The following is a recap of the presentation by Kevin Indig doing the 5 Hours of SEO Webinar. We could not fit every tip and statistic in the recap, so see them all, you can watch Kevin's par of the webinar here.
In 2018, Ben Gomes from Google published a post on the 20th anniversary of Google about improving search for the next 20 years. And it began setting the trend for what we are seeing in search today.
Gomes mentioned Topic Layer “engineered to deeply understand a topic space and how interests can develop over time as familiarity and expertise grow.” It is similar to the knowledge graph but is targeting users’ interests, but as another dimension to the concept.
Domain Analysis: Mobile and Desktop
Indig analyzed 1200 domains on both mobile and desktop from January 2018 through November 2019, using SEMrush data, specifically the SEMrush Traffic Analytics tool. He was looking for trends between the data from 2018 and 2019.
One of the sites he analyzed was Booking.com, a site that grew its traffic 50% from 2018 to 2019. But in what he says is a sign of a strong and healthy domain, is the fact Booking has 55% of their traffic coming from direct. They built the brand and retained those visitors by keeping them returning and within their ecosystem by encouraging signups or downloads with a strong incentive to do those types of actions.
Indig notes some interesting trends in mobile versus desktop when it comes to course (education) sites such as Udemy, Coursehero, and Coursera. The majority of their traffic is from desktop since it is easier to do learning on desktop. But they see more growth on mobile, but one company, in particular, does significantly more mobile traffic than the others combined. This easily shows that while one company invested in mobile, the others are significantly lagging behind, despite being fairly similar for desktop traffic.
When it comes to health, there are many more people searching for health information on their phones now than there was even a year earlier. He notes that the Mayo Clinic’s mobile site is winning the health site race on mobile when comparing it to other competitors in the space.
Surprising Traffic Losers 2018-2019
When it comes to traffic losers from 2018 to 2019, search engines are the biggest loser. This is somewhat surprising with many of the search results now being a no click SERP (Search Engine Results Page) where users get the information they need from the search results page rather than clicking through to a website to find that information.
And following with that, Google was the largest domain loser, followed by Wikipedia. But even the top traffic losers are all still significant players in each of their areas, some with no near competitors.
SERP Features Impact?
Wikipedia did lose a lot of featured snippets over the past three years in both mobile and desktop. The loss of snippets could explain the loss of traffic; users may have clicked through to their site from the featured snippet before.
For other SERP features, Google has added many more carousels in the last 12 months. And for search results where carousels appear, the appearance does seem to hurt sites in the regular organic results, according to Indig.
Some search results are heavy on various search features like knowledge panels, so the regular search results no longer stand out, resulting in fewer organic clicks. Indig shows an example of a search result for a movie; while IMDB has the second organic result, it is overshadowed by all the other search features Google now shows on the results for those types of queries, such as knowledge panels, carousels, videos, and more.
Indig also looked at the change made earlier this year to the search results, which saw featured snippets losing their second listing in the regular search results. If Google shows a result in the featured snippet, it will no longer display it a second time, which was often seen as a perk of getting that featured snippet.
Desktop and Mobile Snippet CTR Since Announcement
Comparing both desktop and mobile, he found their average CTR still remained 43% for featured snippets, and there was not the traffic loss that many SEOs were expecting with the de-duplication change.
Indig also comments on what he calls SERP mazes, where clicking on something within the search results takes you to another search result, rather than a webpage outside of Google. For example, carousels often take you to another search result about what you clicked in the carousel.
Google — A Destination vs. A Search Engine
Google is also much more of a destination than ever before. Sports scores and info are all displayed directly in the search results, removing the need to go to a sports website to find out the latest score. Likewise, you can buy tickets for movies or even use Google features to discover new movies to watch.
The search world is clearly moving towards mobile, and Indig feels people aren’t spending enough time on how their mobile results are performing. He says his own site has significantly different CTR for the same query on desktop (21.3%) versus mobile (7.1%).
Dips and Spikes: Mobile vs. Desktop
If you are suffering from Google algorithm issues within the last 12 months, he recommends segmenting mobile and desktop organic traffic and comparing the dips and spikes of both in Google Analytics. Too many people focus on overall traffic, while the issue could be specific to only desktop traffic or only mobile traffic.
In this screenshot, he shows two different traffic issues that show up for overall traffic. By segmenting it down to mobile and desktop, one of the drops was specific to mobile traffic only while the other was specific to desktop traffic. It was enough to show up as a drop in the overall traffic, which could potentially hide what the real issue is if you only look at that overall metric.
Don’t ignore the power of Google Discover. Indig cites two stats that show Discover has the ability to drive significant traffic.
You can drill down data for Google Discover via Google Search Console, with the Discover filter on the left side of Search Analytics underperformance. You can compare traffic from Discover versus mobile traffic and see how well content did, and you will often see Discover traffic spikes.
Using SERP Features
You should also take advantage of as many Google search features as possible to enhance your prominence in the search results. For featured snippets, he recommends the pyramid tactic where you write the answer, then the context, then the background when writing articles you hope to promote for featured snippets. But keep in mind, all search features have a chance to showcase your results in new ways outside of the usual ten blue links.
Indig recommends looking at the entities in your market area and writing your content around those entities. For example, he shows the entity chart for the term “star wars” to see what related topics you can be inspired to write about.
Does Google want to be the world’s answer engine?
Eli Schwartz reminds us that Google’s mission has always been to organize the world’s information, but they are now doing it in different ways. As it has advanced, it is less about Google being a library to send people to; now, it is about helping the user find what they want, even if they do not know exactly how to search for it.
Use of the Nosnippet Tag
When it comes to featured snippets, are there cases where a site owner should consider using the nosnippet tag or set a character limit for the snippet to remove themselves from the featured snippet?
Indig says no. He believes that if the question can be answered in the snippet and if they don’t click through to your site, that visitor likely isn’t a high-quality visitor anyway. He says sometimes information appears in a snippet, such as pricing, but he still expects the visitor to click through. He recommends always trying to get that featured snippet spot.
When You Can't Beat Google, Adapt
Schwartz reminds us that sometimes you need to start rethinking your strategy when your traffic for queries is overtaken by a Google search feature. For example, Schwartz worked with a translation site, but they couldn’t compete with the translation of words with Google Translate, showing in search results.
Instead, they began building out specific phrases and sentences that people might need in a different language, such as “how to do an engagement proposal if you are an English speaker in Spanish,” because Google does not do this well. And they have a huge amount of traffic from these queries.
Google's Zero-click Ecosystem
When it comes to Google’s move to a zero-click ecosystem, site owners need to think of the ways they can take advantage of the situation, such as providing a service that Google’s own products cannot, such as the translation example.
Take advantage of all the search features available in a search result. This may mean expanding to areas such as video that may have been previously ignored, or adding pages or schema to take advantage of the many search features Google does have available. As Google evolves in how it presents its results to their searchers, site owners also need to evolve to take advantage of those changes and ensure their sites are front and center, using as many ways as possible.
Did You Kow You Can Track SERP Features with SEMrush?
With the SEMrush tools, you can track all or different search features to determine if your strategies and goals are working.
The Organic Research tool enables you to carry out detailed research on SERP features for any domain, subdomain, or URL to see all its SERP-winning keywords. By checking your or any other website relevant to your niche, you can easily find out what keywords you need to get a spot on an SERP or get inspiration to write a fresh piece of content.
The Position Tracking tool is a great option when it comes to comparing keyword profiles of your and your competitors’ websites. The tool shows your and your competitors’ presence on an SERP for your target keywords side-by-side. You get accurate data on your seed keywords you aim to win a search feature for, so that you'll be able to estimate and improve your SEO strategy, if needed.