Strange days have found us! A plague of Google bugs has reached biblical proportions, the mobile SERP now contains favicons, & ads have hit the Discovery Feed! It’s been a peculiar month in what has been a peculiar year thus far on the Google SERP. We’re talking a barrage of announcements, a few bugs, and a whole heap of changes to the SERP that throw tradition out of the window!
Plus, even though we’re covering May… let’s touch on the June 2019 Core Update as well!
And we’re off!
The Mobile SERP Gets an Extensive Redesign
Over the years Google’s SERP ad label has taken on all shades of color amid all sorts of controversy. Some colors stood out (i.e., a yellow background) while others blended into their surroundings (i.e., green lettering) thus making it harder to identify an ad as an ad. The color of the Google Ads label is no longer a controversy, however, it’s lack of color may very well be. As we headed into May’s homestretch Google gave the mobile SERP a new look that included an ad label without either a colored background or colored lettering. Meaning, you just have the words “Ad” in bolded black.
The redesigned mobile SERP now includes favicons as well as a colorless ad label
Before I go on, here’s a list of the changes Google made to the mobile SERP:
- The ad label now appears in bolded back without a color background
- URLs on the page (both paid and organic) are now black, not green
- Organic results include favicons
- URLs now appear above the description (both for paid and organic results)
I’m sure there are some other slight formatting changes that came along with the redesign as well. As mentioned, having a less noticeable ad label may ruffle some feathers. It will be interesting to see if the colorless label results in more ad traffic.
In terms of favicons, I am slightly concerned. When a recognized brand appears on the SERP next to one that is a bit more obscure, will users skim past the unfamiliar favicon in favor of the definable brand?
Google Still Plagued By Indexation Bugs
Last month I reported that Google was busy dealing with multiple bugs of varying impact. Well, not much has changed, unfortunately. The merry month of May saw Google dealing with a bug that appeared to completely halt any indexing. This was discovered when a site command search for the NY Times set to include new content from within the last hour didn’t produce a single result (which is odd since the news is constantly coming at us with new content). In a matter of a few hours, Google said that the bug had been exterminated (no they didn’t use that exact word, the horrible pun is my own).
The silver lining is that unlike April’s major bug, Google did say that Search Console data will not be affected in this instance.
That said, and like a NYC apartment, as soon as one bug was dealt with another one came crawling out of the cabinet. How do we know that this bug is independent of the first? Well, because Google took to Twitter to say that this was a new Google bug that was unrelated to the first. The day after the bug was discovered Danny Sullivan seemed to indicate that the bug was mostly fixed. Finally, on May the 26th, Google said the bug had been fully resolved.
Of course, speculation as to why Google is being hit with this plague of bugs is rampant. Some have said it’s due to an infrastructure overhaul, others claim the bugs are the result of human error, and so forth.
[To hear my rampant speculation, listen to episode 28 of The In Search SEO Podcast.]
Lastly, April’s cache bug, which had Google’s cached version of webpages showing with some “old” dates, is reportedly fixed.
Maybe Google should order a citronella candle with all these bugs. Oy, that was a terrible joke, wasn’t it?!
What Changes Did Google’s I/O 2019 and Marketing Live 2019 Bring to the SERP?
The month of May brought us not one, but two important Google events; Google I/O 2019 and Google Marketing Live. This year, the events heralded in some pretty extravagant changes to the Google SERP. Instead of rambling on about their significance, let’s just get into what Google has in store for us.
Google’s Universal Shopping Cart
Google is set to revamp what it calls its “shopping experience” via the introduction of a universal Google shopping cart. And what pray tell is a “universal shopping cart?” It’s the ability to add a product to your Google shopping cart right from the SERP. You do a search, you see a product on it, and if this product stems from one of Google’s partners you may see a shopping cart icon which lets you add the item to your cart without visiting a page other than the SERP. The SERP shopping extravaganza is set to hit both YouTube and Image Search as well (hence the universality)!
Showcase Ads and Gallery Ads to Get Full Release
Showcase Shopping Ads, which you may have seen on the SERP as a carousel of images all from various suppliers that upon being clicked reveal a series of images from one shopping source, will be hitting Image Search as well as the Discovery feed.
Also, Gallery Ads, which are an ad format that includes a carousel of some pretty big images, is set to come out of its testing phase. Not only that, but Google has indicated that Gallery Ads will be shown on various Google properties other than the SERP per se.
The Discovery Feed Now Contains Ads
Probably the most buzzworthy of the ad announcements from the two events are the advent of Discovery feed ads. The Discovery feed, as seen within the Google app or the mobile home page (in select markets), is a series of custom curated content that hinges on your SERP and YouTube history. Thus, it is interesting to see ads within a platform designed to only present highly personalized and therefore relevant content.
Google’s New Podcast SERP Feature
In the not too distant past, Google indicated that they would begin auto-transcribing podcasts. Now Google has an all-new podcast feature on the SERP. As part of an organic result that harbors a podcast, Google may show a series of episodes on the SERP. These listings come equipped with a play button that whisks you to a special Google page where you may proceed to play the podcast.
Aside from it being peculiar that you are brought to a Google-owned page in order to play an episode, it is interesting that you can’t play the podcast on the SERP itself (think the video overlay for some Featured Snippets). However, considering that podcasts are being auto-transcribed, it’s not far-fetched to assume that audio focused SERP features are on their way soon.
Full Timeline Top Stories Results
Of everything announced at I/O and Marketing Live Google’s news story timeline feature is by far my favorite (I’m weird like that). Part of a new menu within the Top Stories feature, the timeline is meant to offer a full look at how a news story has developed over time. As you probably know, many news stories develop over the course of days, weeks, or even months. For someone jumping into a story after the fact, it can be hard to get a comprehensive understanding of the events without doing multiple searches and putting it all together in a piecemeal manner.
The other elements within the upcoming Top Stories menu include avenues to learn more about a given topic, listen to podcasts related to the story, and so forth.
To me, this turns the SERP into a full-on resource center and drastically alters Google’s identity. I would argue this takes Google beyond being even a discovery engine and turns it into a full fledged learning hub.
Google’s Image Announcements from I/O 2019
Google has long mentioned that it will seek to make improvements to Image Search in the near future. There were three notable image related changes (outside of images within the ad ecosystem) that are worth mentioning here:
- Swipe Up Images: Google actually tested this a few months back, but now it’s official, you will be able to swipe up in order to see an AMP article that is the source of the image. So imagine you’re looking at an image related to whatever new tech gadget is the latest craze. If the image exists on an AMP page you will be able to simply swipe up in order to see the full article.
- Hi-Resolution Opt-in: A new program where you can have higher resolution images show within Image Search is on its way. There were not a lot of details offered about the new program.
- 3D SERP Images: By far the coolest image update (though in my opinion, the least impactful from an SEO perspective) are 3D images for the SERP. Google released some new markup that would allow for the placement of 3D images within your organic showing. The functionality very much appears like the 3D images you see on some retail sites (zennioptical.com for example – I know because I just ordered new glasses). However, Google is taking things one step further by offering some AR capabilities with these images (that would allow you to place the images within other environments).
Google’s new ‘View in 3D’ feature as seen on the mobile SERP
Markup for ‘How-To’ & FAQ Results Released
One of the highlights of I/O 2018 was a new type of FAQ and ‘how to’ rich result. It took a year for Google to release the markup for the new rich result format. At I/O 2019 we finally got the structured data markup needed to produce the FAQ and ‘how-to’ rich results.
For the record, the ‘how-to’ results can take the form of a carousel of images supplemented by text or via expandable cards with each card being another step in the process. The FAQ result is similar to the latter ‘how-to’ format as it also uses the expandable card format (with each card being a question that shows an answer upon expansion).
The June 2019 Core Update
I’m breaking tradition here, but I think it’s well worth it. Despite it not occurring in May (which is the month I’m covering here), let’s have a quick look at the June 2019 Core Update.
A few interesting things here. First off, Google preannounced its roll-out! Danny Sullivan took to Twitter and announced that a core update would be coming (as opposed to ‘already has come’). More than that, Danny named the update. In what I believe was a move to avoid names like “Florida 3,” Google’s search liaison (Danny Sullivan), dubbed this update the June 2019 Core Update.
The update itself was, of course, significant (though I would not say far more impactful than many unconfirmed updates). Accordingly, at its peak, the Rank Risk Index recorded rank fluctuation levels of 91/100 (as shown below).
Some initial data I analyzed shows the Gambling niche to have been hit pretty hard while the YMYL (Your Money Your Life) niches did see more rank fluctuations than niches like Travel and Retail. That does not mean Google was targeting YMYL sites, as evidenced by the Gambling niche being hit far harder than the Health and Finance niches.
That said, I hope to take an even deeper look at the data coming out of the update in the near future.
In Other Google News: May 2019
Rounding up anything and everything to make its way to the Google SERP (or to potentially make its way to the Google SERP) is a major change to the hotel price insights, showcase videos in the video carousel/box, etc.
Google came to play in May. Here’s what went down:
Hotel Price Insights Move Into the Organic Results
I’ve been discussing the revenue implications of Google’s hotel insights for quite a while now. One of the more notable moments in the history of Google’s hotel analysis was the creation of its own ‘Google’ travel site. The site, until now, is accessible either by directly heading to it or by engaging with a hotel’s Local Knowledge Panel. However, in a move that clearly attempts to stimulate traffic to its travel site, Google has placed its hotel price chart within the organic results on desktop. Until this point, the price insights only appeared on the Google travel site or within the Local Panel per se.
The Hotel Price Chart showing with Marriot’s organic result
Note, the price graph appears on the SERP only when a specific hotel is indicated within the query, as the graph relates to a single hotel. Further note, the graph does not appear as an independent entity on the SERP, but within the relevant hotel’s organic result itself. This is interesting to note as clicking the graph moves you away from heading to the site and towards Google’s own travel page. Moreover, booking with the hotel via Google’s travel site may result in the hotel being obligated to pay Google a referral fee. Conversely, the hotel could end up being charged by Google if its “ad” is clicked on from the list of available booking sources.
A Bolstered Google Trip Planner with SERP Elements
Speaking of Google’s travel site, Google Trips is set to hit the desktop SERP. The mobile SERP is already privy to Google’s trip organization supercenter. With it, you can do anything and pretty much everything related to planning your next getaway, unless you have kids, in which case there is no such thing as a getaway.
Google Trips features as they currently appear on the mobile SERP
According to Google, accessing the search engine’s travel planning features on desktop will become “more accessible” as elements of it will be found “in Google Search.” Beyond the increased accessibility, Google will be using your search history to better serve your travel needs. In this vein, should you do a search for say a restaurant in a given city, other than the one you live in, Google will incorporate that search into your future trip planning considerations.
Additional Tests and Changes to Google’s SERP Features
As always, there were a few tests and changes to the way Google goes about showing its armament of SERP features. Though, to be honest, it seems as if the number of tests and changes Google makes to its features has slowed a bit. Over the course of any given month, there may be up to a dozen tests/changes to report on. Over the past few months that pace has slowed to but a handful of SERP feature changes/tests. That said, here are some of the updates Google made to its SERP features in May 2019.
Color-Coded Map Pin for Local Pack Ads
When an ad appears in a Local Pack, Google was seen to be showing a green map pin to match the color of the ad label. The intent is obviously to align the map pin with the location’s status as a sponsored listing. On mobile, where the ad label is now bolded black (not green) Google does still employ the green pin to indicate the listing’s sponsored status.
A sponsored Local Pack listing shows with a green map pin
Image Collage within Mobile Results
Normally, Google shows one Image Thumbnail per organic result. However, when running a few searches for locations around the globe I spotted an image collage thumbnail popping up here and there.
Multiple images are integrated into one large image collage that shows in place of the standard Image Thumbnail on mobile
The collage looks very much like the ‘image bunch’ you would expect to see within a Knowledge Panel. However, the thumbnail version, unlike the Knowledge Panel collage, does not let you click on a specific image that directs you to Image Search.
Video Carousel Showcase Video
In another obscure search, I found that Google is testing a prominently featured showcase video within the mobile video carousel/box. Here’s what it looked like for me:
The showcased video also includes a short preview. In this case, I found it interesting that Google knew to take the title frame from the video and use it as the preview, despite it not appearing until about the 10-second mark within the video itself and despite there not being any transcript to rely on (there was only background music).
Some markets may have seen this format being tested in the past, but it does appear to be becoming more common now.
By the way, just in case you were wondering, I do know how to eat a pineapple.
Broad Strokes for the Google SERP
It’s ironic that in a year where in many ways we have not seen the same level of activity coming out of Google we get a month filled with expansive announcements and sweeping changes. It makes me wonder if the inactivity that in a way has dominated 2019 thus far is part of a broader strategic stroke with the mobile’s SERP redesign being the initial focal point.
It’s like when you kick off a new lifestyle, an internal change, by first undertaking some sort of an external makeover. The new elements on the updated mobile SERP, which could have pretty significant implications (again, I personally think favicons are a problem for lesser known brands), could be the makeover that serves as a catalyst for deeper and systemic changes.
If I’m right, we should start to see things on the Google SERP pick up exponentially. Tune in to the SERP News next month to find out how it all went!