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author
Todd Vura
M Posted 11 months ago
t 5 min read
Technical SEO

December 2021 Update: We've updated our 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

As Google has expanded the types and formats of search results in recent years, the makeup of the SERP continually changes to best accommodate search behaviors. 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

At a high level, here’s how the SERPs are changing:

  • Quick Answers - September 2020 marked the begin of a steady decline in Quick Answers across device types, though the downward trend is steeper for mobile. This downward trend has continued through 2021.
  • Images – Results frequency appears to be flat on desktop over the last year with modest spikes in March and a dip in September, which we’ll need to monitor to see if it carries forward. Image results on mobile are trending down.
  • Videos – As a percentage of search results, videos are trending down on both device types.
  • People Also Ask – Though down a bit from a peak in June, the data shows overall growth on both device types.
  • 3-Pack – Data shows steady growth on desktop over the year, save for a one-month dip in October; 3-pack on mobile can be characterized by exceptionally flat growth.

Quick Answers

Back in September 2020, Quick Answers dropped down sharply, only showing in roughly 15% of all searches. Since then, the result type has continued to decline, though more gradually. With growth in People Also Ask and 3-Pack results, it may be a good strategy to prioritize content that supports these featured snippets.

quick answer desktop stats 2021 - BrightEdgequick answer mobile stats 2021 - BrightEdge

Image

Image results are now being shown less often on both desktop and mobile. Unlike some of the other features 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. Whatever the cause, a year of flat growth seems to have solidified a smaller presence than image results have held in the SERPs previously.

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

Video

For desktop and mobile, video results hit their peak universal search saturation in June 2020 followed by a gradual initial decline and a sharp 5-point drop-off in October 2020. Since then, the featured snippet has seen gradual decline and sits another 5 points lower nearly another year later. While the two devices have slightly different trajectories, this category has been in lock step for the most part over the last year.  

Historically, YouTube has tended 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 led 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. On both device types, People Also Ask results overcame the dramatic dip in February 2020 to reach record heights in June 2021. Although they’ve cooled some since that peak, they maintain a significant presence in the SERP.    

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

3-Pack

The local 3-pack has become a staple in the SERPs, steadily ticking up above 25% of results on desktop since a low in January 2020, and hovering near 28% on mobile for 18 months straight . 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

Final Thoughts

The SERP landscape has changed a lot over the years, which is why it's so important to keep track of what direction 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.