google serps screenshot

The changing face of Google SERPs; goodbye sitelinks, hello rich snippets

It’s been a week or so since the January core update of Google search engine and things are beginning to show in results. There’s definitely something happening behind the scenes but there also seems to a change in the way that Google is presenting results to the public.

There seem to be two major changes in the way the search engines presents results to the public;

  • there is a change in what determines if sitelinks are displayed
  • A new feature seems to be the display of rich snippets within search results

I’ll go into both of these observations in more detail in the following sections. I also want to look at an early observation, but with no clear evidence yet, of the core update impacting on product sales pages.

The requirement for sitelinks in Google search results

I previously did a post on how to boost your chances of getting sitelinks in Google search. This now seems to be changing. Using the same keyword phrase that previously produced a 10 link sitelink below the main entry now produces something completely different.

 

google serp before and afeter january core update

That same keyword phrase now delivers individual links. The same sections of the Wildlife News web sites that used to be in a sitelink now have its own entry. What it means is that I now dominate every single organic result of page 1 for that term and also the first 3 results of page 3. My competition or an alternative domain does not appear in the results until position 4 of page 2.

Previously there would be a good selection of alternative results below my main result with sitelinks. This is something Google will almost certainly tweak. It may be good for me as a site owner to dominate every single organic slot on page 1 of the results. However, it is not a good user experience for the searcher.

Google has been in this situation in the past where an individual domain dominated search results. They tweaked the algo to tackle that issue. I expect Google to do something similar again to give the searcher a better experience. Providing sitelinks is certainly a better looking and more useful option.

The display of rich snippets in search listings

We’ve all got used to the rich snippets at the top of search results. They offer enhanced question and answers to help the searcher find information quickly and without needing to leave Google. Rich snippets are the main reason why 45% of searches on Google now no longer lead to a click. People are looking for quick answers to simple questions and rich snippets do that.

rich snippets in search listingsRich snippets are not great for getting visitors if you are a web site owner. However, it is the future and as such you need to be providing those snippets. There is a benefit to being displayed as a rich snippet at the top of the search as it does lead to increased brand recognition.

Rich snippets at the top of search are commonplace now and been around for a while. But this is the first time I’ve seen rich snippets displayed under an individual listing which is not number 1 in the search results.

The rich snippets displayed under the Wildlife Garden section displayed in the Google listings is at position 7. You can read up more on how I set up the Wildlife Garden Woocommerce product category here.  The rich snippets come from a FAQ meta schema format that was added to the bottom of the product category listings thanks to my Category Tinymce Pro plugin.

The use of rich snippets is only going to increase Google search results. The ones at the top have proven to be successful with searchers. Extending the display of rich snippets under individual search listings is just a natural progression.

Get those favicons sorted out for search listings

Since the start of the year, Google has been rolling out the new look search listing results using your favicon as part of the web address at the top of the listing. It has also been displaying a more informative breadcrumb-like appearance.

This feature has been in beta for over a year now so has been fully tested and has gone live. It’s unlikely to be a part of the algorithm itself but it is a reason to make sure you have favicons now attached to your website. And it’s worth spending a bit of time on the appearance of your favicon to try and make to stand out a bit more from the crowd.

It’s not the first time favicons have been considered for display in the search results. Maybe 18 years ago or so, it was first considered and ran for a short beta-test. I proposed using the favicons when requests were asked for on how to improve the look of the search results in the Google Webmaster Help Forums.

But back then things were very different in the online world. There was lots of cyber-squatting, lots of similar spelt websites with big brands. It was a bit of a wild time with scammers and fake sites. The discussion at the Google WebMaster help forum agreed that it was too much of a risk of scammers copying icons to try and pass off as another site. Things are much much better now. Search results are now pretty safe and it’s a good time to enhance results with logos and icons.

Does the new update protect Google Shopping?

Firstly I need to make clear that it is early days, purely observational on limited data but the pages most negatively impacted by the core update has been my product pages. Overall, the Wildlife News web site has benefitted from the core update with upward movement over a wide range of keywords and phrases. That said, product pages have been impacted.

Looking at which product pages seem to be impacted indicates that pages with very long keyword-rich titles are being down marked in the search results. Product pages with shorter more general titles ( about 8 or 9 words max) don’t seem to be losing places. Product categories are holding their own with some gaining higher positions.

This is probably just a tightening up of over-use of keywords or over-optimisation. It’s a very fine line between being optimised and being over-optimised. For instance, I rarely use the meta description option on web pages. I like to leave that to Google to determine. Google will produce an effective description depending on the search request. I have tested using the meta description feature and had negative results from it. Before using the SEO meta description I placed position 9 on a number of main keywords. Filled in the meta description with a general site description including the main keywords and a day later the page was down on page 3. Removed the meta description and the site returned to page 1. It is a very fine line between being optimised and being over-optimised.

Are long-tail keyword product titles now over-optimisation?

It could be that the very long product titles are now considered to be over-optimised for keywords. I’ll do some changes to the product titles of a number of products and test to try and find any difference.

The other alternative would be the core update being set to try and encourage sellers of products to use Google Shopping. Google Shopping has been around for years but has taken increased prominence in the search results page recently. It now wants to be challenging Amazon as a place to go to buy stuff from. Income from Google Ads has pretty much peaked now. The cost of buying ads have reached about as high as it can go while still being profitable for advertisers. The next moneymaker for Google has to be their shopping opportunity.

I think this year we can expect to see more encouragement from Google to go and pay for product placement. It could be that in future when you search for a product the organic listing will comprise more of technical data, reviews, instructions etc rather than listings to buy pages.

But we will see. Whatever happens, there have been significant changes. Significant enough for Google to make one of its rare pre-launch public announcements. Now is a good time to bring in a specialist on-site SEO consultant to have a full SEO audit done on your site.

For a smaller site, a good review and audit can cost as little as £500. For a larger eCommerce site, it can cost more depending on the complexity and level of work required. But the benefits of being optimised for organic search is substantial, especially with the rapidly rising cost of digital marketing. Contact me for a quote on SEO audit and optimisation work.

In conclusion:

What are the main changes to Google Core Updates in January 2020?
Google search results page

Early impressions seem to indicate 3 main differences to search results since the January Core update:

  • the requirements for the display of organic sitelinks have changed
  • there is now a chance that rich snippets will be displayed below individual listings
  • very long keyword rich product (and page?) titles are being demoted

Core updates to Google algorithms are often tweaked in the following days or weeks. These impacts can easily change over time and Google tweaks their search algorithms many times each month.

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Posted in Blog.

Blog postings from the developer of Y Praise Digital. some thoughts and wonderings of a web developer of over 25 years experience.

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