Google has been making it harder to get first-page rankings. That's not just because all of the algorithm updates the search giant keeps launching, an increased emphasis on "answers" results, which require users to click over to other sites less often, and the addition of Google's Knowledge Graph to search results. Sure, these things all come into play, but for more and more queries, Google has also been showing less traditional results altogether.
Google results pages have commonly and historically showed ten main organic results, but for a growing number of queries, that number has been reduced to seven. Specifically, this is happening on results pages in which the top result displays additional "sitelinks". Here's what Google has had to say about it (via Danny Sullivan):
“We’re continuing to work out the best ways to show multiple results from a single site when it’s clear users are interested in that site. Separately, we’re also experimenting with varying the number of results per page, as we do periodically. Overall our goal is to provide the most relevant results for a given query as quickly as possible, whether it’s a wide variety of sources or navigation deep into a particular source. There’s always room for improvement, so we’re going to keep working on getting the mix right.”
Dr. Peter J. Meyers, President of User Effect, recently shared some interesting research at SEOmoz about this phenomenon, which seems to have begun in early to mid August.
Now, BrightEdge has put out some new research on the topic based on analysis of queries for 26,000 keywords. According to CEO Jim Yu, the effects from this are even greater than those of the Panda update.
In a piece sharing the firm's analysis at Search Engine Land, he writes, "The percentage of keywords impacted is currently 8% across the industries we examined. This is significant, considering that a critical update like Panda affected 5% of searches."
"We have found that the impact varies by industry," he adds. "The Technology – B2B sector has 9.4% of its keywords affected, while Technology – B2C industry sees 12.1% keywords impacted. Financial Services industry has about 2.7% of keywords affected, and about 3.5% of keywords in Retail are impacted by this change."
Even if a site's rankings did not technically drop, a move from the first page to the second page in search can bring a significant barrier to visibility.
It's interesting that Google has not brought infinite scroll to web search as it has to image search. You can get through ten pages of image results in no time with this feature. A simple click to another page may not seem like a huge step for a user, but it's still an additional step. It seems like introducing this feature to web search would also go along with Google's emphasis on increasing speed in search. It's certainly faster to scroll down further than it is to click to another page. Yet, Google seems to be going in the opposite direction, and actually reducing the number of results on the page.
To be fair, Google usually does its job in returning the information needed on the first page (at least in my experience), and if you have to go past page one, perhaps Google is not doing its job. If you have to go deeper than seven results, even, it's not doing that great a job. There is, however, a discoverability element that is eliminated, or at least impeded, by showing less results. Perhaps you found what you were looking for in the top results, but missed something that could have been equally helpful or interesting had you had a chance to see it.
Image: gigglecam (YouTube)