Search engine optimizers aren’t the only ones tweaking their methods after Google releases updates to its algorithm. The everyday user is also undergoing a transformation. The difference is that while SEOs are making a conscious decision about what to do differently, the rest of the Internet is reacting in latent, conditioned ways that are affecting their behaviors on the search engines results pages, including how they digest content on those pages.
As Google’s search algorithm has evolved, so have our search habits. The average user may not even be aware of how or why their behaviors have changed since we first started searching the web, but a recent study conducted by Mediative has shown just how users have adapted with the evolution of the way organic and sponsored search results are displayed on the SERPs.
It makes sense once you start thinking about it, but until you think about it, you won’t know how you can revise your SEO strategy to cater to the current trends. Here’s the main way user behavior has changed since 2005, and three tips on revamping your strategy accordingly.
How do we look at the SERPs now?
In 2005, our eyes tracked the SERPs in a very specific way, focusing primarily on the top three listings in a condensed, triangular pattern. The right angle was targeted on the top left of the page and barely extended down as far as the fourth listing.
As long time Google users, we were conditioned to believe that any results after the third listing were inherently less valuable or accurate, and we’d rather go back to square one and refine our search than scroll. Clicking to another page was unheard of, unless we were curious or desperate.
SEOs capitalized on this trend by writing detailed titles and meta descriptions, because searchers were taking the time to read these descriptions, at least for the top three results.
So what’s changed in the last 10 years?
Well, we’re definitely not taking the same amount of time to review our results—1.17 seconds on each listing, to be precise. And instead of a triangle, our eyes are following an F pattern. Why? One reason is that, depending on your search, maps are showing up on the right hand side, pulling our gazes more often to the right.
Our eyes are tracking much farther down the page as well. The reason for this is up to debate, but it could just be indicative of a shift in a searcher’s attitude. We’re in the habit of searching with mobile devices more often now, which makes us more amenable to scrolling, and we’ve learned that valuable results can be found farther down the page.
Think about it: in 10 years, millions upon millions of new pages of content have been tossed into the sea that is the World Wide Web. Regardless of the added drivel, there is also so much more worthwhile content to consume on any given topic we could search.
3 Ways to Capitalize on These Trends
So how should these changing habits affect the content you put on your listing?
- Take more time on your meta data.
You’ve got less than 2 seconds to convert a user and score a click. Instead of long titles and descriptions, remember that users’ eyes are scanning downward faster these days, meaning you should lead your listing with action words in the title tag. There should be a CTA in your description, and above all, keep it concise.
- Amp up the curb appeal on your listing.
People like to see reviews, especially in the form of stars. They’re a brief, easily consumable way to gauge whether or not a link is worth your click. Also make use of thumbnail images such as G+ author bio images, and YouTube videos.
- Be versatile.
In the past, users tend to focus their attention on organic search results as opposed to sponsored, but Google is aware of that and they’re making an effort to blend those results more seamlessly into the organic ones.Google likes PPC, they want to encourage it, so they’ll continue to make it a more appealing option to site owners. So while the current trends favor your efforts to climb organically up the SERPs (definitely never stop focusing on this. It produces the best, longest lasting results), it will certainly benefit you to expand your strategy to include PPC.
In what ways have you noticed a change in user behavior as reflected in your analytics?
Everhart, Erin. “The Evolution of SERPs and User Behaviors.” http://searchenginewatch.com/article/2374414/The-Evolution-of-SERPs-and-User-Behaviors?utm_term=&utm_content=The%20Evolution%20of%20SERPs%20and%20User%20Behaviors&utm_campaign=10%2F09%2F14%20-%20SEW%20Daily&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=Daily. (October 10, 2014).
“The Evolution of Google’s Search Results Pages & Effects on User Behaviour.” http://pages.mediative.com/SERP-Research. (October 10, 2014).