What can Leonardo DiCaprio teach us about Google SERP Changes?


August 11, 2020
Dee Overfield

Do you ever take for granted how easy it has become to check the opening times of your favourite restaurant, find the latest news updates on your ultimate celebrity or discover the answer to that impossibly hard question in the latest virtual team quiz? Yes, me too! We certainly have a lot to thank Google for – even if us SEOs have trouble admitting it sometimes…

Google’s motto has always been to offer its users the best and most relevant results, so it’s no surprise that the functionality and features of its Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) have changed dramatically over time. It’s made it easier and easier for us all to search, and find exactly what we’re looking for, in a matter of seconds.

Using Leonardo DiCaprio as our SERP change case study

Take a simple search for the greatest actor of all time… Leonardo DiCaprio (in my humble opinion).

Once upon a time in 2000 (not Hollywood), someone did a search for Leo (probably 7-year-old me?):

2000 SERP listing for Leonardo DiCaprio

Just over a decade later in 2013, another search (likely 20-year-old me?):

2013 SERP listing for Leonardo DiCaprio

And today, another search in 2020 (definitely me):

2020 SERP listing for Leonardo DiCaprio

The change in SERPs overtime is clear to see! But how have things changed exactly? Let’s take a deep dive into some of the most notable changes…

Organic vs paid listings

Google officially launched in 1998, only initially offering up organic listings – no ads to compete with, nada. Soon after, in 2000, came the introduction of Google AdWords (now known as Google Ads), allowing businesses to bid on the chance to appear at the top of SERPs for highly targeted search queries.

The same basic concept has applied overtime – ads displayed in the upper half of the SERPs, above the organic listings. That being said, the number of paid listings, position within SERP and the look / feel of ads has evolved since its inception – and Google continues to roll out changes.

Blurring the line between paid ads and unpaid organic listings

More and more we can see the line between paid ads and unpaid organic listings blurring, making it even harder for businesses to compete without an all-encompassing marketing strategy that utilises both PPC and SEO.

Up until late 2013, Google used to display ads with a shaded background colour, making it easy for searchers to decipher between the different listings. Now, with Google rolling out changes from January 2020 onwards, the only feature differentiating the two is a small “Ad” icon. Even then, these look almost identical to the favicons that seem to have cropped up in mobile organic listings!

Do a simple search for ‘Leonardo DiCaprio merch’ on your mobile for example.

The Knowledge Graph

A study by Statistic Brain back in 2018 highlighted that the average person’s attention span was just 8 seconds, with only 28% of words read on an average web page.

Users want answers to their questions as quickly as possible – no-frills attached – and Google certainly looked to capitalise on this by rolling out the Knowledge Graph back in 2012.

Take a simple search for ‘How many Oscars has Leonardo DiCaprio won?’

SERP feature and Knowledge Graph for 'How many Oscars has Leonardo DiCaprio won'

By the way – one, seriously!?

The Knowledge Graph forms a base of entities (objects and concepts) and the relationships between them, which Google stores to better understand the intent behind a search query.

The search for Leo’s Oscar win above, for example, offers the searcher additional information surrounding other well-known actors and actresses. All three of the ‘People also search for’ listings are so closely related to the searchers’ original query it’s scary:

  1. Kate Winslet because of Titanic
  2. Brad Pitt because of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  3. Jonny Depp because of the very recent Amber Heard “pumpkin-head” scandal (I’ll let you Google that one yourself)

You might also see the above Knowledge Graph accompanied by the Carousel display. Take a search for ‘Leonardo DiCaprio movies’:

SERP and Carousel Knowledge Graph for 'Leonardo DiCaprio movies'

Increasingly, Google is providing answers to users’ queries right there on page one of the SERPs. Businesses should take note as this might just negatively influence their click-through-rate (CTR) and Organic Search traffic.

An increase in mobile search

Mobile technology has advanced two-fold since Google’s launch in the late 90s. Forget beating that Snake high score on your Nokia 8210, now, mobile Search Engine browsing has become an integral part of our everyday lives – and Google is privy to this too.

Desktop vs mobile UX

Of course, user behaviour differs drastically between desktop and mobile and brands should be factoring this into their PPC and SEO strategies.

For example, at an estimated $168k, you might search and book your ‘submarine trip to the Titanic’ on desktop, but catch-up on Leo’s latest whereabouts during your commute to work on mobile.

An interactive mobile experience

As SERPs become more and more interactive, Google now even allows searchers to view some listings in 3D using augmented reality – a feature that we imagine more and more eCommerce brands will be adopting in the near future.

Try a mobile search for ‘French bulldog’ for example:

3D augmented reality in SERP for French Bulldog

3D augmented reality in SERP for 'French Bulldog' with Leonardo DiCaprio

SERP change is inevitable, so businesses must remain vigilant

As user habits have changed, the functionality and features of SERPs have also naturally progressed. We’ve barely scratched the surface here. In fact, Google is modifying things all the time, regularly testing changes on small user groups before scrapping or rolling them out for all to see.

Even in the last few months, global matters such as COVID-19 have led to some significant changes, including:

  1. Sticky menus – try a search for ‘coronavirus tips’
  2. ‘Temporarily closed’ status updates in Google My Business profiles – see the ‘Odeon Hatfield’ for example
  3. ‘Takeaway’ and ‘delivery’ information on local listings now appearing in SERPs – Google ‘italian St Albans’ to see for yourself

I wonder what Google has up its sleeve for my next 2030 Leonardo DiCaprio search? Predictions on a postcard please…

If your business wants to compete in Google’s desktop and mobile SERPs, the key is to understand the way in which the platform categorises and priorities searches. By keeping up to date on this, and working hard to improve your website and its content, you can improve your ability for getting listed in the right SERP feature, for the right user query.

Still not sure how to optimise your website to make it as searchable as possible? Get in touch with Wagada’s team of SEO specialists to find out how we can support you and your business.