SERP Mazes – How Google keeps users in search results7 min well spent

SERP Mazes are ways for Google to provide answers to users but also keeping them in the search results to display more ads.

I first came across a SERP Maze at the beginning of the year, when I researched for my annual speaking topic. I encountered it when I looked for “best graph database”, an important keyword for us at G2.

Mobile carousel snippets

We got the featured snippet for that keyword and it looks very normal on desktop.

"best graph database" desktop SERP
“best graph database” desktop SERP

On mobile, however, the structure is completely different.

"best graph database" on mobile
“best graph database” on mobile

This is important to notice from several points of view. First, it emphasises the different between mobile and desktop SERPS. Second, Featured Snippets on desktop can look different on mobile, as in this case. Third, accordions on mobile provide a different competitive landscape!

In the screenshot above, you see that we at G2 get a regular organic result in the mobile SERPS, instead of a Featured Snippet. The results of the accordion are taken from and the top heading says “found on the web”. I think Google should give us attribution here. But it gets worse.

When you click on one of the accordion tabs, you see our results right next to competitors. Google basically shows competitors from other SERP positions in the accordion, which means they take our data to structure the SERP.

Accordions on mobile SERPS for "best graph database"
Accordions on mobile SERPS for “best graph database”

The maze for this SERP is shown at the bottom: the related searches feature shows a carousel of solutions.

software carousels
software carousels at the bottom of mobile SERPS

When you click on one, you’re being redirect to… another SERP! It’s a brand search for the product you selected and shows tons of ads.

Software carousel at the top of a mobile SERP
Software carousel at the top of a mobile SERP

Let me show you another example. This is a search on desktop for “project management software”. This time, Google shows a carousel at the bottom of the SERP with three accordion expansions within the “people also search for” box.

Software carousel + related searches at the bottom of the SERP
Software carousel + related searches at the bottom of the SERP

The accordion options below the software carousel indicate related user intents, such as finding bug tracking software or office collaboration tools.

When you click on a solution, you get to a brand search with a carousel on top and – of course – tons of ads. Notice the shopping ads on the right side.

brand searches from software carousels
brand SERPS after clicking on a software carousel

If you thought bidding on your brand was unfair, you’ll have a bad time. What Google does here is brutal comparison of products with the top carousels. Granted, it’s their own right to do so. But for brands, it could mean even less exposure and a higher emphasis on brand building.

Just searching for “microsoft project” without clicking on it in the software carousel that’s shown for “project management software”, you don’t see the top carousel (but a huge list of ads).

SERPs for "microsoft project"
SERPs for “microsoft project”

On mobile, we see a different structure at the bottom of the SERPS. There is a carousel but none of the related searches you see on Desktop.

Software carousel on mobile for "project management software"
Software carousel on mobile for “project management software”

When you just search for the brand name without coming from a carousel, Google won’t show it at the top of a brand search. In fact, the whole SERP is structured very differently.

However, when you search for “project management tools” instead of “project management software”, Google does show the software carousel.

software carousel for "project management tools" on mobile
software carousel for “project management tools” on mobile

So, we can jot a few points down as conclusion

  • Google shows software carousels that direct users to brand search results
  • Related searches have different structures on mobile vs. desktop
  • Google direct users to very ad-heavy SERPS

SERP Mazes

These are just two examples of many. The observations lead me to believe that Google does follow up on its commitment to enable more journeys in the search results than just giving answers.

The list of tools fits well into the knowledge graph: entities! When I spoke with Cindy Krum about the future of entities on the Tech Bound podcast, we also talked about the importance of being a multi-faceted brand as a strong signal to Google

So, we call that being a multifaceted brand. Which is like facets on a diamond, it’s much harder to spam stuff like that. In the same way for years Google was like links are votes and it’s hard to spam links. Well, turned out it wasn’t hard to spam links. But having entities and concepts that are multifaceted where you have a documentary and you have a Wikipedia page and you have products and you have podcasts, that all takes work. And you can spam it for sure, but to do a good job and to have good engagement signals, which I think is what Google is trying to go for now in terms of spam blocking, it’s much harder.

Cindy Krum on the Tech Bound podcast

With more software carousels showing up, brands need to invest in brand signals. That means content on as many platforms as possible, backlinks, thought leadership, etc.

In the grand scheme of things, this fits into the notion of journeys > answers. In Ben Gomes’ article from 2018 about the next 20 years of Search, he mentioned that Google should guide users across their journey and that’s what Google is doing here.

What else can you do with this new format? Show more ads! A new feature means more surface to show ads and increased engagement means more exposure to ads. Google’s whole business model is built on ads and I don’t expect that to change, even if Google transitions away from the classic model of a search engine. It’s very likely for this to start like so many other Google formats with ads slowly creeping into the feature over time.

The aggressive presence of ads shows where the journey is going. Google needs to monetize clicks more as the returns of search are decreasing.