Tracking SERP shrinkage with Raven

Tracking SERP shrinkage with Raven

“I was in the pool!,” George screamed in one of Seinfield’s more memorable episodes, which dealt with … physical shrinkage.
But there’s a different kind of shrinkage that SEOs will need to come to terms with soon.

A new trend in Google SERP results is raising some eyebrows — the shrinkage of SERPs from 10 results on the page to just 7. Dr. Pete covered the change in a post yesterday on SEOMoz:

“While, historically, it seems there have been some SERPs with less than 10 results for a while, they ranged from 1-4% of the data set. In just two days, from about August 12-14, that number jumped to over 18%.”

When and where does shrinkage occur?

It seems that when Google determines a search term to be brand-focused enough, it’s triggering the sitelinks for that brand as well as reducing the overall number of results on the page.

In this example, Raven’s Google Analytics tool is seen as the primary brand related to the keyword and uses sitelinks, so the remaining SERP results are limited to 7:

GA Config by Raven- Google SERP

How does this affect your SEO efforts?

An SEO’s first instinct might be to immediately start checking your own brand terms and consider how fewer results might impact your traffic. If this change is decreasing your traffic because of additional results now appearing on page 2, you might consider adding more branded content and building more links for them.

But the impact of this change could be just as big for SEO campaigns focused on gaining traffic from keywords outside your own brand terms – maybe even for your competitors.

If you’re attempting to get content ranking for a competitor’s brand term, you’ll now have to work a little harder. Ranking eight, nine or ten for a competitor’s keyword with sitelinks now moves you to the second page, and your new aim is No. 7 to rank for the first page.

This also applies to any other keywords with sitelinks appearing. A perfect example is Raven’s partnership with KnowEm, where our No. 8-ranked result now appears on the second page because of brand-related SERP shrinkage.

Knowem and Raven SERP

How to fight shrinkage

George couldn’t fight shrinkage on Seinfeld ( hey, he was in the pool!) but SEOs can. Keeping your eye on potential trouble means you can take steps to plan for these changes, or even counteract them. And Raven has the tools to help. Here’s how.

  1. First, add a specific tag to keywords you believe could be affected by shrinkage. Raven Keyword Manager - Adding TagsThen use Raven’s SERP Tracker tool to see where terms that trigger sitelinks are ranking alongside specific Google Analytics information. This information allows you to discover whether the change has made an impact on traffic already and monitor future efforts if you’re trying to break into a competitor’s sitelinked keyword.
  2. Create a report in Raven. Go to the Report Wizard and add a SERP Tracker Module. Click the “More Options” checkbox to add your specific tag to the report, and be sure to add both a chart and result under the Google Analytics dropdown.
    SERP Tracker Report Configuration
  3. Next, add a Google Analytics Module for Top Keyword to the report you’re creating. Change the view to weekly, and filter by your keyword with quotation marks. Once you run the report it will create a PDF with your requested SERP data that you can compare with Google Analytics information for a spot check.Raven Report - Google Analytics
  4. Add an event to the Raven’s Event Manager for benchmarking and analysis in future reports.

This exercise should also help you bring to light your own brand result pages. And since you have less first-page ground to cover, you can defend your home turf easier.

What do you think?

It’s possible that this may just be a multi-variate test or limited impact change. However, if this is going to be a long term change to Google’s SERPs, what impact will this have on your marketing efforts? Are there changes that might come from this that might not be as obvious as traffic drops? Tell me what you think in the comments.