There can be no arguing with the fact that, in terms of search, Google is definitely King. We all know that if you want to reach the widest possible audience, then you’ll need to rank well on its platform – ideally grabbing a first page listing. Unfortunately to achieve that these days is becoming more and more problematic. Google has increased the number, and changed the positioning of, paid search ads. This has effectively reduced the potential number of businesses who can make a first page listing through organic search. What’s more Google also keeps changing its algorithm – some changes heralded, others unheralded, and that can cause all sorts of problems for marketers.
So what’s the latest regarding Google’s SERP updates? What surprises has the search behemoth got in store for marketers this year? Well, Google has been working on a number of tweaks to its algorithm throughout the course of 2016. Some are now established, whilst others are still in the testing phase. No doubt this continued tinkering will continue for the rest of the year, but here’s what we know so far.
Changes to Title Tags and Descriptions
SEO experts stared to notice a change in Google’s title tag and description parameters as early as May. Traditional title tags showing in Google’s search results were limited to between 50 and 60 characters. However, in May people started to notice that search results were showing up with 70 or 71 characters in title tags. Whilst an extra 10 or so characters may not seem like a lot; this equates to an extra word or two, and in a highly competitive market that can make a huge difference, giving businesses the capacity to create headlines that really grab attention. Whether these changes become permanent remains to be seen.
Google has also increased the number of characters it allows in the Meta descriptions. Sites can now include about 100 more characters in their descriptions –roughly equivalent to one extra line. So now sites can use 3 line site descriptions. However, all is not what it seems. Even though Google has allowed extra space, it has been noted that quite often the results are still cutting off site descriptions at two lines. Even if Google is processing the extra line of text; it’s not necessarily always showing it.
Longer Mobile Title Tags
Marketers have always known that there are different sets of rules for mobile and desktops. Well, nothing Google has done recently is going to change that. However, in terms of mobile Google has only applied new rules relating to longer title tags. Where the changes differ is that mobile has been granted even more leeway. Mobile search results now get even longer title tags — 78 instead of 71: a massive improvement over the previous 50 or 60 characters that were displayed. Will these changes be applied permanently? The answer is we don’t know at the moment.
But as with all Google changes; this latest tweak also creates problems. Whilst it makes marketing on mobiles easier, it also means content writers will need to start being more creative. Businesses can’t simply rely on one standard title tag for both mobile and desktop, and hope that responsive design will do the rest. They’ll have to create unique content specifically for each platform – though in truth this is something they should’ve been doing for some time now as mobile and desktop go their separate ways.
Some time ago Google introduced a concept known as ‘rich snippets’. Rich snippets show more than the basic title and description: they also include a thumbnail of the page picture or video, along with larger and more noticeable formatting. It now appears that Google is working on ‘Rich Cards’. These are small boxes which look similar to shopping results in search, and include a larger photo, a short title, a rating and a time marker which shows how recent the result was updated.
Rich cards appear right at the top of search results, and users care able to scroll through them quickly to find what they’re looking for. Why has Google introduced rich cards? Well, it’s all to do with the increasing dominance of mobile. The thinking is they make it easier for mobile users to search. The issue for marketers is that if they want to take advantage of rich cards; they’ll have to create content specifically for them, with great headlines and eye-catching photos. At the moment rich cards are predominantly being used to display recipes and movies, but the clever money thinks that before long they’ll start to expand into other categories too, so marketers will need to get their thinking caps on so that when that time comes, they’re well prepared.