Key Changes to the Google SERP: What You Need to Know Mid-2016 – #SMX

“If you don’t believe by now that we aren’t serving 10 blue links, I don’t know how to help you.”

Amen, Dr. Pete, amen! It’s 2016, and the days of 10 blue links are long gone. The SERP is rich, dynamic and ever-changing. Moz’s marketing scientist, Dr. Pete Meyers, takes the SMX Advanced 2016 stage to overview recent key changes to the search engine results pages that we need to keep in mind as we make SEO magic.

Today’s SERP: You Never Know What You’re Going to Get

There are some desktop queries for which the first organic result doesn’t show up until Page 2. In mobile, rich search is even more prolific.

Featured snippets are also becoming more prolific. Some SERPs feature organic search and paid ads before you get to organic result one.

More Space for Title Tags

Across the 90,000 URLs Meyers studied, the average character cutoff was 63 characters.

The shortest title tag Meyers found was 34 characters with a brand tag added by Google. On the opposite extreme, one title tag had 77 characters displayed. There’s a wide variance for what can fit in the title tag within the margins of a search result column. Our guideline right now is <60 characters. Don’t obsess about it, though. It’s 0kay if things get cut off.

Also, there’s more space on mobile for title tags, because entries are getting two lines rather than one.

Google recently tested black links instead of blue, as well as green ad boxes. The green ad boxes stuck around.

Google SERP with green ad boxes
Green color on ad indicators in Google SERP

The black text, however, is not the new blue. Google tests thousands of things all the time — these are not things to worry about. Should Google change all the links to pink, Pete advises us to have a beer and take a nap. #NoBigDeal

Four Ads on Top

In February 2016, 40% of the SERPs had right-side ads — then it went to zero. The number of SERPs that had ads on the bottom of the page jumped from 10% to 40%.

The result? We’ve lost vertical space for organic listings:

Distribution of Top-ad counts
Distribution of top-ad counts across pages 1 to 4 in Google SERPs
Distribution of bottom-ad counts
Bottom-ad counts distribution across Google pages 1 to 4

Getting rid of the right-hand column of ads was a mobile-first decision.

Want More From Dr. Pete?

Earlier this month, I interviewed Meyers about the changing Google SERP. Check out our video chat for more insights on SERP changes!

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Kristi Kellogg is a journalist, news hound, professional copywriter, and social (media) butterfly. Currently, she is a senior SEO content writer for Conde Nast. Her articles appear in newspapers, magazines, across the Internet and in books such as "Content Marketing Strategies for Professionals" and "The Media Relations Guidebook." Formerly, she was the social media editor at Bruce Clay Inc.

See Kristi's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (5)
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5 Replies to “Key Changes to the Google SERP: What You Need to Know Mid-2016 – #SMX”

Hey, Kristi this I took every step after knowing it from you and believe me it really does works. Sometimes it’s hard as you are a professional and I am just a beginner but you tips are the best. I personally respect you a lot and I’ll meet you some days and shake a hand with you. thanks for giving us such information in details.

Really sweet green ads black text hmm..I Hardly think the 4 text ads inserp will affect CTR…What i feel is that it will increase ctr.the only effect will be on SEO… SEO SPACE IS OCCUPIED SO IN LESS OPTION MORE HARD WORK WE NEED, TO STAND IN SERP.


Great presentation. What are the best performing featured snippets right now? In other words, what featured snippets/rich formats does google seem to favor?

Yes, SERP is truly dynamic now. Things are changing so fast that sometime it’s getting clueless about how those changes will affect the organic CTR. Though we haven’t seen any big CTR differences after 4 AdWords ads on top but many marketers and optimizers have experienced the opposite.

Hi Sonia! Thanks for sharing your experience! We’ll be watching to see watching to see how these changes continue to effect CTR.


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