Learn how to use Google SERP features to recapture lost organic search traffic in the increasingly competitive SERP environment.
Occasionally every website experiences a dip in the volume of traffic it receives. There could be a variety of reasons this happens and sourcing the root of the problem is a matter of systematic problem solving with the right set of data.
The appearance of Google SERP features has forced marketers and SEO’s to adapt to new strategies and find alternative channels of generating traffic. The cause of the dip in traffic due to a SERP feature is not always apparent immediately and a systematic approach to uncover your losses is the most efficient method in solving the issue.
A traffic drop analysis will isolate the cause of the dip in volume through the process of elimination.
Lining up the channel summaries by blocks will identify which channel the largest loss of traffic came from.
Image source: Why has your traffic dropped?
A drop in organic traffic can result from any of the following reasons:
In the case of a change in user sentiment there isn’t much that can be done. When the total search volume of traffic changes every website will be experiencing the same decline in the number of visitors to their site.
The simplest way to find whether one of your ranking positions has been overtaken is to refer to your rank tracker Any keywords that have slipped in the time period in question would indicate that you lost a spot on the SERP to one of your competitors. If your rankings have remained intact you can move on to the next step in sourcing the issue.
Google SERP features have steadily encroached the first page of search results and the trend is increasing dramatically. Local listings, featured snippets, ad carousels, video carousels, PPA boxes (people also ask boxes), the knowledge panel and an increase in Google Ads have contributed to the decline of the traffic available to the organic results.
Based on the time period in question you can line up your tracking data from Analytics with any changes in the SERP features. Check for any increases in SERP features over the last 30 days using Moz SERP feature history report.
Assuming you have eliminated the possibility of a drop in ranking and an overall drop in total search volume, check the changes in volume on your landing pages in Analytics. Alternatively, you can use Google Search Console to get an idea of what queries have dropped in their number of clicks.
Once you have an idea of the keywords in question you will need to identify the result pages where a SERP feature may have appeared, simply search your keyword in Google to see what SERP is being featured.
In this example, Ryte is the tool of choice. Select Search Success to get a list of the keywords your site ranks for on the first page. Use the filter to identify the questions that incorporate your keyword. Enter your keyword and question to see whether if a SERP feature is being displayed along with the competition and keyword data.
Only websites that rank on the first page are eligible to be featured in a snippet. The best chances will be from the pages that rank in position #1-4. The biggest opportunities are from the SERP features that are constantly being won by different websites because it means that Google hasn’t chosen the answer it likes best.
If your website ranks higher than the site that holds the snippet, it’s a sign that your page is considered to represent search intent more adequately, indicating that simply cleaning up your HTML and formatting your page will likely win the snippet.
Once you’ve identified the snippet in which you will compete for you will need to see how your competition has structured their content to win the position. The forms displayed are lists, paragraphs, charts, video, and images. Paragraph and list types are the most popular form of the snippet and therefore present the best opportunities to regain lost traffic.
In any event of a list snippet you will need to match the same HTML format or better. Google will often display their own list in the snippet by pulling the H2 or H3 headings from the body of your content.
To compete with this format, make sure the subheadings in your content are tagged appropriately to create the desired summary of points to be used in your list snippet. In this case the list snippet was drawn from h2 title tags. Make your lists more than seven line items to encourage more people to click through to your page for the additional information you’re providing.
Scouting how the website has won the snippet will give you major clues on how to format your page. For example, for the term “video marketing statistics 2019” Oberlo.com is in position zero, yet they are #2 in the search result.
The snippet seems to be in paragraph format and yet a closer look will show that Oberlo.com has tagged their subtitles as h2 for all of their statistics. Google has pulled those subtitles to create a summary paragraph.
Smart Insights, the number one ranked site has optimized their page to be included in the snippet yet their subtitles that relate to the keyword are h3 tags. It appears Oberlo was able to edge them out by creating a higher level of importance of their subtitles to the article. By using h2 tags Oberlo was able to make their snippet summary more attractive. For Smart Insights this would be a good opportunity to win this snippet by reformatting their subtitles from h3 to h2.
Using the HTML code for an ordered list can also optimize list snippets and improve the chances of your page being selected for position zero. In a controlled test for winning the snippet Hubspot reformatted 86 of 173 blog posts.
The additional code to their updates site looked like this:
This shows up on their site like this:
Image source: HubSpot's Guide to Winning Google's Featured Snippet
The results were:
A paragraph snippet is a block of text that answers a query in summarized form.
A snippet that features a paragraph answer should be analyzed for how it answers search intent. To win a paragraph snippet your response would need to cover the same points, tips, and topics because Google has obviously chosen the paragraph that best represents search intent.
Sponsored ads have increased in frequency and are more disguised as organic listings. In a recent study, Varn, a UK based marketing agency surveyed 1000 people and asked them to differentiate between paid and organic listing. 60% of people can’t tell the difference between an organic listing and paid advertisement. The one distinguishing characteristic between the two is the small green text “Ad” placed to the left of the URL under the title.
The development of how Google places its paid ads has been geared towards making the listings appear to be the best matches for search intent. Looking back a few years will show how what used to be a clearly marked presence of an advertisement has become a sneaky marketing tactic to boost revenue by stealing clicks from the organic listings.
Paid ads have increased their frequency of appearances and will continue the growth trend due to the competitive nature of the organic results in conjunction with the increase in appearances of SERP features.
The unfortunate truth is that the only way to regain lost traffic from an increased frequency of paid ads is to bid higher on your search terms or target new keywords. If you increase the highest bid amount your site will appear more frequently as the top paid advertisement.
Being the most shared form of content on social media with more than 500 million hours watched on YouTube each day, videos are being displayed more often as a response to search queries. With mobile being the dominant form of search video is becoming a necessary method of marketing which is a trend that will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
Image source: Video Ads in Social Media 2019
YouTube videos are being favored in the SERP results over any other video directory. Both YouTube and Google search engines operate on different algorithms so unfortunately ranking number one on YouTube won’t necessarily get you a spot in the SERP.
It’s no secret that search intent is a major criterion for producing search results. And the ability to satisfy search intent is rewarded with top rankings. In order to establish how a video satisfies search intent, a search engine will rely on optimization factors to assess and categorize the videos content.
Factors that influence how a video ranks include keywords in the title, inbound links, category, tags and the description provided.
Using your keyword in the title has a large influence on how your video is optimized. The title will provide a major clue to search engines about the content of the video and what solution it provides to a query.
The number of inbound links have the same effect on your video as it would to a website. The number and quality of referring domains equate to votes of credibility to support the content in which the video is optimized.
This element of a video provides an additional clue as to what your video is about. Choosing a category such “How to and style” will immediately place your video in consideration for a query in which the intent of the user is to identify a solution that teaches a specific method, strategy or skillset.
Tag your video with keywords and synonyms create a better understanding of its content. The tags you use will help the video get picked up for more related keywords in a search.
Use the description to give users and search engines and a better understanding of the video's contents. Search intent plays a huge factor in achieving a top-ranking position. Use an interlinking strategy to enhance optimization. A description that can offer more options through relevant links to other sources and videos has more to offer a user by providing a more complete solution.
A comparison between the number one video on YouTube with the number one video in the carousel for the term “French Press Coffee” will show that search intent has been primarily focused on how to make French press coffee. The title is one of the most important optimization factors and the top videos indicate they offer a “How-to” style video.
A quick look at both videos in Moz link explorer will show that the number of inbound links and views are much higher in the video for YouTube.
Here are stats for the number one video on the Google SERP carousel
Here are the stats for the number one video on YouTube:
The title, category are similar yet the video on YouTube has more than five times the number of inbound links and higher page authority. Why wouldn’t the YouTube video rank on the SERP with much better metrics?
The major difference between these videos is noted in the description. The video that ranks #1 on Google covers more topics and offers more options for users to explore that are related to the term “French press coffee”.
Here is the YouTube description written as a block of text that details how to make French press coffee:
The description for the number one video on the Google SERP includes how to use the French press but also links for the equipment and other possible items that a user may be interested in buying in order to complete their experience.
The algorithm used to rank the #1 YouTube video has placed more emphasis on the views and links received and engagement of the video whereas the SERP feature stays consistent with more emphasis on how Google is determining search intent.
Videos are displayed in approximately 21% of all queries that feature a snippet but this number is expected to grow with the rise in online video. The appearance of this SERP feature for a keyword you’re ranking for would require the addition of a top ranked video that satisfies search intent to recover lost traffic.
The emergence of SERP features has definitely influenced changes in the way traffic is generated. Google’s solution to a better user experience may not be an intentional attack on organic traffic however, the decline on the organic click-through rate is definitely a cause for concern pointing to more difficult times ahead. Finding alternative channels is now a must in order to be well equipped for producing results and recapturing lost traffic an increasingly competitive environment.
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Published on 09/16/2019 by Christian Carere.
Christian Carere is a search engine optimization consultant and founder of Digital Ducats Inc. Christian works primarily with SMB’s to generate more leads and produce new clients by improving the quality of traffic.