The Demise of the Top 10 Listings

As SEO professionals, we’ve measured against it for years … Ranking in the top 10 means you’ve made it to the first page of Google results. In an industry filled with changes, this has remained consistent:  Google shows 10 blue organic links on the first page of the SERPs for all queries in most browsers default settings. Now, it appears that a listing can be in the top 10 positions on Google, but not be appearing on the first page of results.

Instead of displaying 10 listings on the first page of its results, many search queries are currently returning only 7 results in Google. Positions 8, 9, and 10 are now appearing on the second page. While searching for [covario], as you can see in the screenshot below, Google is returning only 7 results.

After testing more branded keywords, 7 first page listings resolve for the majority of search queries, including [american express], [target] and [cheesecake factory], while [apple] is only showing 6 listings. At first glance this appears to be only occurring with branded search queries, since many non-branded terms are resolving the standard 10 links. However, as more non-branded terms are tested, this does not prove to be the case, as shown in the search results for [water].

Shockingly, the keyword [water] only returns with 5 search results. Since we’ve now discovered that these abridged results are not specific to only branded terms, and it doesn’t appear to be an issue of universal search results crowding out web search results — such as local, images, videos, and news listings convoluting — why is this occurring all of a sudden?

Sitelinks are to Blame

Sitelinks are sub-links that appear under a main listing in Google search results that channel users directly to high traffic portions of a site. Sitelinks are not new, but the interrelationship between the number of displayed listings is novel. For each of the sampled search queries, if sitelinks were appearing below the first listing, then the trailing results were reduced in number.

As shown in our examples, the keyword [covario] displays 6 sitelinks and the keyword [water] shows 4. While the connection between the presence of sitelinks and reduced results is present, there is no association between the amount of sitelinks displayed with the number of missing results from the first page. For example, the term [covario] shows 6 sitelinks followed by 7 other results, while the term [discount] also shows 7 results, but only has 2 sitelinks.

 

The Pros and Cons of Reduced Listings

The upside to this change in displayed results is that the competition is reduced. With 3 less links to click on, there’s a greater chance that a user will end up right where you want them to be. Managing a company’s reputation is also much easier since it’s not as difficult to bump negative listings to the second page of results.

The negative impact of this change is obviously that it is much more difficult to rank on the first page. Top rankings are the primary goal for any SEO campaign, so this change should not impact the current strategy. However, sitelink monitoring in Google Webmaster Tools may be more important than ever.

Either way, Google wins. By reducing the number of listings on a page, searchers might be encouraged to check out page-2 results, and beyond. Essentially, Google just increased its advertising inventory by 30 percent.

Is this the Future of Search?

Do we need to be recording not only ranking position, but what page it resulted on? That has yet to be determined, but Google has recently loosely noted a number of changes to the sitelinks in its search quality highlights for June and July, which indicates that we haven’t seen the last of changes in regards to the number of displayed results.