As the Google search landscape heavily changes, it becomes even more interesting to find out if it will be easier or harder to drive organic traffic to a site and discover what strong domains do to be better than others, especially in content optimization.
According to Semrush and RankRanger, YouTube generated 9% of Alphabet’s revenue in 2019. The YouTube share in the overall scheme of things increases year after year, while the income generated via Search Ads remains relatively flat (61%).
SERP features are those minor augmentations Google displays to bring users faster to an answer they look for. There is a variety of search features we got used to, starting with maps, video carousels, image carousels, knowledge panels, featured snippets, and so on. Unfortunately, countries and devices don’t show the same degree of SERP features, and in many regions, Google decided to display them less and less.
For example, in the United States, such formats dropped from 38% to 6% in 2019. It went down from 17% to 6% in the UK, and in Germany, it decreased from 4% to 3%.
Of all types of SERP features, only the featured snippet registered an increase in displays. Even though the degree varied, the positive trend is global. We saw growth across different devices and different markets, and the only case where a negative trend was registered was on desktops in the UK.
The thing with featured snippets is that they tend to favor the high authority domains even more. They are the ones with more chances to get on these spots. Eventually, all sites reaching them receive way more traffic than those who don’t because wherever a featured snippet is presented, the attraction goes directly to it and away from other search results.
The way SERP features are used and displayed depends on the search intent that Google tries to respond to in the best possible way. That’s the main reason why it sometimes chooses to favor specific formats while keeping others flat. This is, for instance, the case with the usage of thumbnails that substantially increased in March 2019 and remained flat ever since because the visual element that accompanies the usual text description of a result makes it easier for the searcher to identify the answer that best matches his expectations.
If that’s what happened to thumbnails, which I would consider to be more a sort of a SERP layout than a SERP feature in itself, the results with image boxes had a different destiny. After an initial increase in popularity, they now decrease substantially because most people perceive them as a distraction from the search results instead of supporting them. It has been proven that they also drive less traffic to a site than other types of features. You may want to have them work for you only because of their ability to impact your brand. Still, if you’re focusing on a different set of marketing objectives, you may probably decide to opt for other solutions.
It may probably come as no surprise that traffic shifted from tech sites (computer & electronics) to entertainment platforms during the pandemic. Netflix, Spotify, YouTube gained more visitors in this period. The same happened with Science and Educational sites that took over part of the audience that used to visit Reference Materials webpages such as Wikipedia and Quora before 2020.
We all know that desktop traffic decreases and that “mobile is king.” Still, this trend has interestingly changed during the pandemic, as long as many people spent time at home and feeling it’s more convenient to use their laptops for a broader spectrum of services.
Another harsh conclusion is that, unfortunately, it doesn’t matter how good your digital marketing strategy is if you’re acting in an industry or a heavily affected market by the current situation. Imagine, for example, how traffic shifted from excellent sites like booking.com to sites like zoom.com, which used to be almost unknown to many of us before the crisis.
YouTube and Google Cloud keep growing faster than Search at Alphabet. This has many implications as YouTube shifts from ads to subscriptions looking to get more revenue from that as well. Pichai said the video platform generated a $3 billion annual run rate as of the fourth quarter of 2019 for subscriptions and other non-advertising related revenue (YouTube Premium, YouTube Music, YouTube TV, and YouTube Kids).
Even if Search Ads are still Google’s bread and butter, they do not grow as fast as YouTube and Cloud.
Video is King
We know it, and it remained the same in 2021. Users still like to inform themselves through video because videos are more entertaining and easy to understand. Things exploded during the pandemic, and because many people spend a lot of time at home, traffic from desktops in the case of videos increased too.
There is a clear tendency to shift from searching things on the internet to going social and looking for information while interacting with others and discussing subjects of interest in the meantime.
But does it mean that Alphabet loses and Facebook wins? Not really. According to data provided by Semrush and RankRange, what Google loses, YouTube wins, and what Facebook and Twitter lose goes to Instagram, Whatsapp, and TikTok.
When it comes to search engines, no one gets closed to Google, but if you compare what’s going on with the others, there are some exciting trends worth mentioning. For example, many people would have expected Duck Duck Go to grow exponentially with all these discussions and turbulences around privacy on the internet. But, in reality, the only search engine that registered an increase is the South Korean Naver.
Duck Duck Go is actually famous for not tracking the users' data. Even if some people may be happy with it, others complain that they do not get a fantastic search experience as it lacks personalization. On the other hand, companies are also relatively unhappy with the advertising results because the conversion rates (usually small anyways online) are highly impacted when tracking is not an option.
Apparently, most people are more willing to offer some of their data in exchange for personalized experiences as long as the content, the solutions, and the products they receive are of good quality and match their expectations.
Because the real world changes, Google tries to refine how it uses the SERP features to reflect it, and during 2020 and 2021, for instance, it focused on featured snippets, PAA’s (People Also Ask), and knowledge packs while decreasing the relevance of local packs, image boxes, and video carousels.
As expected, there are differences per region and device that need to be clarified for each situation in part. Even if video carousels are surprisingly going down, Google is now busy with experiencing a lot with “moments” trying to offer a better experience to users who will eventually be able to reach a specific split second in a movie that gives them the most appropriate answer to their question.
Since 2011 we have experienced several Google core updates . For example, Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird created a revolution in curating quality content on the internet. People thought Google would roll out such changes relatively seldom, but we are now experiencing more and more of them in reality. The last one, for example, was released at the beginning of June, and a new one is expected in July.
As Google focuses on the search intent, when you publish new content, the search engine tests it for various keywords. Therefore, you may experience a lack of traffic in the first place, followed by a stabilization based on how your content best performs in relation to a specific topic.