March 2022 Update: We’ve updated our data to bring you the latest insights on featured snippets and universal search
Changes to the Universal Search Landscape
We know Google is constantly testing and changing their algorithm with the goal of creating the best user experiences and providing the most relevant search results. However, Google doesn’t only update the results. The SERP landscape is also constantly changing and has evolved dramatically over time.
Marketers must be quick to adjust strategies to accommodate both algorithm updates and changes to the SERPs. Because of this, BrightEdge started tracking some of the ways Google is evolving the SERPs.
Universal Search Methodology
As Google has expanded the types and formats of search results in recent years, the makeup of the SERP continually changes to best accommodate search behaviors. BrightEdge began tracking changes to the overall SERP landscape in 2019 by evaluating how often featured snippets like Quick Answers, Images, People Also Ask, Local 3-Packs, Videos and Carousels were being shown.
This research relies on the total number of keywords in the BrightEdge database across mobile and desktop devices in the United States and compares the number of keywords ranking for each category that month. Doing so, provides useful insights to track market trends and spot outliers in the data that could indicate a major update to the SERP landscape.
Featured Snippet Findings
At a high level, here’s how the SERPs are changing:
- Quick Answers - September 2020 marked the beginning of a steady decline in Quick Answers across device types, though the downward trend is steeper for mobile. This downward trend bottomed out in October 2021, and while trending up as of February 2022, current levels are still down year-over-year.
- Images – Results frequency on desktop are trending up since a 3-year low in November 2021. Image results on mobile continue to trend downward and are not at their lowest point in three years with the exception of an anomalous June 2020.
- Videos – As a percentage of search results, videos are trending down on both device types and are currently at their lowest level in three years of tracking.
- People Also Ask – People Also Ask results are surging. In February 2022, mobile results are nearly equal to the 3-year peak, while desktop results are at a 3-year high.
- 3-Pack – After showing steady growth on desktop and an exceptionally flat curve on mobile through most of 2021, a significant change to how Google handles local search drove down the search result type on both mobile and desktop beginning in December.
Back in September 2020, Quick Answers dropped down sharply, only showing in roughly 15% of all searches. Since then, the result type has continued to decline, reaching a 3-year low of 14% on desktop and 11% on mobile in October 2021. In February 2022, Quick Answer results showed some sign of recovery inching above 16% on desktop and 12% on mobile.
Image results are now being shown less often on both desktop and mobile, however, while mobile remains down and flat, desktop image results are again growing. Unlike some of the other features on this list, it’s harder to speculate as to why this may be the case. In January of 2020, Google announced that they were considering ways to improve featured snippet image results, primarily by limiting duplicative results and cross-domain references. The end result could have been a decline in unique featured snippets image results. Whatever the cause, a year of flat growth seems to have solidified a smaller presence than image results have held in the SERPs previously.
For desktop and mobile, video results hit their peak universal search saturation in June 2020 followed by a gradual initial decline and a sharp 5-point drop-off in October 2020. The featured snippet followed the drop with a gradual decline that left it another 5 points lower nearly another year later. Now, in March 2022, video results make up less than 14% of mobile results and about 17% of desktop results. While the two devices have slightly different trajectories, this category has been in lock step for the most part over the last year.
Historically, YouTube has tended to dominate these results. If you’re trying to own the video results for a particular keyword, it would be a worthwhile investment to optimize your YouTube video and your company page. Whether people conduct video searches using Google or directly on YouTube, the optimizations will help you surface your content for relevant searches.
People Also Ask
Here, we’ve seen similar experiences for both desktop and mobile where a February 2020 drop-off led to a slow recovery. The interesting difference being that the drop-off was far more significant on mobile devices. It’s possible that users weren’t interacting as much with this feature, which can quickly take over the entire screen on mobile devices. However, considering the more dramatic increases seen on mobile devices since September of 2020, it would appear that Google is doubling down on changing the mobile user experience to feature the People Also Ask snippet. On both device types, People Also Ask results overcame the dramatic dip in February 2020 to reach record heights in June 2021. After cooling off some in the 6 months following that peak, February 2022 sees People Also Ask results pushing against peak levels again in both channels.
With these results appearing in nearly 70% of mobile searches and over 70% of desktop searches, it’s definitely worth the effort to secure a People Also Ask listing.
The local 3-pack had become a staple in the SERPs, steadily ticking up above 25% of results on desktop following a low in January 2020, then hovering near 28% on mobile for 18 months straight. An adjustment to how Google handles local search that rolled out in December 2021 may be responsible for a dip in the local 3-pack’s presence in both mobile and desktop results. Nevertheless, the cross-section of location data based on IP addresses and search intent continues to influence search. If local search is important to you, be sure your mobile site is following local best practices and targeting key terms that are unique to where your businesses are located. BrightEdge can help you focus on the moments that matter with hyper local strategies that reach your customers.
The SERP landscape has changed a lot over the years, which is why it’s so important to keep track of what direction design is heading. We’ll keep tabs on how the universal search listings evolve and update you with our insights as to what it might mean for your SEO strategies in the future.