Optimizing Your Website For Universal Search Results

Collective Measures
December 26, 2018
Today’s search results are the product of Google’s continuous updating, testing, and tweaking. In the name of satisfying user intent, the search engine results page (SERP) has evolved to provide quicker answers, more comprehensive solutions, and a shorter route to purchasing products.

Today’s search results are the product of Google’s continuous updating, testing, and tweaking. In the name of satisfying user intent, the search engine results page (SERP) has evolved to provide quicker answers, more comprehensive solutions, and a shorter route to purchasing products. Universal search results comprise the myriad results that populate today’s results pages – from images, to videos, to sounds, to flight results, to song lyrics. The abundance of choices means searchers are engaging more with content within the SERP – sometimes going no farther than the results page. Collective Measures’ SEO and content team looks at how the changes are affecting organic performance and how marketers can best achieve and measure success in the shifting landscape.

Navigating The Crowded Search Landscape

Two years ago, the Collective Measures team started keeping tabs on the new result types showing up in the SERP, working to understand Google’s logic as well their value to clients. Notable entries included People Also Ask and People Also Search For boxes, Knowledge Graphs, and Direct Answers – all which are staples of today’s SERP. SearchMetrics recently analyzed the now hundreds of search integrations and their growth over the past 2 years, underlining how crowded the SERP has become, and how standard organic listings are now constantly competing for space and clicks among a host of universal search results.

Google Search Quick Answers Results
Source: SearchMetrics (2018 vs. 2016 search results)


Google Search Knowledge Graph Results
Source: SearchMetrics (2018 vs. 2016 search results)


Google Search Images Result
Source: SearchMetrics (2018 vs. 2016 search results)

The SearchMetrics report does not break down the data beyond desktop vs. mobile and we know that search engine results can vary wildly depending on the intent of the search (for example, informational, navigational, transactional). Likewise, how broad the search term is will result in a varied SERP (searching for “birthday cake”, for example, brings up a local 3-pack listing bakeries, images of birthdays cakes, news results, videos, organic listings, and a “People also ask” box). A longer-tail search, where the intent is clearer (“chocolate birthday cake recipe”), returns a Quick Answer, organic listings, and a “Related Searches” box. Understanding your audience and tailoring your content to them is your best bet for ranking for those high-intent, long-tail searches.

local 3-pack listing in search results

TACTIC 1: Aim For Multiple Search Results Types

Your presence in the SERP drives awareness and familiarity with your brand, encouraging users, in their next search, to search for your brand rather than the generic term. So, use the many result types to your advantage – seize the opportunity to show up for multiple types of results within the search results page. Analyze the type of search results that are appearing for valuable keywords and make sure the same kind of content exists on your site. At the same time, make sure your content is technically marked up (see schema.org) and images contain relevant alt tags to give you the best chance of showing up in results such as: knowledge graphs, maps, videos, news, and images.

Recognizing the value of the entire search ecosystem (social platforms, YouTube, Amazon, etc.) can fuel alternative traffic streams as well as brand growth through awareness. Look at the variety of traffic source and volume when measuring performance and monitor branded searches to measure the increase in awareness.

Measuring Performance From “No Click” Searches

A recent SparkToro blog looked at how rich results (seen as Google’s “attempts to answer queries prior to anyone leaving the search engine”) are leading to an increase in “no click” searches. Both the SearchMetrics and Spark Toro reports underline the fact that we’re never going back to the “ten blue links” page layout; instead, Google’s approach (which appears to be here to stay) is to scrape content from sites to answer queries within the search results page, often before a click can happen.

Tactic 2: Optimize For Featured Snippets or Quick Answers Search Results

Also known as Quick Answers or Direct Answers, Featured Snippets contain the content Google scrapes from websites to provide the answer to a given search query on the search results page itself. Google deems the scraped content to be authoritative and particularly helpful to users, rewarding it with the top spot on the search results page. One-off informational queries, such as: “what year was the constitution ratified?”, will naturally have a lower click-through as the search is satisfied with one brief answer, However, click-through rates are much higher for longer-tail searches that return a Quick Answer (like the “chocolate birthday cake recipe” example) as users are compelled by what they see in the snippet to click through to your site.

Google Search Quick Snippet Results

To measure performance, break down result type to see how many Featured Snippets results you’re winning. For those one-off queries, impressions will be a better gauge of performance, while click-through rate will give you a better idea of success for more in-depth, longer-form content.

Paid and Organic Click-through rate
Source: SparkToro (“Google CTR in 2018: Paid, Organic, & No-Click Searches”)

What The Changing Search Results Landscape Means For Marketers

Change is the norm in the digital world. What has fueled much of the change in search is Google’s mission to put the user first, which means content creators and strategists much catch up and adapt to the new paradigm.

So, create different kinds of content to improve your chances of appearing for universal search results and grow your brand presence. Always be analyzing and optimizing based on the intent behind a user’s search to show up in Featured Snippets; and make sure that content is compelling so users click through. By following the solutions outlined above, Collective Measures clients improved performance metrics (impressions, CTR, keyword and page rank), in spite of the more crowded search landscape. Remember – the more crowded search results page can become a competitive advantage.

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