Google SERP Changes 2019 – A Brief History & Cautionary Tale

It’s no secret Google likes to change up its search engine results pages from time to time. Whether it’s to adapt to the changing ways users are searching or to increase click through on their ads, one thing’s for sure – when it comes to SEO, we need to evolve.

Take a look at what has changed this year and how you can adapt to keep your website visible in search.


Late 2018

Google search bar becomes fixed and changes shape

Towards the end of 2018, webmasters began noticing Google’s search bar had a subtle facelift…

We said goodbye to the search bar’s sharp square edges and said hello to a more rounded, curved design on desktop and mobile.

Additionally, after this update, the search bar stuck to the top of the screen when you scrolled down. This made it easier for users to perform another search instantly without the need to scroll back up to the top of the search results.


May 2019


The arrival of black ‘Ad’ labels and favicons on mobile

In May 2019, Google rolled out a new look for mobile SERPs. For ads, we saw the arrival of black ‘Ad’ labels over the staple green. This helped Google’s ads blend in to organic results more than ever, and it’s certainly not the first time Google has made changes to aid this.

In line with the Ad label changes, green URLs also disappeared and were replaced with black URLs at the top of the result.

For organic results, we saw the arrival of favicons (website/URL icons), placed in the same location as Ad labels.

We soon discovered that if favicons are not set for a website, Google will display a default globe icon, or in some cases, will pull a ‘relevant’ (not always so relevant) icon from a website.


Important Take-away: This update highlighted the importance of having a favicon set on your website. Not only this, but a well-designed favicon is key. To differentiate your organic results from paid results, a colourful favicon is ideal to capture user attention. Don’t rely on Google pulling your brand’s logo itself, we found instances of social media logos being pulled accidentally.


‘How-to’ and ‘FAQ’ markup

In May 2019, Google announced they will begin supporting ‘FAQ’ and ‘How-to’ structured data markup in Google search and Google Assistant. This allowed webmasters to further enhance their website’s snippets for search (where valid).

FAQ markup enables results to display a website’s FAQs directly underneath the snippet, making it easier for users to get answers to their brand/product related questions.

How-to markup provides step-by-step instructions on how to perform a task (mobile only). It can make use of text or text and imagery, and must follow a numbered sequence.


September 2019


Google tests black ad labels and favicons to desktop – Rolling out

Following on from the updates to SERPs on mobile devices in May, it appears Google has also been testing bringing black Ad labels and favicons to desktop results.

In addition to labels, black breadcrumbs are replacing green URLs and have been moved to the top of each result. (We have also seen some instances of green breadcrumbs tested.) At the time of writing, this does not appear to have been completely rolled out onto desktop, however, we feel it’s likely to happen soon to follow suit with mobile search.

If you use Google Search Console, you may have noticed that this coincides nicely with an increase in ‘Breadcrumb issue’ notifications coming into your inbox. We think this means Google is giving Webmasters notice to fix/improve their breadcrumbs to work in line with a new SERP format.


Title tags shortened

Google has also recently changed the maximum length of its title tags on average by around 5 characters. We believe this is due to an increase in their font size.


Important take-away: Though this is certainly not a critical change, it’s enough to hamper some of your optimised title tags. Try our meta-length checker tool – you may notice some of your title tags are now cut off in search results ….


October 2019


Personalised Google Shopping recommendations

In the US, the new Google shopping interface has landed, namely to compete with Amazon. Users will now be able to browse recommendations based on their shopping history and search history. They will then have the option to buy online or locally in-store (if supported).

‘Buy on Google’ is now an option to check-out shopping, highlighted by prominent shopping cart icons. Users will be able to pay with payment information stored on their Google accounts.

Initially debuted in France, it’s only a matter of time before it arrives in the UK.


Google local ‘search by photos’ option

A new ‘search by photos’ option has appeared in some local search results on mobile devices. For instance, ‘pizza near me’.

This option has no fixed position in SERPs, but appears to always be below the local pack in the search results.

This functionality allows you to scroll through photos of local businesses, and works particularly well for products that rely on aesthetics and reviews to encourage click through. In instances where good visuals are not necessarily important, the option does not show – for instance for local plumbers.

When a user does click through, they are taken to the business’s Google My Business profile


Important take-away: If you own a local business, this update reflects the importance of having an up-to-date Google My Business profile with new, aesthetically-pleasing imagery. Got little to no reviews? Encourage your customers to give you some stars. Have outdated, low quality photos? Get uploading.



Why you should care

Google is constantly changing the way it serves its results, as well as the experience it delivers to its users. This in itself reflects the importance of consistently adapting when it comes to SEO. You may think optimising your meta once means you’re all set, or setting up a Google My Business profile and never logging on again is enough – but it really isn’t. That is, if you want to remain visible in search.

Complacency is the enemy. It’s important to stay one step ahead of Google’s updates, and be open and prepared for change. If you don’t, your competitors will. Before you know it, your business will have disappeared into the background.

Today, simply updating your content isn’t enough. As Google introduces more options for enhancing your results, technical SEO is more important than ever.

Google wants to blur the lines between organic and paid search with Google Ads becoming more subtle every year. The more clicks Google Ads get, the more valuable they become, increasing Google’s earning potential.

With more Google Ads, featured snippets showing more frequently, and new types of structured data markup being introduced every year, we see a bog-standard result becoming a thing of the past.


Adapt… or be invisible

Today, PPC should be considered a normal part of your inbound marketing mix to ensure you remain visible in the ever-changing SERPs. No matter how good your organic SEO is, today, there’s so much for users to explore at the top of the search engine results that you need to cover all bases.

However, it’s worth remembering Google can only push things so far before they get push back. It’s happened before, with Google being handed a record-breaking £2.14bn fine for abusing its dominance of the search engine market in building its online shopping service. 


Adapting but still not being found?

If your website is lost in the SERPs, we can help. Get in touch today and speak to one of our SEO experts – we’ll get you found in no time.

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