Earlier this month, Google updated the appearance of its search engine results pages (SERPs) and the whole world did a collective pug head-tilt of puzzlement. Something was definitely different, but what exactly?
Here’s the lowdown on what Google changed, what you can do about it and our best guesses as to some of the motivations behind it.
The first thing that’s immediately noticeable is the absence of yellow highlighting around ads. Ads at the top of the page used to be completely highlighted with a dull yellow. Now, that shading is gone, replaced by a small yellow box that says “Ad.”
In Google’s defense, this change is in line with the way the rest of the Internet has evolved to incorporate sponsored content. On Facebook, for example, ads are only distinguished by a tiny gray word, “Sponsored,” under the name of the page that’s paying for them. On Twitter, ads look just like normal tweets, except for a tiny yellow arrow and a line of text that reads, “Promoted by XXX.”
Google’s new format for ads is actually strikingly similar to Twitter’s setup. The redesign is at least partly an attempt to keep the SERPs looking current and in line with Google’s major competitors.
But, Google hasn’t succeeded as a company by ignoring the bottom line. Its skillfulness at combining usability improvements and revenue boosters is truly unparalleled. It’s no mistake the ads now look much more like organic listings, the goal being to trick people into clicking on them. This, of course, adds money to Google’s coffers and also makes advertisers happy.
The change also makes it that much harder for e-commerce businesses to compete online without paying Google for search advertising. The reality is most businesses will have to devote an increasingly large budget to Google AdWords.
Google’s redesign has also changed the look of organic search results, most importantly altering the size of titles. The font size is now larger even though the overall space on the page allocated to each title hasn’t changed. That means many old title tags are now being cut off.
The old trick of keeping titles under 70 characters isn’t going to cut it anymore. Google now determines how much of a title tag to display based on pixel size. Since different characters can have widely different pixel widths, it’s almost impossible to establish a character limit that will ensure titles aren’t cut off.
This problem isn’t new, though. During the past few years, SEO junkies have surely noticed ads creeping down the right side of the SERPs, often cutting off title tags under 70 characters long before this redesign.
What You Can Do About It
Though it’s impossible to pick an exact number, a good rule of thumb is to keep titles under 58 characters long. This should make sure your whole title shows up post-redesign, even if ads are running down the right hand side. Avoid writing titles in all caps. Not only does it take up an unnecessary number of pixels, but it looks spammy, too.
Screaming Frog, every SEO professional’s best friend, has updated its crawler to include title pixel width. It’s a good idea to run a quick audit of your site and to rewrite any titles that clock in at more than 512 pixels.
Ultimately, this change to the organic results is going to challenge marketers to be more succinct, as they now have to communicate the same information in fewer words. While it certainly presents a challenge, this redesign may actually be good for the SERPs.
In many cases, the extra characters in titles that have since been lost were just used to over-optimize with extraneous keywords. Cutting down titles aids Google’s overall efforts to combat spam and keyword stuffing. Short and simple titles that aren’t cluttered up with inessential keywords make for a better search experience for the user.