penguin and Panda. From a searcher’s standpoint the results seem to be more specific and help you find what you are looking for more easily. And as for what us search marketers should do? It’s the same thing we always tell you to do. Create good content, create relevant content and create a lot of it. 

**Update on domain diversity: See the graph below to see how domain diversity has been on the decline since 1. The Penguin update and 2. The “Bigfoot” Update. Note position 3 on the chart. This will be discussed later.

 Domain Diversity in SERPs

Reason number two for why landing the first page is more difficult: The SERP results are shrinking. Before August 12, 1-4% of search queries produced less than 10 results in the SERPs(see graph below). Then on August 15, the number of SERPs with less than 10 results spikes to over 18% (note how the domain diversity graph shows a slight spike on August 15). The majority of this change resulted in the SERPs moving from showing 10 results to showing 7 results.

 SERPs With Less Than 10 Results

Fortunately, the greatest effect that this change had on search results was on branded searches. Unfortunately, if you were negatively affected by this change there isn’t any one thing you can to do get back on that first page other than to continue to optimize as usual. To check to see if you were affected, you will have to spot check your ranking by searching on Google as opposed to checking you ranking reports because while your ranking report might consistently show you in position #8, that position might have fallen off the first page.