“I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”
— Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman of Alphabet, Inc.
In the time that Google has existed, is has become something of a central hub for the Internet. For nearly all of life’s burning questions, Google has an answer. It is one of the main drivers of the consumer’s journey and businesses of all sizes rely on its capabilities in one form or another.
In late 2015, the company shocked the world as it announced that it would merely become a sub-company under the larger umbrella of its new parent organization, Alphabet.
Some were, and still remain, confused as to what exactly Alphabet is. Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet, put things into laymen’s terms when he stated that, “Alphabet is mostly a collection of companies.”
There have been many speculative answers as to why Google executives ultimately decided to separate Google’s various companies and initiatives into their own organizations within Alphabet. Some proclaimed that it was due to the fact that Google is facing a $6 billion penalty from the European Union for manipulating search results in the company’s favor. Others believe motives were less sinister; Google executives looked to Facebook’s success in keeping many of its brands like Instagram, Oculus Rift, and others, separate and distinct from one another. This type of structure could position Google’s various companies to better compete with rivals in a more nimble and agile fashion by de-coupling them from the search giant.
Whatever the primary reason may be, Alphabet does not play a consumer facing role as Google does, and merely exists as a way of separating ventures from one another and allowing them to receive the capital and room needed to develop and expand.
The former Google executives, Larry Page, Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt now head up Alphabet while the search engine’s former senior vice-president of product, Sundar Pichai, serves as the current CEO of Google.
The changes surrounding the largest name in search have been pretty drastic, but how has all of this turbulence with Alphabet impacted Google search?
Alterations to the Face of Google
Since the decision to “trim the fat” from Google and allow it to spin off many of its other offerings into organizations in their own right, there have been many changes to how Google handles search results.
One of the first announcements, which likely caused the most uproar, was the decision to drop ads from the right side of search results on desktop devices. This in itself threw marketers into a frenzy. The company did, however, implement a fourth ad slot to the top of the SERPs. This has caused some companies to lose as much as 40 percent of their organic traffic. While this is a more unusual case, this transition has impacted natural site traffic for many companies who rank for highly competitive keywords.
One of the main reasons that Google decided to implement this change to AdWords formatting was to create a more unified experience across desktop and mobile devices. This could also be partially attributed to the search growth taking place on mobile, in conjunction with social media sites taking a larger slice of ad revenue, which directly leads to a decline in AdWords’ price. Either way, the search engine has been pushing “mobile first” quite vehemently as of late. This leads us to our next change.
The Mobile SERPs
Thanks to Alphabet’s efforts to lighten Google’s load, the company has been able to focus itself on areas which will improve the end user’s experience with the search engine; particularly on mobile.
Shortly after the world became privy to the existence of Alphabet, Google announced its Accelerated Mobile Pages Project. With this new feature, the company has effectively created an open-source initiative that allows anyone to create mobile optimized content, which will be delivered extremely quickly. This was originally designed for content offerings such as articles, but the technology quickly evolved into much more; eBay is now using AMP to serve up product pages.
This in itself has the potential to impact search results as many AMP destinations are featured at the top of mobile SERPs in carousel format, pushing organically ranked sites further down the page. Unfortunately, however, it is still too early to tell the exact impact this has had.
Another aspect of how Alphabet’s creation has directly impacted search results through “Google 2.0” is the impending dominance of voice search. Since Google has been freed from its confines of other enterprises, the search engine has been more focused on voice search and machine learning than ever before. The use of voice search has had a profound impact on SEO, how queries are presented, and the weight that certain types of keywords carry; but this feature does predate Alphabet. Where the conglomerate does come into play with this, however, is that by allowing Google to operate independently, it has opened the doors for the search engine to take this technology to a new level of prominence which can not only live on people’s phones, but enter their abodes through the use of Google Home.
Google pushing voice search forward is counter-intuitive to the prime money-making initiatives and threatens its ad based business model by allowing individuals to access Google search results without ever looking at a screen and, therefore, never gaining exposure to AdWords ads; its main source of revenue.
As of now, most of the indirect effects Alphabet has had on Google search have been beneficial for businesses that follow the company’s guidelines as they are more laser focused on user experience than ever. This, in turn, has allowed the organization to create new tools and features for businesses to be found through the SERPs and even leverage on their own sites. This new free-spirited Google should be watched closely, however, as it decides to abolish the current search model with voice search and other machine learning features, many companies will struggle to be found more than they do now. And yet others will no doubt thrive and find it easier to connect with their audiences.
How else do you think Alphabet has indirectly impacted the SERPs? Do you think that this lighter version of Google will ultimately benefit or hinder business owners in the long run?
The verdict is in: Google’s changes to its search engine results pages are getting mixed reviews.
For digital marketers, the surprise refresh of the year came in February, when Google released perhaps the most significant update to its search engine results pages (SERPs) in the last five years.
The changes have been a boon to some advertisers and the bane of others.
The update, which arrived unannounced six months ago, has had a tremendous impact on both search engine optimization (SEO) results and search engine marketing (SEM) accounts that advertise with AdWords. The update removed the text ads from the right sidebar of the SERPs for desktop and laptop devices. Now, the ads are only shown inline with the organic listings on each page—both above and below them.
The number of text ads above and below organic results is not fixed. Search pages display a maximum of four ads above the organic listings and a maximum of three below them. This is a departure from the previous display, which held a maximum of three top spots.
More recently, the format of the ads themselves has also changed, allowing for the use of site-link extensions, call-out extensions, and increased character counts for both the headlines and descriptions of ads. This isn’t just for the top spots, either. All ads can employ these features.
The layout changes have received a positive reception from shopping advertisers, those in the top spot, and those who like to see simpler, more relevant advertising in their SERPs (users).
While the net effect for Google advertisers is positive in terms of visibility, the drawbacks are substantial. For digital marketers, it’s a mixed bag; on one hand, we can provide better paid results for our shopping advertisers, but there is no way to get around the reduced effectiveness of organic listings. Advertisers historically comfortable with costs associated with the text ads appearing in the right sidebar are now forced to bid higher in an effort to fight for the more limited real-estate. This means brands now have to sink more money into both paid search campaigns and SEO campaigns to achieve the same or slightly better results.
The impact of the expanded text ads remains to be seen, and it likely will have a mixed result for marketers. While we can bet the extensions and added characters will make advertising on Google much more attractive, it will likely have an even more deleterious effect on organic results as the top slots continue to push organic slots down.
Google is planning many more changes to come, including the use of local search ads in Google Maps and Google.com, responsive ads for different device types, device-specific ad bids, and more. Undoubtedly, these changes will mean great things for advertisers, but it remains to be seen what the impacts will be for organic results. Despite the uncertainty, however, the fact that Google is working hard to make SERPs more useful for both advertisers and users is encouraging and should be commended.
Roland G. Cardoza