How will Google's search changes impact SEO?

Google has rolled out a significant change to their search results. The changes will remove PPC ads from the right-hand side of the search results and display them above and below the natural search results.

The change is good news for PPC campaigns. There will now be four ad positions at the top of the page, instead of 3, providing more exposure and potential click volume from the search advert.

It is potentialy bad news for SEO as the top natural result gets moved down the page. The original organic search position 1 has now been bumped from the 4th ad position, meaning positions 8-10 may end up on page 2.

High search positions (1-5) shouldn't expect to see much difference in the resultant traffic, but lower positions (8-10) may lose out as they move to the second page.

For SEO position reporting (SERPS) not much will visibly change. Position 1 is still position 1, it just sits lower on the results page.

At first read, these changes seem dramatic but while they are a significant change, we don't expect to see an immediate difference. Over the past year, Google has been testing many result variations that have been impacting the traditional concept of 'natural' search results.

Here are some of the different ways Google is now displaying search results.

Local Results

For some searches, Google is displaying localised results between the ads and the organic listings. These profiles are coming from Google+/Google Local business results which in themselves are unpaid positions but favour local listings over national/online only companies.

Clarification Results

When searches contain just one word, e.g. 'Fireball', Google may not know the query context and will try to refine the answer by providing a broad range of diverse answer types, not just website link results. The aim here is for Google to convert you into a new query or better understand the search intention.

In this example, you can see Google tries to answer the question, 'Fireball' with a YouTube video, a news result, a Twitter result, an image result and a product result. The 'traditional.' search listings don't appear until below the page fold.

Product Results

With a product result, Google assume you are looking to buy something and will display shopping results and local results. The Google shopping results are taken from the Google Merchant feeds, charging advertisers on a cost per click to appear in these listings. You will see these feeds can include images, details and prices.

Ingredient Results

Enter an ingredient or food type and Google may try and answer your search with a range of answers including a definition, pictures, recipes, social media results and more. In this example you will see there are only two natural web results for organic listings.

Why are these changes happening?

These changes in search results are happening for three reasons:

1. Monetisation - Google can make more money from ads with these new positions.

2. Unified experience - Removing the Right Hand listings bring it in line with the mobile results view.

3. Answers, not results. Google is increasingly try to answer the question, not just provide a search result.

Google is testing 'Answer' results that provide a direct answer to a question, taking content from a web page. These answers are displayed prominently atop the search results which combine excellent visibility and perceived endorsement of the content. Here is an example for our sister company, BirdSong Analytics that shows in Australian search results.

How to Combat these changes in Natural Visibility

From the examples above, you can see that Google is no longer just delivering web page results. Depending on the query, Google may provide a YouTube video, a web result, a product, recipe or an answer. To succeed in SEO you need to ensure your site meets the basic criteria for high ranking and then consider the wider ways to present your content. Can you explain it in a Youtube Video? Can you provide recipes to promote your ingredients?

For SEO, our goal remains to get a site high in the results for great visibility and traffic. All sites now need to consider the wider social context and multiple content formats that make up our daily browsing and ensure they have relevant content formats to match.