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The Changing Landscape of the Mobile Search Engine Results Page

By Seth Hale | Digital Marketing Coordinator
a graphic design of a hand holding a mobile phone that shows google search results

Major changes have occurred over the last several years with how Google results appear and are ranked on mobile devices. It seems like just a few years ago that Google only cared about the desktop version of your website, however in July of 2018, they shifted to using only a mobile version of Googlebot, meaning that they don’t even look at your desktop site. With that change, Google started punishing websites that were not mobile-optimized, and updated its ranking algorithm to account for responsive content e.g. text, images, videos, etc. and many other things.

The bottom line is when Google changes something, it’s a good idea to pay attention. Anything you can do to help Google crawl and understand your site more easily is a smart move. A website that is highly optimized for mobile devices will be better prepared for the changing mobile search engine results page (SERP) landscape. Adapting to the changes will help you keep your site relevant even as search results change.

Mobile vs. Desktop SERPs

screenshot of a search engine result on mobileThere are clear distinctions when it comes to searching on a mobile device versus a desktop browser. The most obvious difference is the screen size. While a desktop browser allows more content to display on a SERP, mobile devices lead the way in search volume. In 2018, 58% of website visits came from mobile.

User intent also factors into what is seen on a mobile versus desktop SERP. Users searching on a mobile device tend to be seeking more immediate information and are ready to take action, or are lower in a purchase funnel. Desktop searches tend to focus on gathering more information. SEMrush found that 30% of pages that landed in the top 10 results on desktop dropped out of the top 10 on mobile for the exact same search query.

In order to keep up with search engine changes and the changing landscape of mobile search, it’s important to know that your site may perform differently in mobile searches than it does on desktop. You don’t have to be worried, but you can be prepared to provide the best content and experience for people searching on mobile to make sure your site is still getting in front of your target audience.

What Happens When You Do a Mobile Search?

When Google crawls your site, they are gaining an understanding of what it’s all about. This data is indexed and ranked. When a search happens, Google digs through the collected data to display information that best matches the search query and user intent. Knowing how these results are displayed is essential to making the most of your online presence.

How Are Search Results Displayed?

The common hierarchy on a mobile search is as follows:

  1. Advertisements
  2. Rich results
  3. Map, if applicable
  4. Organic results

A common goal is to be at the top of results for mobile and desktop searches. As Google continues its quest to provide the most relevant information to searchers, they have been introducing more rich result formats. Examples of rich format results include answer boxes, maps, featured snippets, or carousels.

The rich results formats are highly sought after as they display above the highest organic result and are more prominent on the SERP. Rich results cannot be purchased, only earned with high-quality, relevant content that matches the search query. With all the crawling and indexing of your website by Google, they know when to display your content to answer-seeking searchers.

Oftentimes, the organic results get pushed below the advertisements and/or rich results. Google has established itself as an answer engine aiming to provide the best information to the searcher at the right time and in the right format.

Ranking in the top 10 of the organic results is never bad, but if you can optimize your content to appear in rich results as well, it opens even more opportunities for you to get your site in front of more potential customers.

Advertising Dominates Mobile SERP Real Estate

It should be noted that ads are appearing differently than they did several years ago. Google has frequently changed how ads are displayed in the last decade. Ads blend in with organic results more than ever. They are currently designated with “Ad” in black next to the site URL. Previously, “Ad” and the URL were displayed in green, making the distinction between paid and organic content more obvious. Since paid search results land on top of the rich and organic results, it’s a great strategy for getting in front of your target audience.

screenshot of a google ad

Local Service Advertisements (LSAs) have recently rolled out in the Des Moines area. These spaces are reserved for home and local service businesses like HVAC, electricians, plumbers, lawn care, pest control, and more.

screenshot of a google local service ad

To be eligible for these ads you must go through a verification process with Google where background checks are performed to ensure that workers entering homes can be trusted. The reward is having a “Google Guaranteed” stamp on your ad. We have seen high-quality leads come in through these ad types. They provide the perfect combination of page placement, displaying a review rating, and the trust of being “Google Guaranteed.”

Browsers Can Influence Your Search Results

It’s also important to think about how search results are displayed in different browsers. On mobile devices, two browsers dominate the internet; on Android, the default browser is Google Chrome, and on iPhones, the default browser is Safari. In fact, in June of 2019, the usage of mobile web browsing was 64% on Chrome and 26% on Safari, accounting for over 90% of all traffic.

While the search engine results pages look very similar for whichever browser you use (Safari, Firefox, and Chrome all use Google as their default search engine), the goals of each company are very different. Google makes much of its money by collecting data and knowing as much about an end-user as possible, while Apple (the maker of Safari) makes its money by selling its devices. In many respects, Google’s interests lie with its advertisers, while Apple’s interests lie with its consumers. Therefore, Safari has been hailed as a more “privacy-friendly” browser since it is not connected to the search engine that makes money off users’ search history. Firefox receives an honorable mention, because their parent company Mozilla is a non-profit organization with a mission of user-privacy, so much of their browser is focused on combating tracking cookies and releasing user data.

While it’s unclear to what extent which browser you use influences the search results, it is clear that because Google stores more personal browsing history data and cookies, Chrome will likely show “more relevant” ads to you which may not be connected to your search history. Your search results may also be connected to all your other website behavior in general.

Whether you think it’s good for Google to have that information or not is up to you. Just know that as a user, the power is in your hands, and you can always choose a different browser. If you’re okay with Google having all your browsing history and giving you search engine results based off those, then by all means, continue to use Google Chrome. If you’re more concerned about user privacy, perhaps a different browser and search engine are better for you.

Why Should This Matter to You?

As a business owner, do you like it when people visit your site or buy your products? If yes, you should stay up-to-date on SEO strategy for mobile devices.

Google reports that 65% of people use their phone in their I-want-to-buy moments. Landing in a featured snippet can boost your click-through rate and have a positive impact on leads and sales. Mobile search is important for brick-and-mortar stores, too, since 76% of people who search for something nearby visit that location within a day.

Have a clear understanding of mobile search and allow it to influence your digital marketing strategy. SEO is an ongoing effort as the landscape continuously changes. Write for your target audience and see what opportunities exist to land in the rich results of a Google search.

What’s Next in Mobile Search?

“Hey, Siri…”

“Ok, Google…”


Voice search will become the next important feature for SEO on smartphones and voice search devices. Writing content with a conversational tone and focusing on user intent will go a long way with voice search optimization. Data is suggesting that voice search could account for 50% of all searches in the next two years and that 30% of searches will be done on devices with no screen. Voice queries that begin with “how,” “what,” “when,” “where,” “can,” and “who” are some of the most popular voice searches.

The landscape is changing for how people find information, but the core of good SEO is to provide quality content that adds value to those searching for answers.

Stay Relevant With Mobile SEO

See if your website is mobile-friendly with this free tool from Google. If you don’t like what you see or need help navigating Google Search Console or Analytics, our team of experts is ready to lend a hand! We have a knowledgeable group of developers, designers, digital marketers, and PPC strategists to help grow your business and stand out on the wild, wild web.

Seth Hale

After growing up in Indianola, Iowa and leaving briefly only to return to Simpson College (a real townie move), Seth earned a degree in public relations and now helps his clients with SEO, digital advertising, and social media. When he’s off the clock, you’re sure to find him spending time with his wife and dog, creating his own art on Adobe Illustrator, or watching an NBA game.