People still approach SEO professionals asking them to get their business onto the first page of Google. Although a natural and acceptable thing to want for your company, it is often followed by unrealistic expectations and a lack of understanding as to how organic listings work. SEO has changed significantly during the last few years and more recently there are changes pointing towards a Google first page without any organic listings. With Google’s Knowledge Graph, personalised search, implications of ZMOT, and paid listings in the future will we even need to be found in an organic listing?

Shrinking Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs)

Have you ever Googled a question and got an answer in a box at the top of the page? Have you ever Googled a product you’re interested in buying and a feed of images of that product from different places you can buy it shows up at the top of the page? Have you ever Googled something and “In the news” section shows up on the page, as well as an “Images” results snippet?

All of these take up space on the first page of Google which takes focus and positions away from organic listings. The Google Knowledge Graph scrapes the content from other sites to give an accurate answer without the need to click onto another page. It’s still seen as quite controversial as it violates Google’s own webmaster guidelines to scrape other pages. On the other hand, it’s in line with Googles mission to generate answers to queries as quickly as possible. What does that mean for your organic listing? You might be on the first page, but no-one needs to go to your site to find the answer…

We’ve recently seen a lot of examples of shrinking SERPs as other Google widgets take up space on the first page. Back in 2012, the 7 result page became a thing after “The ‘Bigfoot’ Update” and the first page of Google all of a sudden only had 7 results for up to 18% of searches. Today, some searches only generate 4 organic listings. See this example from Moz in a search for "autism speaks":

(Image source)

There are 16 results on this page, however only 4 of them are actual organic listings in SEO standards. Your chances of being visible ‘on the first page of Google’ just decreased by 60%.

Personalised Search

Ever felt like Google knows where you’ve been, or what type of music you like, or where you’re planning on going on holiday? Google’s listening in on your conversations, it tracks your every move with Location on your phone and it knows everything you’ve ever Googled. Not to stalk you of course (ahem), but to make sure their service is personalised so that your search results are tailor-made for you and give you a great user experience.

This means that what shows up on the first page of Google for me doesn’t show up on the first page of Google for you, even if we type the same thing into the search box! If I visit a certain online shoe shop a lot but one day instead of going straight to their site I Google “white trainers”, that online shop is more likely to be ranked better compared to if I’d never been on their site before. It’s only because Google knows I like that website, so I’d be happy if they referred me there. Simple!

Actually, it’s not simple, not if you’re obsessed with being in a certain position on page one of Google. You might be there for some to see, but not for others.

Paid Search Results

The natural results listings may be shrinking, but the paid results are not. No surprises there really, as the paid ads generate revenue to Google. This includes Google shopping feed which lets retailers showcase their products in a product feed on top of the search results page.

Google has previously tried many different ways of making the paid listings less obvious; however, as ads need to be disclosed they’re still distinguishable. Although, in the future we might see a first page of Google with no organic listings at all and instead just have first ‘ad-page’. How could you be on the first page of Google then? The answer is easy – invest in some PPC and the first page could be yours always.

Brand Awareness

Have you ever bought anything solely based on someone else’s recommendation? Or did you perhaps check some reviews first? Maybe you saw someone on Facebook mentioning something they’ve bought that you liked and then got yourself? In these examples an organic listing was never used for the purchase of the product.

Before we used the internet as extensively as we do now, a TV advert would have needed to be the only stimulus for us to go to a store and buy the product. Purchase process done. Today, there are many more steps in this cycle. A survey carried out by Google into consumer shopping habits, found that there is an extra ‘step’ in the buying cycle called ‘The Zero Moment of Truth’. It is the point where you start learning about a product or company to help you make a decision. It involves research through a variety of content channels such as social media, reviews, the brand website, YouTube and asking the opinions of family and friends.

If it was your product being researched, what conclusion would potential customers come to? Would they like the way others spoke of the brand in reviews and on social media? If yes, why would you need to be ‘on the first page of Google’? No one was looking there for you.

We need to have a look at the why. Why do you want to be ‘on the first page of Google’? Do you want more website traffic? Do you want to increase your website conversion? Do you want more reviews and social interaction?

When you know what the ‘why’ is then we can look at the strategy to get there and I promise you, it’s not going to be to put you ‘on the first page of Google’. It will probably be a strategy based on brand awareness, incorporating content marketing with social media, online PR, influencer outreach, product endorsements, events, and so on.

So please stop obsessing about being on the first page of Google and let us put together an online marketing strategy that will make sure your brand will perform to its full potential online.


By Kristina Bergwall, Organic Promotion Manager at Zeal

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