For most marketers the ‘holy grail’ of search is still about trying to appear within the classic 10 blue links on the first page of Google - ideally the first or second result. But the latest research reveals SEOs and content marketers must think more widely, because that first page today is significantly different from what it was 10 years ago.
In fact, a recent Searchmetrics study, which analysed the make-up of approximately half a million frequently Googled search terms, has found that the average number of links displayed on page one has gone down from 10 to around 8.5.
Sadly this means it’s getting harder to get your content ranking in the traditional organic links. But it’s not all bad news: what Google has taken away with one hand, it gives back with the other. While there are fewer organic results, the search engine is now frequently including more ‘boxed out’ information such as Images, Videos, Direct Answers, App Packs etc – all these provide additional ways of getting your content well positioned in searches.
Our research reveals that Google now includes at least one of these box-outs (or integrations) on page one for nearly every search query. So what are the opportunities and how can you make the most of them? Here are six important learnings based on our study of Universal and Extended Search Integrations.
1. Direct Answers: a high traffic opportunity for your content
Google displays Direct Answer boxes for around 11% of desktop searches and 4% of smartphone searches. They take prime position above the organic results and include a sentence or bullet points that directly answer the searchers’ question (often when the search query include the words ‘How’ or ‘What’).
The content shown within Direct Answers is normally taken from a relevant search result - that can be viewed in full by clicking on the box. So if you can get your web pages displayed in this way, there’s potential to generate high volumes of traffic.
To have a chance of featuring, your content must be well written, clearly ordered (with bullet points, lists, tables etc. for easy understanding by searchers and Google) and reside on high authority sites. Ideally the web page should use specific structured data markup code (such as Schema.org) that helps Google interpret information on the web and understand how it is connected.
2. Remember to make the most of Google News
Google News boxes appear in around 11% of results for both desktop and mobile searches and are another way of drawing traffic to your content. While it’s mainly publishers that feature here, if you run a business blog or website that regularly covers news in your industry there’s a possibility you can get included – especially if you’re an authority in a niche sector that’s not widely covered by traditional media publications.
First you need to apply to the Google news team and ask for your site to be recognised as a news provider. Once accepted, you can help your content rank highly in the news index by making sure you break news stories ahead of others, posting fresh news regularly, and creating a special Google News site map.
Even if you can’t get accepted as a news source, you should already know of the importance of trying to get your content into Google News indirectly - by using PR to share information and insights that journalists can incorporate into their stories.
3. Target App Packs to bring searchers into your app environment
Google integrates at least one App Pack box in nearly one out of every 10 smartphone searches. These feature one or more suggested apps that are related to the search term. If the searcher clicks on one, they’re taken to the App Store to download it.
Appearing in App Pack boxes gives you a significant opportunity to attract downloads and so to transport searchers into the closed content environment of your app. You can boost your chances of being featured by following App Store Optimisation (ASO) techniques, including carefully researching and selecting the keywords and descriptions used in App Store titles and descriptions. Positive user evaluations and the number and frequency of app downloads also play a role.
4. Make YouTube your No. 1 for getting Video content in searches
The volume of video content on the web is escalating rapidly and around a quarter of search results on desktops and smartphones now include at least one Videos integration. 90% of videos appearing in desktop searches are hosted on YouTube (around 70% on smartphones) making this the go-to destination for your videos if you want high search visibility.
To boost your chances of appearing in Videos boxes you should create thumbnails that are eyecatching (and as clickable as possible) and put relevant keywords in titles and descriptions. Adding subtitles also helps because Google understands text better than audio visual content, and positive user interaction (in the form of likes and comments) is also a factor.
5. Influence your brand’s content within Knowledge Graph boxes
Around one in five search results feature at least one Knowledge Graph box, usually when search queries relate to a person, a place, or other known entities. They appear prominently on the right hand side of the search page (on top of the page in mobile results) and include facts, images and answers related to the search topic.
Google gathers Knowledge Graph content from online sources. So if you are a known brand, you can have some influence on what appears when people search for you by optimising content such as logos/images, social network profiles and contact information. A brand’s Wikipedia page is often a common source for Knowledge Graph content although this is not easy for brands to control.
6. Understand how mobile and desktop box-outs differ
Lastly it’s worth remembering that people are often looking for different content when they search on their phones compared with when searching on their desktops. Hence the types of box-outs Google displays tend to vary slightly between devices and you must use this to inform your strategy.
So phone results generally include more localised Google Maps results and Twitter Card integrations and fewer Product Listing Ads boxes for example. And 34% of desktop results include at least one Images box versus only 15% for smartphones - probably because Google is trying to discourage image-heavy pages with long download times on people’s smartphones.
The number and variety of box-outs that Google displays to enrich the search results seems to be increasing. And it’s testing out new ones all the time. So don’t be surprised to see the first page continue to change - creating fresh opportunities to get your content in front of searchers.