Google is changing. Not just strategic, not just algorithmic, but also in the way they present their search results. The changes in the SERPs started small but the last months they became increasingly radical. The way users can/should use the SERPs are subject to a level of change we haven’t seen in a long time. Somehow Google is trying to change the function of the SERPs. A short analysis of the recent changes.
The new design
In June Google introduced a new design across most of their products, including search. The new design was more open, with more whitespace. According to Google with the purpose to offer better focus and remove the clutter. The new design also offered easier possibilities for Google to present the SERPs effectively on different devices like tablets and mobile.
Along with the new design Google introduced some new ways to present the individual search results. First of all the order of the different elements of a search result changedfrom titel-description-URL to title-URL-description. Secondly, Google introduced more organized results for site links to remove the clutter of different kinds of sitelinks. To remove even more clutter Google introduced a whole new element to the SERP: the right panel.
The right panel
The panel was originally introduced to show instant previews of search results directly into the SERPs and to add a new way of browsing through search results based on these previews, to the mobile SERPs. Google started putting more information into this panel. Starting with more detailed results for places but recently already expanding to tests with more detailed information about sources. Also the links to the cached version and related results moved to the preview panel.
As we know from different eye tracking studies the side results from Google AdWords aren’t producing a whole lot of attention and clicks. So Google might be considering a whole new purpose for the right side of the SERP. Considering the introduction of ads at the bottom of the SERP and the introduction of the side panel Google might be heading straight this way.
Enriching the results
This is also very much in line with the latest developments from Google focusing on keeping the user longer in Google (products) itself. By offering more detailed answers to the questions from users in the SERPs, the need to leave Google for the actual results providing the information decreases. And by adding more useful information this right side becomes another valuable part of the SERPs for users, waiting to be slowly filled with ads all over again.
Another way Google is enriching the search results by adding more and more variations of rich snippets and other elements next to the standard title-URL-description elements. With the introduction of author information and list items to search snippets Google is trying to add more valuable information to the search results. The same development is being made in Google AdWords with the increasing possibilities of addin ad extensions. With the introduction of more vertical search engines (like Hotel finder, Shopping and Flights), and Google probably integrating these results in the SERPs sooner or later, the SERPs are becoming increasingly filled with enriched results and more specific answers by Google. Lastly Google also adds all kinds of social signals to the search results based on the activity in Google+.
Opportunities for SEO
So what does this all mean for SEOs? More information in the SERPs, more possibilities for distinctiveness in results and more interaction in the SERPs before choosing. Google is slowly but steadily becoming more than a simple search engine offering equal results. Websites get more possibilities to be distinctive, reaching beyond just the position of the search result. It will be easier to beat the competitor without ranking above the competitor by offering more relevant, informational search results. So start with verticals, rich snippets, local results and author information. Use ad extensions in Google AdWords. Test your search previews and keep an eye on those right panels.