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The shifting sands of SERPs; Tuesday's daily brief

Search Engine Land’s daily brief features daily insights, news, tips, and essential bits of wisdom for today’s search marketer. If you would like to read this before the rest of the internet does, sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox daily.

Good morning, Marketers, I was at a climbing gym last Friday when suddenly a semi-familiar tone sounded off all around me.

It was a severe weather notice for Hurricane Henri going off on everyone’s smartphones at the same time. I tapped on the notice and was taken to Google’s mobile SERP, where I was shown the SOS alert at the top, followed by the latest articles in the Top Stories carousel, a map of the storm’s expected path and links to local resources — a far more useful results page than the simple, nostalgic 10 blue links of days long gone.

The layout and interface of search results pages has shifted so much, even just over the last few years: The industry had a field day when Rand Fishkin published that over half of Google searches ended without a click. Last year, I documented how Google adjusted its coronavirus-related results pages in response to the pandemic’s spread across the U.S. And, just last month, Google’s Pandu Nayak sat down with me to share his roadmap for MUM and what search results might resemble in the future.

Needs change and so do the nature of queries — it’s to be expected that the interface our audiences use to find what they’re looking for also evolves. I don’t expect any of you to be optimizing for storm warnings, but it’s always worth it to take a look at the experience offered on those results pages because, one day, they may make it onto a commerce-driven results page, for example.

George Nguyen,


Google said in the year 2020, it made 4,500 updates to Google Search. These changes can be ranking changes, user interface changes and much more. By comparison, in 2019, Google made 3,200 changes to Search. Looking further back, in 2010, we covered that Google had about one change per day.

Google also launched a “fully-redesigned How Search Works website that explains the ins and outs of Search.” In the 2021 version, it “updated the site with fresh information, made it easier to navigate and bookmark sections and added links to additional resources that share how Search works and answer common questions.”

Why we care. It is nice to see Google document how many changes it makes to Search from year to year. It is also good for search marketers to review how Google Search works and do a deep dive into the language Google uses to describe how the search engine functions.

Read more here.

The case for advertising on search engines other than Google

It can be easy to equate search marketing with Google marketing, because, well, statistically, it is. But it shouldn’t be. By focusing on Google above all else, we perpetuate a cycle that overlooks the value that smaller competitors might be offering and keeps the search behemoth at the top.

We can’t write off these smaller search engines’ failure to launch as evidence they were a worse product. That’s an oversimplification and it’s one we see Google and other near-monopolies use to justify their status as “natural” monopolies.

The dilemma is that search engines need revenue to grow, which comes, in most business models, from advertisers. And advertisers need users, which come with growth. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Which comes first: growth or advertisers? Who else can you consider for advertising:

  • Ecosia: An environmentally friendly, privacy-focused search engine that plants trees as you search.
  • Brave Search: Started as a browser and recently expanded into the search engine space.

Read more here.

Messy SEO Part 1: Navigating a site consolidation migration

Messy SEO is a new Search Engine Land column covering the nitty-gritty, unpolished tasks involved in the auditing, planning, and optimization of websites, using MarTech’s new domain as a case study.

“I recently joined the Third Door Media team to help clean up these issues arising from the consolidation of Marketing Land and MarTech Today. The new site needed someone to jump into the thick of things and chart a path forward,” writes Third Door Media’s new Content and SEO Manager.

Follow along as Corey sorts through the messy side of SEO and navigates the fixes needed to help this website migration achieve its goals.

Read more here.

The deal with title tags in Google Search, Bing Webmaster Tools adoption and the WFH schism

Get caught up on the title tag situation. For those wondering what the deal is with titles in Google Search, Brodie Clark has published an excellent explainer, complete with an FAQ section at the bottom.

Do you use Bing Webmaster Tools? Eli Schwartz posted a Twitter poll asking whether SEOs ever log into BWT. There are still two days left to participate, but when I last checked, a bit under half of respondents said, “Nope.”

“Why does everyone want to keep working from home?” “Return hesitancy is sparking friction as businesses figure out the new normal,” said Marketoonist creator Tom Fishburne.

The burden of sending our children back to school this year

“It’s enough to bring a parent to tears, except that every parent I know ran out a long time ago—I know I did,” Dan Sinker wrote for The Atlantic. “Ran out of tears, ran out of energy, ran out of patience. Through these grinding 18 months, we’ve managed our kids’ lives as best we could while abandoning our own. It was unsustainable then, it’s unsustainable now, and no matter what fresh hell this school year brings, it’ll still be unsustainable.”

The main point of Sinker’s article is encapsulated in the four-word title, “Parents Are Not Okay.” I’ve chosen to spotlight it today because, chances are, some of your colleagues are parents or you, yourself, are a parent and we are now in back-to-school season.

Sending our children back to school while COVID cases are rising, masking continues to be a battleground and a vaccine for children under 12 remains unavailable is a far cry from the improvements we were hoping for a year ago. Sinker describes it as a “monkey’s-paw situation, because, as a parent, all I’ve wanted for a year and a half is for my kids to go back to school—for their sake and for mine—but not like this.”

While we all like to view ourselves as professionals, there are things that are far more important than our jobs; in this case, the welfare of our children. These worries are likely to take a toll and businesses should recognize that, from practitioners all the way through to the C-suite. No one has ever had to do what parents in 2021 are doing, especially because, unlike last year, remote schooling seems to be off the table in so many regions.

“All this and parents are somehow expected to be okay,” Sinker wrote. Perhaps we can lighten the burden by acknowledging what parents around us are experiencing and maybe even find ways to support them where we can.

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