An interesting thing happened in August with Google. Maybe you noticed it, maybe you didn’t. Google reduced the number of listings on their search engine results pages from ten listings to seven. Sounds pretty significant, doesn’t it – almost world-changing. How long have we been referring to the “Top 10” as the apex of search engine results? Somehow, the “Top 7” just doesn’t sound like it has the same impact – even though it’s obviously a more elite group of results. But, if you didn’t notice this change, it’s probably because Google was testing a select number of keywords across a broad range of industries. That number of keywords, however, is growing rapidly. What we know for certain is that change is coming – and although the change is widespread, the number of affected keywords varies from one industry to the next.
As mentioned, only a select number of keywords were chosen for the new Top 7 search results trial. The industries ranged from financial services to retail. It’s interesting to note that almost every one of the keywords with which Google is testing the new search engine results has sitelinks (in fact, 95% have sitelinks, according to a research study by BrightEdge Technologies). This tells us that the keywords Google is testing are somewhat narrow for each market. But it is also easy to assume that this change in search engine results will become more widespread. The study by BrightEdge also showed that the number of keywords affected increased four times over the course of August. At present, only about 8% of all keywords are affected. This may seem like a small number, but it bears mentioning that the Panda update only affected 5% of keywords and that was enough to have web marketers and SEOs across the globe chattering nervously for months.
So, what does the new change actually look like? Do a Google search for the term “Twitter” and you’ll see a prime example of the Top 7 results in action – where Google returns the search result with seven natural blue link results instead of ten.
Example: “Twitter” Google Search Results
- Twitter.com (with sitelinks)
- Twitter – Wikipedia
- Twitter – Android Apps
- Twitter for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on the iTunes App Store
- Twitter – Mashable
- Twitter Guide Book – How To, Tips and Instructions by Mashable
- Twitter on Facebook
What got moved to the second page
- Twitter News – The New York Times
- Twitter – BlackBerry App World
- Twitter | Common Craft
In the Twitter case above, it’s easy to imagine that the revised placement for items 8, 9, and 10 – the NYT Twitter News page, a link to the BlackBerry Twitter App page, and the Common Craft site – is likely to cause great pains for those brand managers who have now been moved to page 2 of the Google search results. It’s also easy to imagine that this new Top 7 program would have significant SEO, traffic, conversion rate, and website performance consequences for a large percentage of sites if it was rolled out internet-wide.
On a positive note, some web marketers have said that the new “Top 7” may allow negative content in search to be pushed to the second page – especially if that content is about a specific brand. Google apparently plans to treat people differently than brands, companies, and corporations. If you Google “Steve Jobs,” or “Matt Cutts,” or “Rand Fishkin,” you’ll see the usual Top 10 results. Obviously, with only 7 results for companies and corporations, this is enormously helpful to those brands actively engaged in reputation management.
What to do next? As this change in Google SERP real estate is fairly certain, web marketers would be well-advised to take a hard look at their current stock of keywords and make adjustments. The target rank should now be position 7 and above.