Remember when the first page on Google had 10 results? Well, these times are over. If you are thinking to yourself that this has been the case on mobile and for brand keywords for a while (since 2012), you’re right. But what’s new is 9, 8, or even 7 results for non-branded keywords on desktop, and nobody noticed.
I’ve dug deep into SERPs Features and their impact on classic organic results because they alter the search landscape and how much organic traffic sites can expect. Now, a second tectonic shift rumbles through the search results that is just as impactful: search is a feed, no longer a list.
Feeds and lists sound like the same but they’re not. The idea of a feed is closer to what we see on social networks: endless results, browsable by swiping or scrolling. Lists are what Search and the concept of “10 blue links” used to be: finite, specific, “above the fold” results.
But the digital world doesn’t work like that anymore. Users are conditioned to scroll endlessly. Social platforms are seeing more engagement and longer dwell times. Why should Search be different? Both, Search and Social, are advertising-based models that live from ad impressions.
The 10th result on page 1 is gone
I recently noticed that the first page on Google doesn’t show 10 results on desktop devices anymore.
A few examples (see the image gallery below):
- Dropshipping: 7 results
- Expense management: 9 results
- Business spend management: 8 results
- Things to do in San Francisco this weekend: 9 results
I tested multiple queries on desktop in incognito and normal browsers (Chrome), longtail and shorthead terms, and found that most queries don’t show a 10th blue link anymore. Keep in mind that this SERP layout might not be rolled out in every country and the number of snippets on page 1 can change.
That intrigued me, so I looked at more keywords to understand the relationship between # of classic organic results and SERP Features ( “1” means the SERP Feature appeared above the first organic results; “5” means it appeared before the fifth organic results, etc):
More data and research is needed to determine a relationship, but I learned 1) more SERP Features and 2) the appearance of specific SERP Features that don't appear for every query like events, top stories, or knowledge panels seem to lead to fewer classic organic results.
My thesis is that SERP Features like PAAs, Video Carousels or Knowledge Panels replace blue links. It’s not a perfect relationship. There might be other factors that impact the number of search results like clicks on the “2nd” page, a high degree of browsing or user intent.
I went a step further and used Ryte to look at Search Console data (click-through rates, impressions, and clicks on position 10) for two large sites. Now that it’s on page 2, CTR should have decreased over time for position 10.
I used the following filters to get an unbiased view:
- Non-branded keywords
- Position = 10
- Country = USA
- Device = desktop
- CTR != 100%
I looked at data for the full month of May in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
This site gets 2M monthly users from organic search.
Year-over-year, the CTR for position 10 dropped significantly!
Going from 11.3% to 1.5% is a -86% drop over two years. Now, 11.3% is a very high CTR for position 10 and probably not the case for most sites, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that it significantly shrunk.
You can see the effects clearly in the timeline view (doesn't show 2020):
This site gets over 3M monthly visits from organic search.
The drop in CTR for position 10 is about -30%. Not as aggressive as site 1 but still impactful.
What this means for SEO
The implications of this change are profound. We should have noticed this earlier but I couldn’t find any documentation. The shift could have started in June 2021 based on the CTR decline for site 1, but I’m not sure. More data and research is needed.
A couple of things are becoming clear.
First, the top 10 don’t matter anymore. It’s now really the top 7 that make a difference, and even the bottom 4-5 results don't matter anymore if a prominent SERP Feature hovers above them.
Second, SERP features are shrinking the organic real estate. The impact now goes beyond click-through rates and hits the opportunities to get any search traffic at all.
Third, SERP diversity is shrinking. For head terms, Google reserves a specific number of spots for different types of sites (e.g. affiliates, publishers, brands, marketplaces, etc.). Fewer spots overall mean fewer chances for a type of site to get any organic traffic.
What can you do about it?
- Export keywords at position 8/9/10 and compare CTR over time (Y/Y, over the last 16 months, etc.)
- Create your own click-curves and update them constantly
- Compare the CTR for different types of queries, e.g. “how to” keywords, head terms, ultra long-tail, etc.
The change from 10 to <10 results goes to show how much the SERPs have changed. We have to let go of our old image of the search results and embrace the new format: an endless feed.
Since day one, SEO know that SERP clicks live on a power curve and the first result gets the majority of clicks. However, for a long time, ranking in positions 7-10 would yield at least some traffic. That model is now outdated.