This post is based on my presentation at the Google SEO Meetup in New York City in June of 2022.
On Monday I had the opportunity to present at the Google SEO Meetup in New York City, which was set up by Google’s Daniel Waisberg. I had a great time speaking with a number of SEOs from across companies about the latest in Search, as well as several Googlers. In addition, Google’s Danny Sullivan presented an “update on updates” and Barry Schwartz interviewed Lily Ray and Romain Damery from Amsive Digital about overcoming challenges with agency SEO. Both were great sessions.
And wedged in between those two sessions, I presented some of the latest Search experiments that Google is testing in the wild. I received a lot of positive feedback about the presentation, so I decided to write a post covering my slides. My presentation contains various tests and new SERP features that could signal what’s to come in the future for SEOs in Search and Discover.
Note, these aren’t the only tests we’ve seen run recently, but they are some of the most interesting (and recent) that I have come across! Let’s jump in.
If you want to jump to a certain feature or test, here’s a quick table of contents:
- Multi-source featured snippets
- Journeys in Chrome
- Discover’s “More Recommendations”
- Google’s Explore Wonderland
- The Grid Treatment
- “Things To Know”
- Short Videos vs. Visual Stories
- The Versatile Right-side Panel
- Ad Label Tests
Multi-source Featured Snippets
Featured snippets can be very powerful for site owners. Any time Google provides a special SERP treatment that separates your listing from the pack, you can end up receiving a ton of clicks. Sure, some featured snippets can reveal the answer, but based on helping many different clients across verticals, I’ve found that featured snippets can drive massive amounts of traffic when the page, article, or post is covering a topic in detail.
But that’s when there’s only one listing featured. What if there were several sources featured?
That’s one of the tests we saw running recently. Google was replacing a single listing with multiple listings. There were up to five different sources in the featured snippet and the label of the SERP feature was “From the web”.
On the one hand, this can be great for users who want to gain a more rounded answer. And it provides a greater opportunity for the other sites to gain more traffic from the query. But on the other hand, the site that used to be featured could get much less traffic. Time will tell if this rolls out, but it’s definitely a big heads-up if featured snippets are important for you.
Journeys In Chrome
This is not a test. It has rolled out already. Google rolled out Journeys in Chrome in early 2022, which can help you resume research of a given topic. While searching in Chrome, you might see “Resume your journey” show up in the omnibox. And when clicking that button, you are taken to the Journeys page in Chrome where you can see a number of helpful things.
You can find pages and sites you visited, you can view your previous searches, and Google provides related searches.
Journeys, Meet the sidebar in Chrome
Even though Journeys has rolled out, Google is testing ways to get that feature more exposure. For example, Google is testing showing Journeys in the sidebar in Chrome. That would join your reading list and bookmarks. It seems Google is trying to give Journeys more visibility. You can see this test now in Chrome Canary.
Discover’s “More Recommendations”
After seeing this next feature in action, I wrote an entire blog post about it. I think it’s a powerful feature that can be expanded in the future (beyond Discover). While browsing my Discover feed after researching products, I noticed a “More recommendations” button. After tapping that button, I was taken to a “Task Dashboard” in Discover that provided a ton of content related to the products I was researching.
For example, there were recently viewed pages I had visited, suggested articles, videos, similar products, and even the ability to compare those products. And when tapping multiple products using the compare feature, I was taken to a fresh search results page with information comparing the products I selected!
If you focus on e-commerce, or if you publish product reviews, “More recommendations” should be on your radar.
I also explained in my post and presentation that Google is expanding the functionality there. I can now track products and even get notified when there are price drops. It’s like a shopping assistant baked into Discover.
Combining “More Recommendations” with Journeys
Imagine Google combined Journeys with “More recommendations” and introduced a new SERP feature packed with punch. Maybe you could see that in the search results after searching for related queries about the product or category. And clicking that feature could take you to a “Task Dashboard” that contains a boatload of helpful content, price tracking, Journeys content letting you resume your research, and more. And maybe even the ability to BUY directly from the dashboard! Google already has “Buy from Google” in Google shopping, so it’s totally possible.
Here’s a mockup of what that SERP feature could look like:
Google’s Explore Wonderland at the END of the SERP
The next test I saw was one of the most interesting I have seen in a long time. It was originally surfaced by Mordy Oberstein, who first said “Holy cannoli!”, and then asked “What is this sorcery?”
And the next day, I triggered Explore as well (multiple times). And “sorcery” is a good word for it. After scrolling through the search results through multiple pages of listings, the Explore feature showed up. And it was super-visual and packed with content. Sometimes it showed up after multiple pages via infinite scroll, but other times it showed up after just the second page of results. And once the Explore feed ended, the SERP ended. You could not find any more listings (in Explore or Search).
Here is what it looks like. This was based on a search for Val Kilmer and Maverick:
And then I searched for the near-no hitter thrown by the St. Louis Cardinals, which also triggered Explore (but only after the second page of results). So it could trigger after just two pages in the SERPs.
And then Lily Ray chimed in after seeing the examples and asked if this was the merging of Search and Discover. That’s a smart way to think about this.
Google’s Grid Treatment – The Grid is the new Carousel
This is also live and not a test. Google is digging the grid format in the SERPs. I explained during my presentation that the grid is the new carousel. You can often see a grid of articles and images when searching for entities. It’s usually a grid of four listings.
It’s also sometimes a hybrid grid with images and articles. And tapping the image sends you to Google Images, while tapping the title or description sends you to the article. There’s no label explaining this, and I find that awkward usability-wise. I’m sure others find that confusing as well.
PAA Grid – Yes, there’s even a test of grids running in PAAs!
How much is Google digging the grid? Enough where it’s testing adding a grid in People Also Ask listings. Notice it’s not a carousel… it’s a grid. I think Google has seen enough data to know that people are liking the grid more than a carousel (at least for certain tasks).
“Things To Know” SERP Feature
This is a new SERP feature that resembles People Also Ask, but it’s based on Google’s understanding of how people search for a topic. It provides subtopics based on understanding what other people have been searching for (and what those people explore first). It expands to reveal a single listing per dropdown and it’s present on desktop and mobile. And Google has explained that it will eventually be enhanced by MUM to surface even deeper insights.
It’s also worth noting that the listings aren’t super visual based on my testing. The favicons use the generic globe icon versus the actual favicons from each site and I didn’t see any visuals in the listings (like images or videos). I’m not sure if that’s intended… or if it’s a bug.
Short Videos vs. Visual Stories (and Web Stories in General)
Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s get ready to RUMBLE… In the Google SERPs, Visual Stories and Short Videos are battling it out. Google started testing a Short Videos SERP feature that resembles the Visual Stories SERP feature. And I’m seeing Short Videos more and more lately versus seeing Visual Stories. And sometimes both are present in the same SERP, with Visual Stories hidden behind a dropdown. Oooh, burn. :)
Short videos are clearly booming (cough, TikTok) and Google understands this. On that note, check out the visibility gains for TikTok based on the May 2022 broad core update. That’s a massive surge in search visibility, which makes complete sense. If you have kids, you know it’s all about TikTok.
This Could Very Well Mean Less Visibility for Web Stories…
It pains me to say that, but I do think that’s the case. Web Stories can be powerful for providing an immersive and rich user experience, but most aren’t doing that. Many are thin and lower quality… yet they still can gain a ton of impressions in Discover (due to the Web Stories carousel in Discover mixed with limited inventory).
Web Stories are also a process to develop (if you are publishing high quality stories). There’s storyboarding, design, development, video editing, and more involved. I can see short videos gaining more and more visibility in the SERPs.
The Versatile Right-side Scrollable Panel in Search (desktop)
This test was surfaced by Brodie Clark and Kushal Bherwani on Twitter (and covered by Barry on Search Engine Roundtable). Google is utilizing the right-side panel much more recently. For example, image packs and images within knowledge panels can surface in a scrollable right-side panel versus opening in Google Images. It’s great usability-wise and enables Google to surface more information in the same SERP.
To see it in action, here is Brodie’s tweet with an example:
And it’s not just for images. Google is utilizing the right-side panel this way for free product listings and for Google Lens results. So keep an eye on the right-side panel. I expect more content to show up there.
Ad Label Tests
This next test impact both SEO and Paid Search. Google is testing a new ad label that spells out “Advertisement” in full versus just “Ad”. There are also some that have seen “Sponsored” tested as well. I think the full “Advertisement” label is great and much clearer for users. “Sponsored”, on the other hand, can be confusing for people in my opinion…
This can impact the click through rate of ads and organic listings, since a clearer ad label can potentially cause higher click through rates for organic listings (if a person is not looking to engage with ads in the SERP). Time will tell what gets rolled out. I hope this test does, though.
Inception for SEO: Favicon Test with domain name and URL changes
When seeing the ad label test, I realized I was in another test. And this one impacted the favicon, domain name, and url in the SERP listing. And I like this change a lot. The favicon is larger, with more white space, and the domain name is up top, with the url below it. I think it’s very clean and works well usability-wise. I hope this gets rolled out too.
Summary: What will the next experiment bring?
Only Google knows. :) I find SERP experiments fascinating, since they clearly let us know some of the thinking going on behind the scenes at Google. Some features may never get rolled out, while others might burst on the scene. And some features will cross Google surfaces, like Discover and Search.
Also, if you want to keep up on the latest experiments, I have some recommendations. First, read Search Engine Roundtable. Barry covers a lot of the tests being surfaced.
And second, you should follow SEOs that surface many tests:
And me! @glenngabe
It’s also worth mentioning that Brodie maintains a SERP feature timeline containing many tests and changes that are being picking up. And version 2 enables you to filter by SERP feature, date, etc.
I hope this post helped you understand some of the most recent experiments Google is running across Search and Discover (and some of the latest features that have rolled out already!) And keep your eyes peeled… new tests can show up at any time. And make sure to keep that window open if you get caught in a test. Have fun. :)
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