The changing SEO landscape: Optimizing on-SERP listings

optimizing my website for google

The changing SEO landscape: Optimizing on-SERP listings

When I signed up for my first Experience Inbound conference, an inbound marketing conference held at Lambeau Field, I felt confident I would walk away with great marketing tips and new insights. I was not disappointed.

The keynote speakers were excellent. Michael Brenner’s presentation included practical and actionable tips about how to push back on leadership when it comes to wasting time on tactics that we know won’t work and how to engage audiences through storytelling. The final keynote speech by Tamsen Webster, aka the “Idea Whisperer,” was both entertaining and inspiring. However, I found the first keynote delivered by Rand Fishkin, Founder of SparkToro, the most compelling.

Rand spoke passionately about “The Web Search Landscape in 2019” which detailed how Google is changing the way people search and the impact this has on search engine optimization. Even more importantly, he provided guidance on how to successfully navigate the changing online landscape.

Google the Goliath

A man reads a Bible while his shadow is David fighting goliath.

Rand’s timing could not have been better. Leading up to Experience Inbound, everyone from The Wall Street Journal to The Washington Post had been reporting that Google may soon face an antitrust investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The presentation made a strong case for the DOJ. (Actually, Rand would make an excellent prosecutorial witness if Google does end up in court.)

So why is Google under the DOJ microscope? It has a lot to do with what they’re serving up in Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) these days. In the past, Google could rely on new searchers to maintain its growth. In recent years, the number of new searchers has declined, essentially stunting Google’s growth. In response, Google has upped the search engine ante via web scraping (extracting content from websites and displaying on the SERP), paid ads, knowledge panels, maps, videos and featured snippets.

Featured snippet for a cure for the hiccups

It seems like a good thing, doesn’t it? You ask Google a question and get an answer that doesn’t require any additional clicks. It’s especially handy when, for example, you have the hiccups and want to get rid of them quickly.

By using web results replacements that are visual and provide immediate searcher gratification, Google is making searching faster and easier than ever. If you need directions, Google Maps magically appears ready to help you reach your destination. Looking for a good sushi place? Google will help you find the top-rated restaurant that is closest to your current location. Trying to decide what color to paint your shutters? Google Images will show you hundreds of color schemes.

Google is so good at serving up answers to searchers’ questions that they aren’t clicking beyond the SERP. In fact, zero click searches account for 34.7% of all searches due to people not clicking through because Google feeds them information within their search results through featured snippets and content scrapping. And mobile searches have a staggering 61.6% zero click rate. Wait…doesn’t that sound kind of like a monopoly, or at the very least, nepotism at its worst?

You also may have noticed a recent explosion of ads in your search results. But you’re still finding what you need, so what’s the problem, right? Well, the issue is that those are paid ads, so you’re seeing results that are not organic and instead based more on dollars than relevance.


It may seem like an uphill battle competing against a Goliath-like Google, but savvy marketers like Rand have developed strategies that can help even the playing field. If you’re familiar with the Bible story, you may remember that David scooped up five stones to take down the giant. Here are five SEO tactics that you can use in your own giant-fighting arsenal.

  • On-SERP SEO: To gain traction in the current competitive environment, SEO experts have adapted their keyword strategies to factor in Google’s use of web scraping, paid ads, knowledge panels, maps, videos, etc. For example, Google’s snippets, such as Twitter, can be leveraged to your advantage by populating―and keeping current―your feed (that means you should be posting relevant information frequently and consistently). With Google’s own properties taking up a bulk of the SERP, how can you take back a little control and make sure your valuable content is getting the attention it deserves? Complete your Google Business profile to take back a little control on what’s being displayed about your business or organization.
  • CTR % Estimates: Click-thru rates (CTR) now play an important role in SEO strategy because if you can determine your potential CTR, you can filter for keywords that will help you reclaim organic traffic. Fortunately, most SEO tools can help you calculate a CTR estimate for keywords.
  • Barnacle SEO: Rand suggests seeking out sites that allow user-submission or guest editorial contributions. By submitting content to larger websites with more traffic, you can increase your brand’s visibility and promote your own content (hello backlinks).
  • Branded Demand Creation: To get ahead of the SEO curve, you must first understand who your target audience is and how to grab their attention. Then, by combining branded content with an attention-grabbing strategy, such as viral social media posts, compelling customer reviews or special giveaways or events, you can generate demand specifically for your brand.
  • Choose Less Coveted Keywords: Even if you can’t beat them, you can still compete by choosing keywords that are less competitive. It sounds like an oxymoron, but less popular search terms still yield covetable CTR.

The good news is that I’ve only covered the tip of the SEO tactical iceberg. There are many more strategies that can help the Davids of the marketing world compete against the Goliaths (and Amazons). As for Google, the jury’s still out on the possible DOJ investigation, but we (along with Rand) will be watching closely to see what happens next.

Ready to give your brand’s SEO a boost? Writing by Design can help you develop strategies to rank higher on Google (and other search engines). Schedule a free consultation today!

Headshot of Holly Hurst

With more than 20 years of professional experience, Holly appreciates the importance and power of Crystal Clear℠ Communications. For much of her career, Holly has been responsible for the ideation and execution of communication strategies for both internal and external audiences in a variety of industries. In her role as an associate marketing manager, Holly develops communications strategies, copywrites and provides client support for Writing by Design’s clients. When she’s not serving up marketing strategy, Holly can be found checking out the local music scene or chucking a tennis ball for her tireless rescue mutt Murphy.