As the search engine results pages (SERPs) changes and organic results are increasingly replaced by paid content, search marketers are facing additional competition from Google itself. That’s because, in its quest to provide a better user experience, Google is building tools and content that are overshadowing content from brands and marketers.
While there was a time when a Google search resulted in 10 blue links that were all organic, now sponsored content like ads, Shopping results, Featured Snippets, and Knowledge Cards are more or less cannibalizing organic results, according to Pete Meyers, marketing scientist at Moz.
Some of these changes are being driven by mobile – with smaller screens and higher demand for concise answers – but they’re also being spurred by voice search, which has the potential to disrupt Google’s entire ad model, Meyers said recently at Mozcon.
The challenge with voice search and devices like Amazon Echo is that the SERP is gone, which is worrisome to Google, Meyers said. To wit: a sports fan can simply ask for a score and hear the answer rather than use or need curated content from Google.
Simply put: marketers are facing a lot more competition from Google itself as a result.
“Google is no longer a content curator, it is a content creator,” Meyers said.
In other words, consumers search for a question, like, “When is National Taco Day?” and Google delivers an answer in the Quick Answers Box. Because consumers trust Google, that’s as far as they go.
Meyers also pointed to music and sports, where Google itself is dominating its own results in providing mega-video content and populating the Knowledge Panel with its own information, as well as by providing scores, schedules, and videos for games.
“They’re building tools and content for a better experience and they’re disrupting your content,” Meyers said.
Not only that, in a search for “best movies of 1985” on a mobile device, Meyers points out that the colored boxes under the movies actually coordinate with each poster.
“It’s not just results, they are richer and more interesting and more disruptive and less organic,” Meyers said.
Another example of Google as content creator is in its custom medical Knowledge Panels. That’s fresh content Google created of its own volition.
“They did it once. They’ll do it again,” Meyers said. “This is incredibly disruptive.”
Google is also, in a number of instances, allowing consumers to perform actions directly from the Knowledge Panel, such as booking hotel rooms, as well as paying to watch movies, listen to music, or read books.
“Google has trained us to look at [the Knowledge Panel] as unbiased information and we’re starting to see paid information pop up in there, which is incredibly disruptive,” Meyers said.
App packs, too, are muscling in on organic results, such as in searches for jobs that result in apps from LinkedIn and Snagajob. In fact, app packs can replace up to six organic spots.
“That’s massively disruptive and all of it is part of Google’s paid ecosystem,” Meyers said.
In fact, Meyers points to a future in which we could potentially see no organic results whatsoever, such as a hypothetical search for “Jurassic World” that brings up Shopping results, movie show times, and the ability to watch the original Jurassic Park via Google Play.
“What’s interesting to me about this concept is that even though this is fake, every single one of these pieces exists today,” Meyers said. “The other thing that’s interesting is that there are no AdWords, but it’s entirely paid, but it’s also a good user experience.”
So what’s a search marketer to do?
Here are Meyers’ best tips for remaining competitive.
1. Embrace A Dual Mentality
For the time being, marketers and SEOs have to more or less straddle two worlds and embrace a dual mentality in which they know what’s coming, but also that the SERP still matters for now.
A good example of this is Marvel Studios, which announced its Phase 3 plan last year, including the titles and release dates for every movie through 2019.
“What is their tactical SEO plan in 2019? No one knows what will happen, but they’re building links, they’re building social, they’re building mentions and they’re getting articles four years in advance of the product even existing,” Meyers said. “This is how I want you to think.”
2. Provide The Best Answer
Since Google’s motivation remains to provide the best user experience possible, there’s an opportunity for brands and marketers to increase rank on a given SERP thanks to features like Google’s Quick Answers Box, Meyers said. That simply means providing what Google deems the best answer to a given query in order to be featured on that topic.
“You can rewrite your content to take over the box,” Meyers said. “If you’re ranked 5th in a query and want to be 1st, you can jump past 1st [into the Quick Answers Box] just by answering the question better.”
3. Up Your Game: Add Value & Insight
Marketers can also fight back by building deep content that is updated often and is “hard to replace with a little box,” Meyers said.
Brands should seek to add value and insight, like Credit Karma, which shows what a credit score is based on and what is actionable, which also makes Credit Karma content harder for Google to put in a box and replace, Meyers said.
Finally, Meyers recommends bringing your “A” game with rich, interactive content that, again, can’t easily be replaced by a box.
What’s your take on changes in search and increased competition from Google itself?