by Sienna Luard

 SERPS: Where are your customers looking?

A recent Google eye-tracking study released in September 2014 by digital marketing company Mediative has shown how much search behavior has changed in the past decade. The study, “The Evolution of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages and Their Effects on User Behaviour” shows several significant changes in how Internet users look at and interact with search engine results pages (SERPs). The participants in the study were given numerous search tasks to complete on a desktop computer and the results were compared with a similar survey done in 2005.


The Golden Triangle of 2005


The 2005 study by Enquiro, entitled “Google Eye Tracking Report: How Searchers See and Click on Google Search Results” showed how people typically searched in a “triangle” pattern, starting at the top left of the search results page, scanning across horizontally, and then moving down to the second organic listing and reading horizontally, but not quite as far. The area was coined as Google’s “Golden Triangle.”


The golden triangle heat map image showing how people looked at an Internet page had a major impact on website design and search engine marketing for years to come. Most marketers would position their most valuable content in the golden triangle on their own websites, and aim to get their content featured in SERPs within this prime location.


The Results of the 2014 Study


There is more vertical scanning. As searchers use mobile devices more than ever before to search the Internet, their scanning behavior has changed. It’s now more common for searchers to scan vertically, as they look for the quickest route to find information. In the 2014 study, this tendency to scan vertically in an “I” pattern on mobile devices is so ingrained in users, they still scan the SERPs in this way, even on desktops.


– The top organic search results still get the most clicks. Despite the increased amount of marked-up content at the top of Google’s search results page, 32.8 percent of users still click on the first organic listing, getting more clicks than any other page element. The Knowledge Graph, carousel, and paid ads still get attention, but organic results still triumph.


– SERP positions two through four get more clicks than in 2005. This is good news for businesses that are fighting for attention under position number one. You should still aim to get onto page one in the SERPS; the Mediative study found that only around one percent of all clicks occurred on page two.


– The right rail sponsored ads are doing a lot worse. While the top three ads at the top of the page are still doing well, clicks on ads on the right of the page have fallen from 3.16 to 0.7 percent. This supports the fact that people are looking at SERPs in a more vertical fashion.


– People are viewing more search results listings, but spending less time looking at each one. In 2005, searchers looked at each listing for two seconds. That figure is now 1.17 seconds, so your listing may get less attention in terms of time, but at least it is more likely to be seen.


How Can You Respond to These Changes?


The fundamentals of SEO are as important as ever. Creating unique content that caters to the needs of your audience should still be your number one priority. A diverse mix of relevant keywords positioned throughout your web pages and within page titles, headlines, and meta descriptions is still key to boosting your search rankings for your prime content. Getting involved with authoritative directories, review sites, and social media is also crucial.


Using schema markup is still one of the most effective ways to get noticed in SERPs. It helps search engines understand your website’s content, and will help your content stand out in search results, as rich snippets such as product reviews, prices, and images can appear alongside each listing. Rich snippets have been shown to dramatically increase click-through rates, and may also increase your search rankings.


The Bottom Line


The best way forward is still to focus on delivering content that your target audience is searching for online. Through a combination of SEO and paid search, you can maximize your visibility in SERPs. While paid listings may not necessarily have higher click-through rates, people still see your listing and this boosts brand visibility in the long run, which can increase the credibility of your organic listings.


Making each listing stand out on the search results page has never been more important, with only half the time to convince users to click on your link. Titles and meta descriptions, Google Local Listings, and rich snippets will improve the visibility and perceived relevance of your content. Keep these factors in mind and you can make sure your customers see you before anyone else.