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Google search results eye candy: How users navigate search features and what it means for SEO

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We know the number of features like knowledge panels, images, local packs and other elements have proliferated in search results in recent years, and that has had a significant impact on SEO strategies. Now, a new study aims to show how much the introduction and variation of these features are changing searchers’ behavior.

When search engine results page (SERP) features, such as a sponsored product carousel, video carousel, featured snippet, or other rich results, were present on a search results page, they were looked at by the user in 74% of cases, according to the study by the Nielsen Norman Group. The visual weight of SERP features influences the path of the user’s gaze and, since the number of features can vary from query to query, the gaze pattern is nonlinear, the study also found.

The findings were derived from an analysis of 471 queries made by participants in eye-tracking and usability-testing studies conducted between 2017 and 2019.

How SERP features influence user behavior and actions. When search results features such as featured snippets were present on the results page, they were looked at by the user in 74% of cases, the study found.

“Images definitely drew attention — they are visually attractive and also helped users quickly check that the results were about the topic they were looking for,” Kate Moran, author of the analysis and senior user experience specialist for the Nielsen Norman Group told Search Engine Land. “But elements that gave quick answers also received a lot of attention — featured snippets, knowledge panels, and People also asked.”

Interestingly, this seeming added complexity and variation in search results pages don’t appear to be keeping users from taking action relatively quickly. Participants took an average of just 5.7 seconds to click their first selection.

A separate analysis by Yext found that consumer actions on local business listings — driving directions clicks, clicks to call businesses — in search increased by a larger margin (17%) than impressions of business listings (10%) last year. “[This suggests that] customers are finding what they want faster,” the Yext analysis concluded. “Whether searchers are learning to use more specific queries or search engines are getting better at understanding those queries, customers are spending less time searching and more time engaging with businesses.”

The pinball pattern. The value of the top spot in a search results page is predicated on the idea that users browse listings sequentially. Since the modern results page can include different types of results, ads and interactive elements, in addition to traditional organic listings, users are directing their gaze to these various elements in a nonlinear fashion. The Nielsen Norman Group has dubbed this phenomenon the “pinball pattern.”

The pinball pattern describes the path of the user’s gaze as it moves between elements on the search results page.

“Because search-results pages are now so inconsistent from query to query, users are often forced to assess the page before digging in and making a selection,” according to the report.

Any given query can surface numerous search features, ranging from rich answers to carousels and everything in between. This assortment of information plays a critical part in shifting the user’s attention across the page. “That means that layout of a SERP can determine which links get visibility and clicks.” Additionally, the position of visually compelling elements may also impact the visibility of nearby organic results, the report suggested.

(Click to enlarge.) A plot illustrating a participant’s gaze as they searched for the “best refrigerator to buy.” The participant directed their attention to the sponsored shopping cards, sponsored results, the featured snippet and the People Also Ask box before looking at the first organic result.

What results get seen and clicked. One striking difference in the search behaviors of 2006 versus today is in clicks on the first result on the page. In 2019, the first result (defined as the first item appearing under the search box, which means it could be an ad) received 28% of clicks.  That compares to 51% of clicks that went to the first result in 2006.

While the study acknowledges the increase in zero-click searches, there is more opportunity for exposure and clicks for ads and listings a bit further down the page than in the past. That said, ads and features like instant answers are much more prevalent in the top spot today than in 2006, so that should be kept in mind when interpreting this data.

The study found that the first three positions received more than half (59%) of clicks, with lower positions receiving a slightly higher proportion of clicks than in 2006.

Instances in which users continued to browse the results page as they waited for a clicked result to load were also observed. Some users returned to the search results to select another listing they had been eyeing earlier if their first selection did not resolve their search.

Below the fold value varies. Only 5% of selections in navigational and fact-finding queries occurred below the fold (the assortment of listings that appeared after the user scrolls to see more results). For more complex research tasks, 20% of selections were below the fold.

This suggests that companies publishing in-depth content may still be able to attract clicks even if they’re further down on the SERP.

However, users only ventured past the first results page for 2% of queries.

Why we should care. If this study provides an accurate reflection of how the general public navigates search results, there is a clear incentive for organizations to optimize for search features. The top organic spot is just one of many factors that can add to your visibility on the search results.

Traditional “blue link” organic listings have ceded prime SERP real estate to ads and rich answers, which have more than doubled in mobile results since last year, according to a study by Perficient Digital. Consumer actions in Google My Business listings, another type of rich result, are getting more clicks than last year as well. The trend towards more search features has greatly affected user behavior — the majority of Google searches now end without a click to other content, meaning there’s less organic traffic available to publishers. These search elements are getting shown more, not less. 

Marketers should be formulating their strategies with these trends in mind. By optimizing for the features that make the most sense for your organization, a technique that SparkToro’s Rand Fishkin referred to as “on-SERP SEO” in his SMX keynote last week, brands can still find ways to reach their audiences through the search results.


About The Author

George Nguyen is an Associate Editor at Third Door Media. His background is in content marketing, journalism, and storytelling.



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Tips and tools to combine content marketing and PPC

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30-second summary:

  • Many businesses opt for content marketing because organic traffic is free. But, this strategy makes them miss a great opportunity to grow fast because combining SEO-optimized content with PPC speeds up the lead generation process.
  • Online businesses need to know specific use cases for content marketing and PPC to assess the value of the strategy.
  • Less than half of small businesses (45%) invest in PPC.
  • PPC and SEO content marketing can bring in more leads by capturing more quality traffic with more effective keyword optimization of blog content, lead magnets, and landing pages.
  • To get the most value from content marketing and PPC, businesses need to master keyword research, searcher intent, and the consistency between the landing page and ad optimization.

As someone who primarily engaged in SEO and content writing for small businesses, I didn’t really care about PPC advertising.  

Maybe because of people like me, only 45% of small businesses invest in PPC 

I thought that the best way to bring high-quality leads was with super optimized content, so paid advertising was the realm of bigger companies. That’s the mindset of many small business owners. With teeny tiny marketing budgets, they have to choose between SEO/content and PPC. 

SEO/content often becomes their choice, especially of those with interest in content creation and a lack of real marketing experience.  

SEO was my preferred choice, too, and I saw PPC as something secondary. 

Boy, was I wrong about this!

After a couple of projects involving PPC promotion, my view of the strategy completely changed. No, they didn’t change how I thought about SEO, but they showed how amazing the results could be if you combine the power of both strategies. 

To all SEO specialists still not using PPC and the other way around, here’s what you’re missing.  

1. More effective content thanks to PPC-tested keywords

Developing a content strategy is one of the most complex and important tasks for any SEO specialist. They use keyword research tools, PPC tools, Google Search Console results, and other methods to find those precious keywords used by customers.  

When they find the keywords they think are good for targeting SEO/content marketing, they begin a slow process of creating content. I wrote oh-so-many blog articles, eBooks, checklists, reports, and other content to find out the keywords that attracted the most conversions.  

All of this takes a lot of time.  

In fact, to write a super effective blog post, you need more than six hours 

Time required to invest per blog postSource: OrbitMedia 

When you’re done with writing the draft, there’s also proofreading, editing, making visuals, and keyword optimization. To cut a long story short, you might need a few days to complete a good article that can bring quality organic traffic.  

But that’s not the end of that road.  

Google, too, needs some time to index the article and rank it. In fact, it might take between two and six months to rank in the top 10.  

That’s a bit much, agree? 

To top it all off, the keywords you’ve chosen for your content might not the best ones to target. If you make this mistake, you’ll have to learn your mistakes and start all over again (welcome to the world of SEO content writing, folks). 

Is there a way to speed this time-consuming process up? Yes. It’s PPC.  

It can get you in front of the audience and allow you to test your keyword ideas much faster. If you have content to test, use PPC ads, and equip them with the keywords.  

Get them out there and see what people respond to best. You can have some great results as early as a few days, which is pretty much impossible with SEO/content marketing.  

Another great news is that you can run A/B testing. This means running ads featuring different keywords for the same content piece. If one performs much better than the other, update the content with the more popular keywords.  

So, the takeaway here is that running PPC campaigns for content is a much faster way to test keywords. Start by finding keywords with research tools and make some ads, and you’ll be more likely to discover how your customers look for businesses like yours.  

Related:  

2. More leads from lead magnets

In content SEO, we often create lead magnets 

They are content pieces like reports, white papers, eBooks, webinars, videos, and other valuable content that people need to sign up to access.  

You’ve seen tons of them before. A common example is a banner promoting an industry report with an irresistible CTA on a blog. It says that you need to provide your email address and name to access it instantly.  

Click on that CTA, and you’ll go to a landing page with the lead capture form.  

Like this “The Ultimate Agency Guide to Video Marketing” landing page, where everyone can download a guide with helpful tips on video marketing.

Example of lead magnets landing pages

As you can see, the content is offered in exchange for some data. Not a bad deal of a guide packed with useful instructions for businesses.  

Unsurprisingly, many content producers often turn to lead magnets for quick lead generation.  

Ozan Gobert, a senior content writer at Best Writers Online said, 

“Lead magnets work well for both B2B and B2C businesses aslong as they have some value for customers. You can generate some high-quality leads with them, as they typically attract those interested in insights and tips inside.” 

If a blog has thousands of visitors every week, then there might not be a need for PPC promoting lead magnets. But is that true for your blog? 

Many people think they can manage without the ads (I was one of them). Basically, it’s because they think that great content will “sell” itself. 

Despite what they might think, not so many blogs are that successful in attracting visitors. In fact, more than 90% of web pages don’t get any organic search traffic from Google.

Ahrefs stats on PPC and content marketing

As you can see, only about 1.3 percent of web pages out there get decent traffic. Just for that tiny share, promoting a lead magnet with PPC advertising might not be necessary every time. 

Obviously, the situation is very different for the rest.  

If your website doesn’t have a lot of visitors, too, then creating lead magnets might be pointless. They’ll just sit there only to be discovered by a few people per week.

Not good because you need more leads.  

If you wish that there was a way to get more people to pay attention to, there is actually a way.

And it’s PPC, of course. To get some emails, you need a well-crafted PPC campaign that leads people to the landing page where they can sign up to receive the content.  

You can try to bring people with keyword-based ads promoting the lead magnet. If you choose the right keywords, the ads have a much greater chance to attract leads than SEO alone.  

This is how it works: PPC does the job bringing in visitors, the content converts them into leads by having them complete the capture form.  

To increase the chance of people signing up, the value of content is critical. But, the visual appeal is also a major consideration. You need tools for creating visual content like images, graphics, and infographics to add to your lead magnets.  

3. Better marketing campaign performance thanks to a smart keyword use

Many businesses out there don’t realize they can bring much more quality traffic to their websites if they focus on best-performing keywords in both SEO, content marketing and PPC.  

Much more traffic.  

When an SEO/content marketing specialist and a PPC marketer share a list of relevant keywords, they can decide how to divide them to: 

  • Target the most promising keywords together to bring the most traffic 
  • Identify the keywords that are the most difficult for SEO and target them with PPC and the other way around
  • Define which search queries to focus on with each lead acquisition strategy

Ultimately, the cooperation between the PPC and SEO teams can result in a much more effective keyword strategy. In turn, this strategy could attract more traffic to your websites. 

Important note

To make content keyword optimization work, you need to master searcher intent or purchase intentPut simply, searcher intent is the reason behind a search query.  

For example, the query “Samsung a10 review” implies that the searcher is looking to do some research but has not made the decision yet. If they search Google for “buy Samsung a10 cheap”, then they might be ready to buy.  

Each intent defines how you should create content. It matters a lot for SEO because Google’s goal is to provide its users with the most relevant results.  

Dive Deeper: Tapping into Google’s Algorithm for Searcher Intent. 

4. Create landing pages that convert more visitors

A landing page is the heart of any PPC marketing.  

But, in many cases, PPC specialists aren’t the best persons to write the copy for it. By engaging content and SEO specialists and having them work with PPC folks, you can create a keyword optimized copy that also appeals to the readers.  

For example, PPC specialists can provide keywords and ideas for optimized headings and subheadings for attracting traffic. In turn, content writers contribute by creating a copy that’s easy to read and entices the visitors to act.  

So, the collaboration of PPC and SEO/content teams can result in campaign landing pages that generate clicks and converts.  

A good way to start doing PPC campaign landing pages is to create a checklist to cover all bases. This checklist can include images, copy, sign up options, etc. 

Know more: Studying the anatomy of a successful high-conversion landing page

SEO and PPC: Two are better than one

I’m not exaggerating when I say that SEO and PPC are a marriage made in heaven. I am positive that these points described in this article prove that.

Don’t make a mistake I made by neglecting the power of PPC advertising. Combined with SEO and quality content, you can greatly increase the quality of your traffic.

If you’d like to try them together, feel free to start by doing PPC ads for your best-performing blog articles. The results you’ll see will definitely impress and inspire you to try more. Thanks to this article, you’ll know your next steps.

Ana Mayer is a project manager with 3+ years of experience. She likes to read and create expert academic materials for the Online Writers Rating writing review website.



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Five Google Trends charts that show the impact of COVID-19

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30-second summary:

  • The world is now starting to open back up and we are marketers are adjusting to how we can be effective in this new reality.
  • Search data can help inform the strategic decisions around store locations, hours, payment methods and so much more so that your business can make smarter and more informed decisions on how to be successful.
  • As marketers struggle to grasp the magnitude of changes, Jason Tabeling highlights five Google Trends that can serve as immediate insights.

We all already know that the impact that COVID-19 is having on the world. We have all been under stay-at-home orders for about 90 days. The world is now starting to open back up and we are marketers are adjusting to how we can be effective in this new reality. It’s really hard to grasp the magnitude of changes that are occurring around us right now and it will take some time and perspective for us to truly understand. Search data is a powerful tool that can help us understand how consumers are feeling and reacting to situations. Here are five Google Trend charts that I think help us zoom out a bit and understand some trends that I believe will change the way we operate forever.

1. Retail vs Digital businesses

The world of traditional retail is changing forever. Here is a comparison between Instacart and Whole Foods. Now I know you can say Whole Foods is really Amazon and ecommerce, but that’s sort of the point. Every business is a digital business even if those particularly aren’t owned directly by Amazon. Quickly each business has had to move to a digital model and as you can see from this chart Instacart had a massive surge, has since tailed off, but has significantly closed the gap on Whole Foods. Instacart and other like businesses (Ex. Chewy or Doordash) now have a customer base that is much more comfortable in a digital world and won’t be going back.

Google Trends - Retail vs business

2. Store hours

If and when a store is open is a big deal during COVID-19. Many stores, restaurants, and other businesses were forced closed. Some were deemed essential, and as states re-open are deciding when they should open. This leaves consumers searching to find out how their favorite shops are responding.

For businesses and marketers, this makes keeping your Google My Business (GMB) and other Location Data Management sources (Facebook, Yelp, Apple Maps) up to date. Knowing consumers are seeking information and relying on this information to take action is key. Google has even created new tags like, “Temporarily Closed” to help businesses communicate with their customers easier. Making sure this data is accurate and up to date has always been important and is just magnified by the uncertainty this situation has created for all businesses and consumers.

Google Trends - Store Hours

3. “Contactless”

Check a Google Trends chart for anything “contactless” and you will see a very similar graph. The growth of all things contactless has spiked, delivery, payments, and pickup. This further accelerates the digital revolution. Cash has always been dirty, and in these times people are especially cautious. According to Times article paper money can transport a live flu virus for up to 17 days. This data point, plus all the CDC and WHO recommendations make anything contactless of interest for consumers.Google Trends - Contactless

4. “Curbside”

Curbside is very similar to “Contactless.” Both demonstrate the new ways consumers want to interact with brands. Having this type of pickup option allows consumers the ability to shop with their favorite brands, but not take the incremental risk of going inside the store. Consumers are looking for ways to continue with some sort of normal behavior, get out of their house, and not have to wait for shipping.

Best Buy for example had a curbside pickup at 100 stores in December and quickly accelerated to all 1,200 stores during the pandemic. Much like Contactless, curbside wasn’t even a term consumers were using until recently and we don’t expect it to go away any time soon.

Google Trends - Curbside pickup

5. Remote work

The way people approach their jobs has been forever changed. As you can see from the chart below remote work has been steadily growing since 2004, but has reached a peak over the last few months. This is especially interesting when comparing it to unemployment searches, which is a very sad side effect of the economy shut down. I’m hopeful that for those of us in digital marketing we can see this as a growth opportunity for talent across the country and world to work together to help make marketing stronger for these brands. To help them drive into a digital age that was a differentiator just 90 days ago, and has now been rushed into mandatory status for survival.

Conclusion

So much of our world has been changed forever. It is our job as marketers to help leverage the tools at our disposal. This is especially true for search engine marketing. Where we have the ability to understand how customers are thinking about our brands and the experiences they expect from us just be understanding how they search. This data is not only helpful for search campaigns but business strategy as well. Search data can help inform the strategic decisions around store locations, hours, payment methods and so much more so that your business can make smarter and more informed decisions on how to be successful.



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Voice input for Google mobile web search, paying for search analytics tools, more

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SearchCap: Voice input for Google mobile web search, paying for search analytics tools, more










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