The Biggest Trend in SEO

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Andy Crestodina

At conferences and in conference rooms, we hear these things a lot:

“Google changes every day…”

“The Google algorithm is updated 500 times per year…”

“You need to stay on top of your rankings…”

And changes in Google mean changes to rankings, right? But what if the biggest changes in Google have nothing to do with rankings?

Yes, Google is constantly changing. And yes the changes affect your traffic. But no, the biggest SEO trends don’t affect your rankings. They affect your click through rates. There’s a big difference.

Travel back in time with me…

Five short years ago, the typical SERP (search engine results page) looked much different. I have an archive of old screenshots of SERPs, so this is going to be fun. Just glancing at these make the big SEO trends obvious.

In 2014, if you searched for “lead generation websites” this is what you found.


Feeling nostalgic? There’s the old Google logo. But what else is different about this page?

  • The ads are more prominent
    The little icon next to each ad was bright yellow. There was even a line that separated the ads from the organic rankings. And there were all those ads on the right rail.
  • The top organic listing is about 450 pixels down
    Assuming the average fold for desktop users is at 700 pixels, three organic listings are visible without scrolling.
  • I’m ranking #4
    That puts me 800 pixels down the page. We’ll come back to this.

Now let’s look at that same search today, in 2019.

Huge changes. And they highlight the big SEO trends:

  • Fewer, but sneakier ads
    There are four ads visible here, not 12. That’s fewer, right? Not exactly, if you count the sitelinks under the ads, there are 11 links. So the number of links to advertisers is still high. And the ad icon is much less prominent. It blends in. The ads look more like organic listings, more native.
  • Star reviews
    One of the advertisers has stars.
  • A giant featured snippet
    It’s big and it’s at the top. It combines the text from one page and the image from another. It gives enough value that the searcher may be satisfied. No need to click.
  • Related questions
    “People also ask” gives the searcher more opportunity to interact and get info without leaving the SERP. And it pushes down the organic listings…
  • The top organic listing is 2600 pixels down
    Definitely not above the fold.
  • I’m ranking #6
    That’s two spots lower. Not a big change. But the actual position? It’s 3000+ pixels farther down the page.

The ranking changed a little (from #4 to #6) but the placement changed a lot. The listing is 800 pixels deep versus 3900 pixels deep.

Rankings are durable. Placement is not.

Surprised at how little the rankings changed over five years? I am not. In my experience, pages that rank well tend to continue to rank well over long periods of time. After five years, our page still ranks well.

What affects the rate at which rankings change?

The durability of a page’s ranking depends on the rate at which new content comes out on that topic.

Changes to the ranking algorithm are real, but the much bigger SEO trends are the “SERP features,” such as featured snippets, maps and videos. There’s just a lot more stuff showing up in search results these days.

Here is a list of SERP features, things you see within search results every day. You can see when they first appeared and the likelihood that they appear, in 2019, according to MozCast.

Note: Mozcast is constantly updated. The chart reflects the percentages when the article was written. 

Here’s another example, before and after, 2015 and 2019:

High ranking pages don’t rank as high as the used to. They are pushed down by SERP features. In this case, it’s ads, featured snippets and related questions.

Here’s another:

Let’s look at one more:

This one is fun because back in 2013, the ads still had a color background, clearly setting them apart.

This was also the end of the Google Authorship era when Google shows the faces of content creators within search results. This program was canceled, presumably because it increased clicks to websites and reduced clicks on ads.

What does this mean for traffic?

Over time, more and more searches are “no-click” meaning the searcher’s information needs are satisfied by the SERP features. That means less traffic is flowing from Google to websites.

Source: Jumpshot, SparkToro

61% of mobile searches lead to SERPs that don’t get clicked (up 6% over the last 2.5 years) and a third of desktop searches are no-click (up 3%). There are 5.6 billion Google searches per day, that means roughly 250 million fewer visits to websites each day.

So this is the mega-trend in SEO: more features on search results pages and therefore a lower click through rate to websites.

Even if your rankings don’t change, you will generally have a lower click through rate over time. Here’s the traffic before and after for the first example above.

In other examples, you’ll find lower traffic when the ranking holds steady, or even lower traffic when ranking improves. This makes life hard for SEO agencies. “Yes, I know traffic is down, but your rankings have gone up.”

What to do about rising SERP features and falling click through rates?

Don’t despair. Google is still an excellent and inexpensive source of high-quality visitors for most websites. But as they change, so must we. To hold on to your traffic, we recommend these tips and techniques:

  • Target phrases with fewer SERP features. These are often longer phrases with lower commercial-intent.
  • Fight for featured snippets. Here’s a guide.
  • Use Semantic SEO. Here’s a guide.
  • Grow your email list. The better your list, the less you rely on digital giants.
  • Write for other websites. It won’t increase your traffic, but guest posting on authoritative websites can do wonders for the visibility of your content.
  • Double down on keyphrase-focused content. There are still millions of great keyphrase opportunities. You can target any of them with just a day of research and writing.

“I would also think about ways to increase retention once somebody does land on your site. Think about the journey of the searcher. What is the next piece of information they may want to know after searching a particular query? Include that in your content! This way you are helping to prevent them from going back to Google because they can stay on your site to find more of what they need.

For example, I had a former client do that in this article. People land on it looking for health business names, and then we provided them with links to tale their next most logical step – register domain names and claim social profiles!

Other ways to help the user through their journey are to link to all categories from every blog page and to link to related content.– Dan Shure, Evolving SEO

More SEO trends

Here are a few more major SEO trends, starting with the big one we just covered.

  1. Increase in search engine results page (SERP) features, including featured snippets and related question boxes, leading to lower click through rates (CTR) and more “no-click” searches.
  2. Increase in voice search for local businesses. According to a BrightLocal study, 58% of consumers have used voice search to find local businesses in the past year.
  3. Increase in mobile search. According to Statista, 60% of Google searches are done on mobile. 5 years ago, it was at 34%. It’s almost doubled in five years.

“I need to hire someone to maintain my SEO…”

We hear this a lot. I often respond with a simple question “what kind of SEO maintenance do you have in mind?” Typically, after a short silence, they explain they want to maintain their rankings for a few specific phrases. Oh my.

There’s so much more to search than rankings.

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Comments (18)
  • Thanks for this, Andy. I’ll be using it in an upcoming presentation. I think an emphasis on mapping your content to the customer journey is becoming increasingly important. Every opportunity counts. And guest blogging and not relying entirely on Google has become a must.

    • Thanks, Greg! It was fun to go back into the archive of old screenshots and show how things have changed.

      Yes, this one might be useful for client education. There’s more to SEO than rankings!

    • Auditing your content and then mapping what you have to your buyer/customer journey is such an important part of this process! Every interaction is a chance for your brand to resonate—especially with a lower overall click-through rate.

  • Great article! SEO is changing which is one of the reasons why it so exciting and creates new opportunities!

  • Andy, you never disappoint. Great insights on a most important topic. So, you won’t get ahead treading water.

  • Thank you so much for these insights. After a recent web rewrite, both our external search and site search results have greatly improved. Phase II will involve tweaking the content based on voice search trends and how it has changed how people search, whether it’s keyed in or via voice. For all of our efforts, helping our members find the info. they need is the goal. This info. and the stats to back it up will be very helpful as I write a training guide for our team!

  • Thanks for the great info! Since Google is constantly changing its algorithm, keeping up isn’t always easy.

  • In this digital world, SEO takes an important place for each and every business. Thanks for sharing this detailed new trends of SEO. This will be very useful to make new strategies of SEO in business.

  • “It combines the text from one page….and the image from another.” Interesting tid-bit on featured snippets. This image in your illustration Andy is from my blog I wrote on lead gen. Didn’t know the giant featured snippet would combine text/image from difference sources. Not sure how I feel about that. 🙂 Overall, this is so good sir. Love all the visuals and appreciate the time you put into this piece!

  • Great post, interesting trends!

    One note/correction. You said “61% of desktop searches lead to SERPs that don’t get clicked (up 6% over the last 2.5 years) and a third of mobile searches are no-click (up 3%).”

    I brought the graph is showing the opposite. Also, intuitively, fewer clicks on mobile. I would be very surprised if it was the other way around.

    Otherwise good stuff!

    • Nice catch, Josh! Updated.

  • SEO is not just about rankings few keywords. Really loved this final sentence “There’s so much more to search than rankings.” I have been trying to educate people about that for a while now. Excellent post!

  • Thanks for the great post, Andy. This very nicely summarises an issue I’ve been discussing with SEOs for quite a while. It’ll be interesting to see how tactics and goals differ (if at all) from current ones now that so many searchers get the answers they’re looking for (or enough of an answer), from the snippet boxes, thereby depriving some sites from clicks and further attention.

    I can’t help but think that guest blogging is going to see a lot more love going forward.

    – James

  • Thanks Andy! Awesome article for Biggest Trend in SEO. Since Google updating algorithms updating frequently and its really useful article in current SEO marketing. Thanks for sharing great information here.

    • Thanks for the great post, Andy. This very nicely summarises an issue I’ve been discussing with SEOs for quite a while

  • Encontre un buen ejemplo segun yo de publicidad por internet 😀

  • Andy–I’m late to this conversation but in today’s voice-first and marketing AI driven environment, marketers can’t assume that their top position in SERPs will remain constant. Further they face the challenge of 50% no-click search results and 50% voice-first in 2020 (along with 30% screenless search!) Therefore you need to focus on making every visit count by getting visitors to take an action. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen – Actionable Marketing Guide

  • What I like about you Andy is that you always challenge me to think.

    I’d like to add that the distance (organic) SERPS get “pushed down” is just another search signal trigger.

    My niche (pet bird care) is so small I do little KW research (I need to do more) and lots of “semantic” writing which can yield the following results.

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