Now It’s Even Harder To Get First-Page Google Rankings

    August 26, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

It seems like the chances for sites to get their content into organic Google search results is continuing to decrease. In a recent article, we looked at some of the recent changes Google has made to its algorithm, including things to make it better at natural language, give it a decreased dependence on keywords, and giving users more direct answers, and therefore not having to direct them to other sites as much.

Have Google’s results pages gotten better or worse? Let us know what you think in the comments.

This, alone, makes a lot of webmasters uneasy, and highlights the need for sites to diversify their sources of web traffic. Google only wants to get better and better at this. Google wants to deliver the best user experience possible, and users want to go on about their business as quickly as possible. This is easier to do if Google can provide the answer itself. Lost traffic, however, could be an unfortunate side effect for content providers.

Wait, didn’t there used to be more search results on this page?

Now, there’s a separate, but related topic being discussed by the webmaster community. Google appears to be showing less organic results for SERPs that contain a result with its sitelinks feature. You know, the ones that look like this:


Specifically, for many SERPs that display these kinds of results, Google is now showing only a total of 7 organic search results (that’s regular results, not including any universal search results that might appear):

Seven Organic Results

There has been discussion about this in the WebmasterWorld forums over the past couple weeks. “Google wants to get people to their answer quickly, and if the query has a history of being too ambiguous, they certainly have the ability to measure that and throw a tag to change from the normal SERP. Just as there was QDF (for query deserves freshness) they might have something like “QDD” or query deserves disambiguation,” said forum admin Tedster.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land shared a statement from Google about the matter, saying, “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.”

So this may be an experiment, but a lot of people are getting SERPs with fewer organic results, from fewer sites. It doesn’t bode well for organic SEO. It does seem to make sitellinks more important than ever.

Dr. Peter J. Meyers, President of User Effect, has put out some research at SEOmoz, finding that Google is showing way more SERPs with less than ten results than ever before, and for the most part, these results have 7 results a piece. Here are a couple of graphs he shared:

SERPs with less than ten results


“SERPs with 7 results were an anomaly prior to 8/13, with the system tracking a maximum of one (0. 1%) on any given day. On 8/13, that number jumped to 10.7% and then, the following day, to 18.3%,” he writes. “Almost one-fifth of SERPs tracked by our data now have 7 results.”

You can read his article for more about the methodology, and his additional findings.

There has been some talk about this phenomenon being related to brand queries, but as Sullivan points out, there are plenty of examples of non-branded queries where this is happening, where the results contain one with sitelinks. It just so happens that a lot of brands do have sitelinks.

Taking Advantage Of Sitelinks

So, how do you get Google to display sitelinks for your site? Well, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It’s pretty much up to Google.

“We only show sitelinks for results when we think they’ll be useful to the user,” says Google in its help center. “If the structure of your site doesn’t allow our algorithms to find good sitelinks, or we don’t think that the sitelinks for your site are relevant for the user’s query, we won’t show them.”

“At the moment, sitelinks are automated,” Google adds. “We’re always working to improve our sitelinks algorithms, and we may incorporate webmaster input in the future. There are best practices you can follow, however, to improve the quality of your sitelinks. For example, for your site’s internal links, make sure you use anchor text and alt text that’s informative, compact, and avoids repetition.”

If Google is showing sitelinks for your site, but you don’t like certain links it’s showing, you can demote those links, telling Google not to consider it for a sitelink candidate. You can do this in Webmaster Tools. Go to the “For this search result box” in “Sitelinks” under “Site Configuration”. You can demote up to 100 URLs, but Google says it may take a while to be reflected in the search results.

But that’s about as much control as you have over it right now. At least Google is hinting that it may give webmasters more control over sitelinks in the future. If sitelinks are having such an impact on SERPs these days, perhaps sooner rather later would be a good idea.

But back to the point at hand…

Search has been moving further and further away from the classic “ten blue links” format for years, but now Google is clearly giving you fewer opportunities to just rank on the first page in organic links than it used to, at least for a growing number of queries (and who’s to say that number won’t continue to grow?).

This probably means that you’ll need to put more focus on getting into Google’s other types of results more than ever, depending on what types of results Google is showing for the queries for which you want to be found. That could mean optimizing for image search, Places, YouTube, Google News, or of course paying for AdWords ads and/or Google Shopping results.

Interestingly enough, as Google wants to get users answers more quickly (and directly in many cases), the company still faces pressure from publishers who actually don’t want Google benefiting from their content without paying them. It seems pretty backwards, when you consider all of the sites who just want to show up in the results at all.

Should Google be showing less organic search results on its pages? Tell us what you think.

  • http://www.completewebsites.biz Jane Jakeman

    The reason Google is so successful in returning ‘relevant’ results is due to the hard work of SEO coders.

    Google needs to ‘not bite the hand that feeds it’ and return 10 results per page. If it wants to elaborate the first result, then it could still have 10 results per page.

  • http://pandaseo.co.uk/ Mark

    How is showing less results on the first page going to provide a better user experience?

  • http://www.carbon-footprint-defined.com Jane

    As important as it all is, ie panda, penguin, panda updates, changes to this and that ALL of the time, it just becomes so mentally exhausting, overwhelming and worrisome. When does anybody actually get the time to just simply add content to their site (while keeping certain specific things in mind as you do it of course)? You could spend a lifetime as far as I’m concerned constantly trying to “get it right” by redoing what you’ve already done, or re-adapting daily to something else yet again “new” to please all SE’s, but does it ever really stop? Really? Change is inevitable, we all have to adapt to a degree, I get that. But every 5 minutes? That’s how it seems almost especially in the last year or so. More consumed with “this” now than actually enjoying the simple pleasure of just working away on my sites.

  • http://Www.heroncabinets.com Trophy cabinets

    I know is trying to make the Internet from Google’s stance, quicker and more efficient, but I wonder long term if this will make smaller more niche sites disappear, allowing larger corporations and organisations with money to dominate, which in turn will increase Googles revenues as the small to medium size websites will have to pay to compete.

  • http://coolscrapsdigital.com Addie

    My Tow Cents 2
    My Two Cents: I agree, google should go back to possibly
    smaller print, 10-15 results per page and let users pick and choose if we need
    elaboration or not, that would give more sites the ability to rank on first page
    and get noticed and give users more options all at once. That special expanced
    link feature on the top of a search is such a waste of real estate in my
    opinion, their guessing of what "could" be most relevant to searcher when it is
    really the user who should be making that decision to expand if needed.

  • Denise

    Google wants to deliver the best user experience possible. What a lie! I do a search and get garbage results. Two pages worth of where a store is located. I’m using the Internet because I either want to shop on the Web or find information. They also are shoving EBay and Amazon listings to the top of the list. Their results has nothing to do with relevancy, it is who pays the most to get listed.

  • http://www.hometextilegroup.com hometextilegroup

    As always it’s all about the money,google wants you to pay for your results(although they would never admit it)

    Advertising got bigger and more dominant over the years. On a phone or tablet there are no organic results above the fold anymore. So if you want to be seen, you have to buy your spot.

    Well if this is what people want they should keep using google, otherwise turn your back on it.

    The whole problem is that for most people (in Europe) search = google, so they don’t know the alternatives (good job google)

    Don’t be evil is google’s motto, year right!

    Feed the people something for free, make them dependant on it, and then start slowly asking more and more money.

    Somehow we’re all screwed by google and don’t even realize it.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/silverwear_drawer_identification_bumper_stickers-128534447804298199 Artnip

    Maybe G is trtying to force websites to pay for AdWords ads and/or Google Shopping results. G and FB seem to be more focussed on pay-for services, especially advertising.

  • Shane Rae

    I agree with all of the above. But the subsequent questions are_;
    1. Do you really think that google cares???????
    2. What ARE YOU going to do about it!

  • http://www.halifaxhomes.org Freeman Hall

    My ranking has been pushed down by sites that have absolutely nothing to do with the intended search. If this keeps up consumers will never find what they are looking for. Isn’t that what a search is supposed to accomplish?

  • Tony

    Shane is right. Google does not care what you think in fact the plan is to make organic search useless so you have 3 choices: ppc, paid shopping or go out of business. Google wants more for a keywood click than the profit we make on 3 orders. When a customer searches for low price packaging they do not want the guy who bid the most for those keywords and has the higher price. Its done and its working. PPC sales are booming at record levels. See Googles yearly profit not bad for someone who doesnt sell anything.

    • http://www.pixelproductionsinc.com Chris London

      Too true Tony,
      In Google’s effort to provide “better” search results they’ve really overlooked the fact that people want options…like when searching Microsoft certifications, it might be nice to see some of the training partners not just Microsoft.com

    • http://pinnaclewebdesign.us Doug

      Google rose to the top almost overnight, and they can sink to the bottom the same way if people can only find what Google wants them to find.

  • Ken

    I’ve noticed that Google is also giving pages and pages of the same website in the results for the search term “Florida vacation rentals”.

    The first 5 pages of results contain mainly just one website and different pages within that website.

    My issue is that any competitors for that term are not showing because of the major website – and so the user isn’t getting a variety of websites to choose from.

    This is like searching for “kids toys” and getting 5 pages of results all containing links to pages within Amazon!

  • lots0

    [25 is what percent of 3231]
    Try that query in google and then try it in BING.

    Google SERPS are trash.. And regular people are noticing.

    • http://www.connectservices.biz Pat

      I agree, the majority websites that are highest in rank are trashy websites made with old software with bad coding. Does anyone know of a good forum to join to counter the big bullies?

  • http://www.epiceventmarketing.com Events Marketing

    I agree with many of the above comments, particularly about biting the hand that feeds them. Google also doesn’t seem to be concerned with fields that are often stagnant. Some of my clients are pharmaceutical industries, where a product can take 10-20 years to be approved by the FDA. Do they have a ton of fresh news and content to deliver in that time? No. Their sites tend to be very simple, and legally they cannot speak about unapproved products. These algorithm updates seem to inherently punish the more stringent fields.

  • http://www.stevegillman.com Steve

    Google wants to deliver quality relevant results only to the extent that this increases revenue, and if they can get more revenue in other ways they will do so. Consider what it means to punish sites for links, for example. It is like saying to searchers, “we will exclude sites that are most relevant to you if they happen to have off-site factors that we don;t want them to have.” Who can argue that a users experience is suddenly diminished when a site gets spammy links that the user never sees? Yet that is what Google would like to claim, in order to pursue their war on SEO at the expense of honest businesses and searchers.

  • http://www.danihowto.com Wordpress

    google should show 20 results per page, that would be better ,there are thousands of websites coming every day ,and only ten results per page , grow the results also google whats wrong with you.

  • http://www.artehierro.com baños rusticos

    Google plays cat and mouse, only interested in what advertising bill. This means that SEO will always tow god google. It is best to center the ball in the end customer and try to find your needs, with imagination and good practices provide a good service or product. This has traditionally worked in the traditional market will do it the web even slower.

  • http://shop.lacompanyonline.com La Company Online

    They should increase the amount of results per page.

  • http://www.coppergaslanternsplus.com Ginger Rushing

    I have seen the results of this recently. WIth organic search my site has been on page 1 for my main keywords for 3 years. A new site entered the market carrying a fraction of the same products my site does but they are in the sponsered category, paying a minimun to Google for PPC. They also put a couple of U-tube videos, some of which are of their competitors, just to pull traffic that rightfully belongs to others. If this isn’t against the rules, it certainly isn’ty ethical. They now also occupy in some searches a spot above my site in organic! Is this Google’s way to force the rest of us to pay them too? From strictly a content issue this site should not be above me. THis seems to send a message, pay Google or else and btw, a few black hat tricks don’t matter.

  • http://allbrands-hottubandspa.com Steve

    Google seems to be obsessed with Facebook !
    My customers do not care about G+, Twitter,
    Facebook, YouTube Etc. Nor do they care how
    many backlinks I have been able to accumulate –
    They are shopping for
    a product and they are interested only in
    obtaining as much information as possible in
    order to make an informed decision as to which
    product will best fit their needs.

    Although I can do a much better job of providing
    the relevent content, I cannot compete with the
    big box sites that have a staff of 15 focused on
    social sites- So the Consumer gets sent to Walmart
    or Amazon instead of the site with the best content !

  • http://ebook-site.com Bryan Quinn

    I am appalled at the latest Google search results. For quite some time, one of my small information websites, side-site.com was on page one of Google for the search term “side turkey”. In fact, it varied between number 1 and number 4 on the first page.

    However, in July of this year, I noticed it was no longer there. After some searching, I was horrified to discover that it was on page 53 where it still is today. I would dearly love to know why. Google cannot or will not offer an explanation.

    Little has changed with the website in the last few months and everything appears to be OK according to Google analytics and Webmaster tools.

    Also, one of my twitter accounts “sideturkey1” is on page 26 and videos I uploaded to dailymotion.com are on pages 49, 50 and 51 for the same keyword “side turkey”. This makes no sense to me.

    What annoys me more than my drop in the search rankings is that tripadvisor is mentioned on almost every page. You would think from the search results that they have a deal with Google to advertise every hotel in Side. This is completely unnecessary and should be looked at by the Google team responsible for algorithm changes.

    Another worrying trend I have noticed is the increase in YouTube videos in the search results. Again, Google seem to be promoting their own wares, often to the detriment of useful websites, articles and their readers.

  • http://www.whatwindowvac.co.uk phil

    so you might as well pack up and go home if you want to get on page one organicly then.

  • http://www.destinationgraphix.com Gabrielle

    Google continues to prove it is the master manipulator. And to think keyword relevance will go away is a joke regardless of what other criteria Google deems is important today or tomorrow. Typed, spoken or obtained telepathically keywords will never lose relevance.

  • Tominguez

    google results are a joke for quite some time now, irrelevant paid inclusions which ( for some time also ) have forced people to become pros at finding information, not using google, but rather forcing people to go to niche sites. For example, shopping is a thing of the past in google, SEO articles are a thing of the past, people will visit ebay, shopping.com, buy.com or ecommerce sites or will go to webpronews for SEO articles for that matter. Google lost its way a while ago, they are struggling with the ads ( if you take out all the free coupon “money” and they are now trying to make people click on ads which is a waste for advertisers and a waste of time for end users.

  • http://www.traveltipsthailand.com Web Support Guy

    I’d like to see a graph of how many people are now going to the second and third pages of Google search results. I often find myself out on page five or deeper still looking for a relevant result.

  • http://null.com.com.com Frenzy

    Fuck you, Google. You’ve ruined my life!

  • http://dabnis.com Jonathan Parker

    As a webmaster I can remember the days when Microsoft thought it ruled the web as in the ie6,ie 7 etc farce and look where that got them?
    I truly believe that the time has come for those same people who fought to keep the principles of the web as open and not controlled by one commercial organization to take to arms again.
    I would be interested in seeing what alternatives there are to Google? Maybe Microsoft with its past experience could now become our ally with Bing!

  • http://consultlocal.com/ Sam Georgeson

    It does feel like Google are rolling out the profit agenda very quickly these days.

  • Mike

    Google’s priority has nothing to do with increasing search quality.
    It has everything to do with increasing Adwords revenue and they have succeeded in doing so.

  • John

    I no longer use Google Checkout/Wallet on my site. I hope other niche site do the same and drop Google as their credit card processor….We paid for Google to become what is is.Thanks for reaming us a new one Google.

  • http://nexxterra.com Paul

    Because uit is free to us, we tend to forget that Google is indeed a business.
    I applaud them for doing this, I really only need 1 search result when I am looking for something and that is the right one.
    As a site owner and a company that offers SEO, I will do my job properly and the results will show. Too many people have been cheating the system and injecting spam and affiliate sites into search results for way too long.
    When I search, I want a product or service, I do not want some get rich quick scheme or landing page where I have to click yet again to go to the final providers site.

  • http://numberoneonthelist.com Tom Jacoby

    Less results on page one would appear to devalue organic and emphasizes PPC but if I could make accurate predictions based on my opinion instead of comparative data then I could quit this job and go to the racetrack all day.

    Is anybody looking at a significant change in traffic pattern for a site you monitor with Google Analytics or other tracking?

  • http://www.belfast-architects.co.uk Alan

    Google is a business that needs to make profit. Will this increase or decrease the likelihood of advertising?

    As for improving search results, I tend to be looking for something very specific and in my opinion I have been getting pages of similar trash on Google. I now tend to use Bing, or IXquick which seems to have improved lately. (or perhaps that perception is relative).

  • Joe G

    Google results are getting worse, they seem to be more and more driven by those who spend money with THEM. Niche directories: bad, because they are “paid for,”. And bidding for shopping listings. PPC, fine, but bidding is going to result in domination by large Adword buyers.

    I just hope consumers are aware of what is happening, and that Google is becoming Big Brother regarding search results and so forth. It’s pretty much known by sellers and SEO/web professionals that Google is setting themselves up for a head to head with Amazon. Will it work? Not if they drive people (sellers and buyers) to sites with a more level playing field where results are based on Value of PRODUCTS, not the amount of money the Overstocks.com of the world pay to list there.

    Yes, Paul, they are a business but if you think that they are playing fair, there are plenty of states and countries who think otherwise, forget about the average person. You seem to be one of those “sucking up to Google.” Why, for example, do you assume that everything is a rich quick scheme or landing page?

    Anyone who put all of their eggs in the Google basket and unprepared, or unwilling, to pay BIG bucks for the new Google shopping is going to be in trouble. Period.

    Luckily, not everyone is like Paul and plenty of people are making it known that the results for shopping are going to be skewed and smaller companies are going to choose, or be driven, away from Google. And in my book, that is not entirely bad.

    • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

      I agree.
      Given the number of sites out there and the number of those all endeavoring to be on the Google first-page … I’d have to think that at least 100 tie in rank to be on that page.
      So how is the decision made as to who gets there (inquiring minds want to know)?!

  • http://Bungeebones.com robert

    Personally I’m calling their antics “Google’s Hooliganisms”. Can someone write a script that detects when someone reaches a site from Google so we can actually tell how much (if any) traffic Google actually sends? And then an optional on that says something like this to the visitor “It appears you reached this site using a Google search. As a form of protest to Google’s unfair tactics to website operators we repsectively ask that you give other search engines a try”.

  • http://www.australianbizdirectory.com.au George

    I personally think Google is pushing the envelop a bit too much. I can understand their need to make profit. But Google is giving an edge to business that spend lots of money on adword. It is ridiculous to be in a bidding war and PPC. Now what happens to SEO (keyword), Google are getting poor results because at the moment, it doesn’t matter how poorly worded your site is, as long as you pay big bucks for adword, you are guarantee first page because you can afford the bidding war.

  • http://www.andhraworld.in/ www.andhraworld.in

    Ha ha this is what exactly many blogger need getting traffic with keyword stuffing makes real angry for other bloggers who write the exact content with much readability the first on who gets frustrated is me itself i write the content on user readability concept but many other bloggers write content on keyword basis that makes useless content up now its the time for me :)

  • Patrik Berny

    I think Google is under preassure as well, the company realizes it can be shutdown an that there are people with more power than just money. Also they see tha seo is a bussines that is taking their money and adwords should take over the serious bussines back. Thats why analitcs show trafic sources as not specified.

  • charlotte

    The results have got much much worse, to the point where I now use alternative search engines for over half my searches. Fed up getting the same big directories, non authority sites, blogs and the same site listed maybe up to as much as 30 times (numerous inner pages). I no longer use google for health or general knowledge queries.

  • John

    I just Bing it now when I need something

  • http://www.arthurspools.com Frank Holman

    search has gotten much more frustrating, and I no longer search for broad keywords, all you get is vanilla serps

    I miss the old wild west days of the internet

    everything about google is about money….I tend not to go to them first anymore

  • http://www.seokingswebservices.com seo web services

    Google are getting more frustrating from a user standpoint and for webmasters. Although they state these changes are for users benefits it seems that all Google care about are their profits and confusing all the seo guys/webmasters out there. Seo has become a very inexact science.

  • http://www.dubaiflorist.com flowers dubai

    Really they generate money their own pocket. Better search results with many answers i avoid google. Repeated answers generating by google.

  • http://fishandcrane.com Peter

    This is still an ongoing process so too soon to judge all the changes of Penguin. I predict we are on the dawn of a major scandel in the search world and increased government regulations the result. Penguin changes are presented as better for consumers for now, but are serving as king maker for and against a lot of powerful groups. Careful, Sir Google- peaches coming to your door may look sweet but likely will have a very bitter center.

  • http://www.angersausomeaussies.com AngersAusomeAussies

    Google is all about their profits. I just “Bing” it. Bing is alot more cheaper, get better customer service, Yes, one can actually call & talk to a real live person. Google keeps making changes & changes & that just drives ppl away. I dont even bother w/Google any more!

  • John

    google is just destroying own search engine, it becomes less and less usable even for me. good luck to google in this not easy task.

  • http://www.fusiondiary.com/ Sam Patwegar

    I have seen quality posts from comparatively unknown sites appearing on the first page of Google for 2~3 days and then totally disappearing, replaced by authority sites with average to poor content.

    This I believe is due to human intervention, someone undoing what the Google Search Engine has fairly done. It is probably this kind of intervention which is causing all the confusion. These days nobody seems to know what Google is realy trying to do

  • Mike
  • http://Dynamify.me Tim

    Google is getting too far away from the tool it used to be. Hiding the search terms in it’s referrer links was the straw for me. It’s just not as useful as it was. Too bad the average netizen is not really that aware of Google’s evil ways.

  • Patrik Berny

    Well its also a chance for other search engines, maybe bing, or of someone works on some new one. PPC systems will cover the expences sooner or later. We see that cmpetition is healthy. Also google cares about their market shares. If they will continue to go backwards against people they will stop believing in that company. I think Google got a power because people did not like Microsoft rules and attitude.

  • http://www.betterbargainz.com Chris

    Google has completely changed what they used to be. If do a basic search for pretty much anything all you see is ads to buy something not actual information not to mention what they are doing to small businesses trying to sell merchandise through shopping feeds. I am a small business owner and my sales from the website have really dropped since they implemented the new system. It’s really a shame because I used to like google for searching for information but now it is a waste of time.

  • Geoff

    I used to like it when I searched for something and I got 20 different websites in the first 20 positions of my search and I could decide which site best matched what I wanted. Now I just seem to get 20 pages from the same website in the first 20 positions of my search which is not the sort of choice I want. Google is assuming it has found the one and only best matching website for me which often it isn’t. I have used Google loyally since it was launched but now I find I am having to regularly switch over to Bing in order to find exactly what I need.

  • http://www.customdredgeworks.com <a href=”http://www.customdredgeworks.com”>CustomDredgeWorks

    A very interesting article on SEO.