Sunday, July 14, 2024

Google Ends Continuous Scroll SERPS: What It Really Means

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Google Ends Continuous Scroll SERPS: What It Really Means

Google announced that they are ending continuous scrolling in the search results (SERPs) as a way to speed up the serving of search results. Many in the search marketing community question that reason and raise questions about it. What’s really going on here?

Continuous Scroll In Search Results

Infinite scroll is a way of showing content that was popularized by social media in which users can aimlessly navigate in a state of constant discovery. It’s purposeless navigation.

In 2021 Google adopted Continuous Scrolling in the mobile search results, which showed up to four pages worth of web results before requiring users to click a link to see more. This change was  welcomed by site owners and the search marketing community because it created the possibility of exposing more sites to searchers.

No More Continuous Scroll

The Verge recently published a report that Google has decided to remove continuous search in order to be able to serve faster search results. The change happens first to desktop search results to be followed later by a change to the mobile search results.

The Verge reported:

“In its place on desktop will be Google’s classic pagination bar, allowing users to jump to a specific page of search results or simply click “Next” to see the next page. On mobile, a “More results” button will be shown at the bottom of a search to load the next page.”

What’s The Real Impact?

While Google claims that the change is to help Google serve faster search results, many in the search marketing community are skeptical about the impact and with good reason. The U.S. Department of Justice released emails showing Google’s top management colluding about ways to show more advertising in the search results.

Brett Tabke, founder of Pubcon search marketing conference (and the person who invented the acronym SERPs), offered his opinion about the change to continuous scroll:

“It effectively boxes more clicks on to page one. That will result in a higher percentage of clicks going to Ads and Google properties. I think it is more evidence that Google is on a path to a new version of portal and away from search. Organic search itself will move to page 2, and I believe eventually to a new domain.

They will move away from organic results on page one. So what is left?

1) Google Ads

2) Google property links

3) Google Overviews vomit and

4) a link to page two.

They are on a path to fulfilling all general “searches” with their own responses in some form or another. When they don’t have a perfect response, maybe they will do “people also ask” and those lead back to a SERP where they can fulfill the search with their own properties and responses.”

Brett is not alone in his skepticism.

In what can be seen as a general sign of disbelief of Google’s motivations, many people have posted their skeptical opinions on X (formerly Twitter).

One person tweeted:

“I wouldn’t be shocked if it was hurting bottom-of-the-page / top of page 2+ ad clicks”

Another tweet reflected the common perception that Google shows less and less links to independent websites:

“Why not just show one page with Google AI, Reddit and the usual culprits? Who clicks on page 2 anyway?”

Lastly, a tweet from an anonymous account nicknamed “Google Honesty” offered a harsh view of Google’s motivations.

They tweeted:

“Continuous scroll allows everyone to be on page one.

We prefer to crush your spirit.

It’s far more humiliating to be on page 6.

Pagination in search allows this ✅”

Good For Goose. Not For Gander?

While there are many voices who see dark reasons for Google’s decision to end continuous scrolling in the SERPs, there are some who see it differently.

Kevin Indig tweeted about an uncomfortable truth about continuous scrolling which is that they are not universally a good feature.

Kevin tweeted:

“Paginated SERPs are back!

I’ve found continuous scroll to be a subpar solution for websites as well.”

Continuous scrolling is a useful feature for social media but when it comes to other kinds of websites, it’s the answer to a question that nobody is asking. Infinite scrolling is generally a poor user experience outside of the context of social media.

What’s kind of hard to ignore is that (arguably) most site owners and search marketers agree that it’s a poor user experience, inappropriate for many contexts or in some cases problematic for SEO.

So in a way, one should step back and at least consider the possibility that infinite scroll is great within the context of social media where aimless browsing and interaction makes sense but maybe infinite scrolling makes less sense within the context of purposeful browsing like in an ecommerce site, an informational site, or even in a search result. Purposeful browsing demands purposeful navigation, not aimless navigation.

Seen in that light, perhaps it might have been more believable had Google insisted that continuous scrolling was a poor user experience that didn’t fit the context of search results. Google’s  chosen explanation is not going over very well.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Ljupco Smokovski

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