While the search industry is abuzz about the recent change to the desktop SERP, another change went largely unnoticed by the industry months ago. Back in November 2015, Google updated the SERP for tablets after updating the mobile SERP only a few months prior.
The new tablet format has block listings with no side rail. Additionally, the local map pack became much larger with the update, and in some cases takes up the entire SERP view above the fold, pushing organic listings out of sight.
Changes to Tablet Layout Resulted in Big Performance Shifts
This change was a major contributor to the 14% year-over-year decline in tablet organic search traffic noted in our Q4 2015 DMR.
Dissecting the impact, the new tablet layout has led to an increase of the local map pack showing up between the ads and organic listing.
When looking at brand query traffic across a large sample of Merkle organic search clients, we saw a steep decline in tablet CTR in early November, which would coincide with the new tablet layout roll out.
Interestingly, all three device types saw another decline in organic CTR in early December. While increased paid search competition during the holiday shopping season and more enticing deals featured in paid search ad copy might have had some impact on organic CTR, it’s also possible Google dialed up the frequency of how often the local pack shows during this time.
When we look at just tablet traffic and break out our brick-and-mortar retail clients from our online-only brands, we see a sharp difference in CTR trends at the beginning of the holidays. While brick-and-mortar brands saw further declines in December, online-only brand CTR leveled off and even improved slightly from late November.
To better understand how the local pack could be impacting tablet traffic, we limited our analysis to brand traffic heading only to the homepage.
Interestingly, while tablet CTR for links to the homepage on branded searches was much more comparable to desktop in October, tablet CTR is now nearly identical to that of mobile. This indicates that the updates to tablet search layout brought tablet click behavior much more in line with mobile devices.
Similar Story to Mobile Changes
These shifts in performance are very similar to those observed on mobile devices earlier in 2015.
Last August, we reported that the local map pack update on phones had a negative impact on organic CTR and ultimately organic traffic to sites, particularly for brand queries. This impact was felt more by our brick-and-mortar retail brands than others.
The data suggests users adapted their user behavior to the new SERP and are now less likely to click on traditional organic listings. The impact was felt across the industry as we noted a major slowdown in YoY mobile organic growth in Q3 due to the map pack affecting brand traffic and the addition of a third mobile ad impacting non-brand traffic.
While tablet traffic can sometimes be treated as the forgotten middle child of the three devices, it’s important to be aware of what can be impacting your site traffic. SEOs should be keenly aware of how each device behaves on each engine, particularly when something is negatively impacting brand traffic like this.
Now, it’s understandable that marketers have to prioritize their efforts to maximize return, and with desktop and mobile making up the vast majority of traffic many people tend to focus there. However, it’s important to keep tabs on tablet performance because, whether tablet makes up 5% or 25% of your traffic, it’s a percentage of traffic that you cannot afford to lose and your stakeholders will want an explanation if you do.
Thus, take the time to understand how these changes are impacting your performance, and focus on ensuring that local listings are uptodate.