What the SERPs Tell Google, But Don’t Tell You!

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One thing that really got me thinking at Pubcon was what Google tells itself that we never have access to.  There is the Google toolbar which tells Google information like total time on site by page vs. Analytics which only tells us the time on our sites.  The toolbar tells Google information that we don’t have access to with Analytics and also compares it to our competitors sites and pages.  This information is something that can play a vital role in our own SEO efforts, but unfortunately is also information that we will probably never get to know.  So what else is Google looking at, or can Google look at that we don’t have access to?  The SERPs.

Yes, we know where we rank in the SERPs, but have you actually looked at the SERPs themselves?  They tell Google a ton of information that we don’t get access to.  Let’s look at what Google has hidden in plain site and how it can effect your SEO without you ever getting the data.  Then we’ll go over some ways to help solve some of these issues.

The Magnifying Glass.

Google SERPs Blue Widget
Google SERPs Blue Widget

If you do a search you’ll notice a magnifying glass next to the Title Tags links in the indexes.  When you scroll over the magnifying glass you’ll see that a preview of the site in the SERPs show up.  This preview is able to show the person what they will find if they click on that listing.  If the person looks and then clicks through to the site, it tells Google that this was a good page to show for that particular search term.  If the person looks but doesn’t click through, this may tell Google that people are not interested in the site or that your page/site is not relevant for that particular query.  Having an end user see the page and not click through is a very scary thing for webmasters, especially because Google is watching how people react to getting a preview of the sites in the SERPs.  If seeing the site isn’t enough to convince the person to click through, that is a large warning sign of the potential quality of the site for that particular search term.

The Gold Stars.

You may see clear and gold stars next to some of the SERPs.  These stars say that a person likes or finds value in that particular result.  When a person clicks on the blank star it turns gold.  Think of this gold star like bookmarking.  When the person runs a search query, the sites that have the gold stars tend to start showing up more.  It isn’t organic but it keeps bringing people back to your site.  Google also probably counts the people that click on the stars (bookmark your page) vs. your competitors and use it as a search signal when deciding what to show to people with similar search patterns, etc…

The Similar Link next to Cache.

SERPs Similar Link
SERPs Similar Link

If you click on the similar link next to the cache link in the SERPs, you’ll see it pulls up a similar search result for the page that had shown up.  What this could tell Google is that your page was close to what the person was looking for, but at the same time not exactly right.  Instead the person thinks that they need something similar.  This could tell Google that your site is at least relevant for the term, but not what the end user is looking for.  This may help Google categorize you better as well as hurt you for certain keywords and phrases.  If the person clicks similar then goes to your competitors pages and spends more time or makes a conversion, Google may start to show their pages more in the SERPs.  Similar can be good and bad, the problem is that we don’t know exactly how Google uses it.

The Google Chrome Blocklist.

So this really isn’t part of the SERPs, but it is scary that people can say to not show your pages or site.  This is a huge warning factor for Google that a page or site isn’t good.  If enough people start blocking your site, Google may start to lower you in the SERPs or remove you completely.  One or two blocks won’t do much, but if you get a few thousand or more, that can definitely start to have an effect on your SERPs.

So what can you do with this unknown information?  Make your site better for your end users.

The appearance of your site and relevancy of the search terms.

Think about what your page looks like and what search terms you are trying to optimize it for.  Is it to sell a product or a product category?  Is your page about a certain topic and do you clearly display something relevant to that topic for the preview?  If you are selling a brand and not a particular product, you should try to find a way to show that brand and the assortment of products you have for that brand while not creating a long load time or making it overwhelming for your visitors.  If you are topic heavy, think about what images may represent that topic and incorporate them into the site for the previews.  By doing this you’ll help to entice more click throughs from the magnifying glass.

How does your site load and is it always visible?

If people cannot see your site or it takes a long time to load, people may not want to come back or bookmark it.  They may know what is supposed to be there from the magnifying glass or cache, but if they can’t see it when they get there because you only have flash or java, they may leave for your competitors and bookmark their pages instead of yours.  This lack of usability on your site can hurt specific page rankings for all keywords because your users could not see your pages.

Does your page load well or provide a great user experience?

The better the user experience or the more you can engage your visitors, the more likely they are to bookmark your pages (click on the star) and sites so that when they search for similar phrases they can find your site again.  If your page doesn’t load well or people cannot access the information on your page, then they may not mark it as a good site to come back to.  If they mark your competitors sites with the gold stars because their site was a better user experience, loaded well and gave them the information they were looking for, etc… Google will start to want to show them above you based on people giving their site a vote and not voting for your pages or site.

There are a ton of things that the SERPs tell Google that many of us don’t think about.  It all comes back to how well we treat our end users.  If you optimize for a specific term, do you show a page and layout that provides the proper imagery and is it designed well enough to entice a click.  Do you provide copy and information that would make a person want to bookmark your site and is your page design relevant for a particular search term term or phrase.  Look at what Google offers end users in the SERPs and think about how to optimize your pages for those search tools.  They may not count for a ton of the algorithm, but they can make a difference on whose page shows up where when there are two sites and pages with similar authority, content, etc…

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4 thoughts on “What the SERPs Tell Google, But Don’t Tell You!”

  1. Hi Adam,

    One sentence in your post explains why what Google does or may do is so seriously dangerous to both those searching and those who want to be found:

    “So this really isn’t part of the SERPs, but it is scary that people can say to not show your pages or site. This is a huge warning factor for Google that a page or site isn’t good.”

    No, it doesn’t tell Google that a page or site “isn’t good” – it only tells Google that the person who blocked the site is not interested in returning for any of a huge number of reasons such as:

    1) It wasn’t what they were looking for (but could be EXACTLY what someone else was looking for)

    2) You didn’t have today (or they didn’t happen to find) what they want. What if it was only out of stock and tomorrow and every day after that you have it? Too late – already blocked.

    3) The word(s) they searched on were too broad OR the same phrase can refer to two totally different things. That is more common than most people realize. For example, if I search for “door moldings” do I mean for a house or for my car? If someone is searching for one and decides to block all the sites that have the other will ALL of those sites disappear? They could.

    4) They don’t like you or your site because of your ethnicity / color / religion / politics / controversial writing / what it looks like and block all sites that don’t match their world view.

    Computers are NOT good at deciding on context and they do NOT know WHY you chose to block a site. It might have absolutely NOTHING to do with what the site looks like or has on it – it might only be significant to what they are searching for TODAY. (What if today they want a car door molding but next month or next year they actually need a house door molding – but all those sites are blocked.)

    We have got to think broader and further forward than what we need in the moment to see what a mess this could cause. We are left with one of two options:

    1) No one at Google is smart enough to see what I see
    2) They don’t care because they will protect their favored brands and if all other sites are penalized so much the better for the favored few.

    If anyone can think of any other option I’m all ears.

    1. Hi Gail,

      Thank you as always for commenting. Although I don’t think Google is inherently evil, this is one thing that has their end users in mind. You are 100% correct that there is no way for the end user to say why they didn’t like the site or page and why they may block it, but at the same time it could be a step in the right direction to make Google a user generated search engine instead of robotic decisions based on algorithms.

      I don’t like that the block signal could hurt a site or a smaller company and that a larger company can stock more product or gain favor faster, but at the same time the more users push for smaller companies and better experiences with a smaller company vs. a large company who treats their customers like crap, it could help make the SERPs a more even playing field. Think about all of the people who get frustrated with bad customer service, sites built in flash that they can’t see or read, etc… That can now start to hurt those larger companies. Because the larger companies also have a lot more visitors because of their retail presence, they also run the risk of more blocks if they anger their customers.

      The block list can hurt people but also help make it easier for small businesses to compete. I can see the block list working both ways and being a way for actual people to help tell Google what to show and what not to show.


  2. Hi Adam,

    Only those of us who really understand what a mess Akismet made of moderating comments – how many of the very best bloggers and commentators got blocked even though they NEVER spammed you would never think that having users decide what sites stay in the search engines was a good idea.

    There are many what are sometimes referred to as “grammar nazis” who will block any site with ONE typo on it. They would remove YOUR blog from the serps.

    Others will block any site that contains any information they disagree with or any ONE POST or even ONE COMMENT that they don’t like.

    I guarantee that my blog would be one of the first to go because Akismet flagged me repeatedly and some Twitter users block me. (Many choose to live in lala land and do not want anyone telling them the economy is not getting better or other things that are true but uncomfortable.)

    Anyone who writes the truth as they see it – no matter what side of any discussion they are on – would end up having their site disappear.

    Google’s CEO has publicly stated their intention to “clean up the Internet cesspool” by favoring big brands. Read my comment at that link on Aaron Wall’s SEOBook blog and then scroll up to see the entire quote,

    No matter what their users say or do with block signals they have already actively pushed small businesses and blogs down in the serps and with the ability to say “this is what our users want” they can remove them entirely.

    Small businesses include bloggers and affiliates who choose to promote any businesses other than the favored few big brands. If we do not collectively influence readers now while they can find us easily we will have less influence later when they can’t.

    We need to make sure that Internet users know how to find information that does not require using a major search engine controlled by the elite few. That means through having URLs saved, using CommentLuv to travel from blog to blog or Social Networks to find us

    It is very likely that the largest Social Networks will also likely censor us in the future. I am older and wiser and have a very unusual background that has allowed me to see the ways of business and the world that most never see. You can think me crazy now, but years in the future you will be looking back and saying wow, she was actually right back then.

  3. P.S. I forgot to mention that the blocks will not affect Google’s favored big brands because they can be whitelisted – just as they “un- farmer – ed” or “un- panda -ed” some who were “collateral damage” in the last update.

    We have to stop being naive and believing that Google cares what we think. They don’t. They will favor whomever they choose and blame “their users” for every change they make once they start using the block list.

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