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Google Search Trends: Universal Search



February 2021 Update: As we do every month, we’ve updated our analysis and 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

While we are always paying attention to the SERPs and providing our customers with insights, 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

OK, we know why you’re reading this post – you want to know how the SERPs are changing. Here’s what we found:

  • Quick Answers – September data shows that Quick Answers are being shown less often, this trend has continued in both desktop and mobile
  • Images – results appear to be shown less often on desktop, both devices are trending down
  • Videos – jumped for both desktop (Oct ’19) and mobile (Jun ’19), but declined soon after. Now hovering around 20% of searches
  • People Also Ask – Significant growth on mobile search
  • 3-Pack – growing steadily since Oct ’19 on mobile, not the same on Desktop
  • Carousel – Desktop saw significant increase in July, though still only 3%

Quick Answers

Back in September, Quick Answers dropped down to showing in roughly 15% of all searches. This is the smallest percentage of searches we’ve seen in 2 years of tracking the Quick Answers featured snippet. We don’t see this correlating with any major updates, though People Also Ask seems to have been shown more often starting around the same time period. It may be a good strategy to target potential People Also Ask and FAQ snippets in order to capture the entire market share for this featured snippet.

quick answer mobile stats 2021 - BrightEdge

Image results

Image results are now being shown less often on both desktop and mobile. Unlike some of the other items 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.

Universal image results February 2021 - BrightEdgeUniversal image results for mobile - BrightEdge

Video results

Video featured snippets has been a roller coaster ride since mid-2020 on both desktop and mobile devices. For desktop and mobile, Video results hit their peak universal search saturation in June followed by a steady decline. While the two decives have slightly different trajectories, this category has been fairly lock step since June. Our previous theory of ranking results being influenced by usage patterns (school related or otherwise) seems to be moot as October of 2020 didn’t see the uptick we expected.

YouTube still tends 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.

Universal video results for desktop - BrightEdgeUniversal video results for mobile - BrightEdge

People Also Ask

Here, we’ve seen similar experiences for both desktop and mobile where a February 2020 drop-off leads 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. 

This means it’s definitely worth the effort to secure a People Also Ask listing. This is especially true if you have a significant portion of your traffic coming from desktop devices, but as we see the percentages increase in mobile search it would be beneficial across the board.

Universal people also ask results for desktop - BrightEdgeUniversal people also ask results for mobile - BrightEdge

Google 3-pack

We are seeing different SERPs for local-oriented searches that feature the local 3-pack. Mobile users are seeing 3-packs more often and the frequency was increaseing until winter of 2020. This should come as little surprise as the cross-section of location data based on IP addresses and search intent has been influencing searches for years. This is why BrightEdge focuses on the moments that matter and hyper local strategies for our customers. 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.

Universal 3-pack results for desktop - BrightEdgeUniversal 3-pack SERP results for mobile - BrightEdge

Google carousel results

The carousel listing is the least often shown universal search result based on our database. Remember that carousel listings are related to: courses, movies, recipes, or restaurants. With such few results to analyze, it’s hard to evaluate just what’s going on; however, desktop users are certainly seeing carousel listings far more often since July.

Universal carousel results for desktop - BrightEdgeUniversal carousel results for mobile - BrightEdge

Final thoughts

Google has changed a lot over the years, which is why it’s so important to keep track of what direction their 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.



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