April 24th, 2018

If you’ve used Google on your mobile in the past week or so, you may have noticed that something isn’t quite right. The ads, images and rich snippets are all where you’d expect them to be, but pay attention and you’ll realise that you can no longer go to page 2, 3, etc. Instead, we now have a “More results” button. When clicked, a new page is loaded directly beneath your current place in the SERP with nothing to differentiate the fact you’re on page two.

This pagination-free mobile format has been tested a few times before, including earlier this month. On the 11th of April, however, Google took to Twitter to confirm that it was a permanent change to their mobile site.

Example of infinite scrolling on mobile

Of course, the largest search engine changing how its central service works for the majority of its users is quite a big shakeup. It’s not the first time that Google have directly gone after their mobile users though.

Google and mobile users

Over 50% of all web searches worldwide are now performed on mobile. As such, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Google has been prioritising mobile users for some time now. The Mobile-Friendly Update was released in 2015 and Mobile First Indexing was announced in 2016, with the company rolling it out this year. These updates heralded a shift towards mobile users, ensuring that they were getting the best user experience possible.

It should come as no surprise. With a ⅓ of the world’s population set to be using a smartphone by 2020, websites need to focus on mobile users more than ever before. If Google provides a better UX for mobile users, more people will use their search engine – so the tech giant will find themselves earning more and more cash. With the introduction of infinite scrolling to mobile search, it seems as though Google is jumping on the bandwagon used on some of our most visited sites, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

What infinite scrolling on SERPS means

Being the top result on page 1 of Google has always been the holy grail for SEOs since up to 95% of all traffic comes Google’s first page. This fact led to the somewhat overused joke that the best place to hide a body was on page 2 of Google – the next best place being page 1 of Bing. With the introduction of infinite scrolling on their mobile site, Google has effectively destroyed the idea of pagination… or have they?

While the infinite scroll feature is more reminiscent of our social feeds than it is of a search engine, we find it hard to imagine searchers entirely abandoning the concept of ranks. While there are no longer any pages per se, users are still likely to be more attracted to the results above the fold. As such, hitting the #1 spot should still be the top priority among SEOs. Infinite scrolling doesn’t negate the fact that users are more likely to click on the first results they see. Aside from that, what will the impact of Google’s new mobile search be for users and SEO?

Good for SEO?

While the top spot in the rankings will still be most valuable for webmasters, there are some impacts of the new mobile layout that are likely to affect SEO. Firstly, infinite scroll is likely to expose people to far more content as they will scroll further down SERPs.

Social media platforms use the technique frequently to expose users to more content keeping them reading, liking and sharing for longer. Introducing this feature to mobile SERPs will work in a similar way, with searchers reaching the fourth or fifth page of the search results without even realising it. Therefore, the consequences of your site ranking lower will be less obvious. It’s possible that we could be seeing a world where your site could be on the third page, but still see almost as many conversions as it would from being on page one.

If rankings become less important thanks to the update, schema markup and the use of rich snippets will take centre stage. Rich snippets are those pieces of extra information found beneath title tags in SERPs. They include, among other things, recipes, star ratings and prices. Introduced in 2009, rich snippets are inserted through the use of schema markup. With this update, it’s more important than ever for sites to take into account how they appear in search to prevent users from scrolling past them. If your site doesn’t make use of schema, the infinite scrolling update may be the trigger needed to ensure you include it in your code.

The actual effects of Google’s infinite searching are yet to be fully realised. However, we should remember that the average user is impatient. They are still more likely to click on the results that they see initially, so climbing Google’s rankings is still important. Furthermore, thanks to the ‘more results’ button, Google have emulated the feeling of clicking through to a second page – so those initial results are still the most important.

Bad for users?

There has already been a backlash against the update from users on Twitter. People have referenced the fact that there is “No reference point for where you might find a result you scrolled past but wanted to go back to” and that “There is no back/previous button”. The lack of these features will undoubtedly make it difficult to research and keep a tab of results on Google mobile.

However, the question must be asked as to how many people will actually be using their mobiles to do a lot of research that would require multiple back and forth visits to the SERPs. If anything, this could act as a major UX improvement, with searchers finding it easier to scroll through results to find the best answer to their initial query. It’s been found that online shoppers spend more time reading through results on sites that make use of infinite scrolling. Perhaps Google is attempting to emulate this, ensuring that people stay on Google for longer and that they find it easier to get answers to their search queries.

Although a better UX may be one of Google’s goals in the introduction of infinite mobile scrolling, we’ve noticed one particular drawback to the update. For some searches, the endless results seem to lead to endless ads. While ads have always been a feature of Google’s SERPs, with infinite scrolling, certain searches – notably those for fashion products – are peppered with adverts. As infinite scrolling makes users more likely to scroll for longer, they’re also likely to be exposed to more ads. Of course, this benefits Google, but it quickly becomes frustrating for users.

The response

We’ll have to wait a little longer before we start to see the long-term impact of the infinite scrolling update. Despite the panicked responses of a few SEOs, we can’t imagine that the update will be too difficult to adapt to.

Although the main focus of SEO will still be to increase your site’s ranking, click through rate will become a particularly important consideration. You’ll need to start taking measures to encourage people to go from the SERPs onto your site. This means that we’ll have to focus on delivering great content, relevant and valuable to the search queries of users. At the same time, accurate, attractive metadata, as well as rich snippets, will grow in importance even more – users will see your site, but you have to convince them to click.

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