Google’s Algorithm and search results page have changed significantly since 2005

The impact of the Google “Golden Triangle” has been discussed worldwide. Mediative (formerly known as Enquiro), revealed Google’s “Golden Triangle” for the very first time in 2005 as part of a ground-breaking research study, indicating that there exists are area of intense eye scan activity at the top left hand corner of the search results page, shown in the image below.

The red areas are those where participants spent the most amount of time looking as a percentage of the entire page, followed by yellow, then green.

Googles Algorithm and Search Results Page Golden Triangle

The 2005 study revealed that, generally speaking, if your listing is not in the Golden Triangle, your odds of being seen by a searcher are dramatically reduced.

The results page has since changed drastically – it is no longer simply a collection of links. A user is presented with different elements on the search results page almost every time they conduct a search. The objective of this research was to discover:

  • Where on the SERP do searchers look and click the most?
  • How important is the location of a listing to win views and clicks from searchers?
  • How does the complex SERP affect your strategy to be found and seen by your potential customers?
  • How has click activity per listing position changed with the introduction of Google’s new SERP elements?

Using a desktop eye-tracker, 53 participants of mixed age were given a series of tasks (43 in total) to conduct from Mediative’s Toronto-based research lab. For each task, although the participant was presented a Google search box where they were able to type in whatever they wanted, the SERP presented was the same for every participant. The task ended when the participant clicked on a result.

What we learned and what this means to you

We learned: Where searchers have been conditioned to look has changed because the top organic listing is not always where it’s expected to be. Searchers are no longer looking only at the top left hand corner of the listings.

What does this mean to you?         

  • SEO strategy is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach.
  • Your business listing on the results page itself should be seen as a branding opportunity – even if a click is not captured.
  • Learn how to be visible where there will be the biggest impact on branding and traffic.

We learned: People are viewing more search results listings during a single session and spending less time viewing each one – just over 1.17 seconds per listing. In 2005, the time spent viewing each listing was just under 2 seconds.

What does this mean to you?

  • Front loading text of relevant content in both organic and sponsored listings is key.
  • Keywords, meta descriptions, content, ratings and reviews are necessary tactics to align to scan behaviour.
  • Proper code markup (i.e. schema) should be used wherever possible – it is one of the most under-used, yet highly effective SEO tools that helps the engines crawl, index and rank a site’s content.

Mobile scanning behaviour has conditioned searchers to scan vertically more than horizontally

Google’s Algorithm and Search Results Page Eye Tracking

We learned: Businesses that are positioned lower on the SERP (especially positions 2-4) will see more click activity than several years ago. The #1 organic listing still captures the the most click activity (32.8%), regardless of what new elements are presented. However, prime organic real estate is shifting further down the page, and it’s worth much more.

What does this mean to you?

  • The importance of your business being the first listing vs. on the first page is very dependent on the searcher’s intent, plus the strength of your brand.
  • The top organic spot can be difficult to obtain, especially for businesses that are competing with big brands where, even if a high ranking is achieved, capturing audience traffic is a challenge. Make sure search engine marketing is incorporated into your strategy.
  • Understanding the intent of the searcher can help determine how much you should invest in trying to appear higher up in the SERP.

The #1 organic listing is shifting further down the page, opening up the top of the page with more potential areas for businesses to achieve visibility

Google’s Algorithm and Search Results Page Organic listing

In summary…

  • It’s not always about getting to the #1 listing in Google. Not surprisingly, it is the sole listing that captures the most amount of clicks, however, other areas of the SERP, particular the area above the top 4 organic listings, can be almost as lucrative. Focus on traffic and position ranking in tandem – not in isolation by putting effort into appearing in multiple areas of SERP real estate in order to be not only selected, but also seen, by the right audience.
  • It’s getting harder to predict which elements are going to be present on the SERP because Google’s algorithms, and the way listings are presented, are more dynamic and complex. Focusing on optimizing just for Google is not the right approach. Of course it’s important to take into account the new page elements, and how you can appear in them, however, asolid content strategy concentrating on creating content to meet the differing needs of the end user, and optimizing that content for Google is a much more robust strategy than simply chasing the algorithm.

Get the full study to learn more about the effects of the specific elements of Google’s SERP, including the knowledge graph, carousel, and local listings: “The Evolution of Google Search Results Pages and Their Effects on User Behaviour”.

Rebecca Maynes
Rebecca Maynes is Mediative’s Manager, Content Marketing and Research. Her expertise lies in the creation of engaging thought leadership for Mediative. From compiling eBooks and case studies, to conducting research, analyzing data and writing white papers and reports, Rebecca is an integral part of Mediative’s Marketing and Research team. Rebecca began her career with in England, and, after emigrating to Canada in 2005, she has gone full circle, joining Mediative, a Yellow Pages Group Company, in 2009. Prior positions include Marketing for a B2B Software company. Rebecca graduated from Cardiff University in Wales, UK, with a First Class Honours BSc in Business Administration.