Explaining Google’s Recent Changes to the Mobile SERPs

Guest Post by Andrew McLoughlin for Colibri Digital Marketing

Colibri Digital Marketing is a leading San Francisco digital marketing agency. Given our unique situation both within the wider tech industry and so proximate to Silicon Valley, we have made an effort to position ourselves as a thought leader and as something of a go-between for the tech industry itself and the needs of marketers. To that end, we wanted to write something explaining Google’s recent changes and additions to  mobile search results pages and what those new features mean to digital marketers.

Change Number One – Google Instant Is Being Phased Out

Love it or hate it, Google Instant was memorable. The uncanny experience of seeing search results populating in real time, even as you were typing your search. It was meant as a time-saver, but what more often happened in practice was that results would populate with the slightest of provocation, forcing a soft reload of the page, slowing down your overall search time and burning your data needlessly. Now, results don’t populate until you’ve actually pressed search.

Change Number Two – Carousels Are Making a Comeback

Remember carousels? They were also somewhat maligned by users. While they were an inventive concept, they had two major flaws. First, they weren’t always obvious. Depending on the size of the images, carousels often looked flat, so a user had to try a tentative swipe to see whether more images would scroll (since there weren’t visible scroll bars or anything while the carousel was still) and as often as not, that swipe would inadvertently click the image instead.

Now, however, carousels (at least in concept) are back, but in a much, much more intuitive way.

The fundamental issue with carousels is that they don’t replicate any common physical experience (turning a page, clicking a button, moving something across a table, etc.) That means that they aren’t particularly intuitive. With the new carousels, the sliders are for links at the bottoms of ads. The words are circled, and the circles cut off to indicate that the array can be scrolled. Also, they look just like the scrolling tickers at the bottom of news broadcasts so they feel completely natural. The new carousels are a perfect example of a strong UX design.

Change Number Three – Shopping and Ad Payment

Not long ago, Google added a shopping feature to give you product images and prices from various sites all in your SERPs. Now, they’ve taken that a step further, with a payment button. So long as you’re on an Android phone, and you’ve enabled Google Wallet, you can make a purchase directly from the SERPs, securely.

Change Number Four – AdWords Lightning Round

The next set of changes reflect new features being added to the AdWords platform, and what they’ll mean in practice for Google Users.

First, AdWords now features a dynamic bid adjustment tool that let’s one bid higher on ads that would include a direct call button. In most cases, that correlates with dynamic bidding for particular devices and browsers. Certain brands may be willing to pay more to appear on more mobile devices, or to users in a specific call radius. This new system is good for everybody. Users respond well to call buttons, ads get more precise control over their traffic, Google does a faster job of putting the right link in play; everybody wins.

The next change to AdWords is the addition of the Cost Promotion Extension for commercial ads. If a site is running a sale, there’s now an extension that will piggyback on a relevant ad to tell a user the terms and details. It shows a user at a glance how long a sale runs, or if any promotional codes are required, which further augments Google’s mobile-first shopping tools.

AdWords ads can now feature a Click-to-Text prompt, in parallel with the call button. Not a major change, but it’s another representative example of how Google’s recent efforts have all been built on prioritizing mobile traffic.

Change Number Five – AMP Is Expanding

AMP, or Accelerated Mobile Pages, debuted back in 2015. Basically, they’re barebones pages in a sort of HTML Lite. It’s a direct response to Facebook’s “Instant Articles.” The long and short of it is that pages can be coded in simpler ways to seriously increase page loads. The pages are much simpler, sometimes little more than plain text, but, as no one would ever have guessed back in the 1990s, plain text makes for a more pleasurable user experience on mobile. It makes your page read like an ebook rather than a photograph.

AMP is now available for more types of landing pages and ads. According to their data (from a spokesperson in May of 2017) these new AMP elements load five times faster than standard ads. What I find most interesting here (and why I saved this one for last) is that, as was true in many of these changes, the improved load speeds will benefit the rural US more than the urban. Typically Google, and most tech companies besides, tend to focus their efforts on the urban tech crowd. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the years to come.

We hope this post has cleared up some misconceptions and has brought some of our readers up to speed on what’s going on under the hood, so to speak, when it comes to SEO in 2017.

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