Google is gradually evolving from being a provider of website listings into a ‘response engine’ that seems to increasingly stop searchers from moving away from its own ecosystem.

The days of Google search results characterised by the ten simple blue organic links per page are long gone. Today, there are dozens of SERP features such as Featured Snippets, Knowledge Panels and AMP results that Google blends into its organic results alongside the classic Videos, Images and Maps integrations.

This growing array of search engine results page (SERP) real estate helps Google provide information and answers directly within its own pages, meaning websites lose traffic and data sovereignty.

Here are three examples of how and why this is happening:

1) AMP: Fast websites, lots of user data for Google

Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) was first introduced as an open source web component framework to help news and media sites create web pages that load faster on mobile phones.

Today AMP-enabled content is increasingly present in the search results, appearing in SERP features such as Top Stories and News Carousels. It can usually be identified by the AMP icon that Google includes.

The chart below, which is based on Searchmetrics analysis of thousands of search results, shows that 84% of mobile searches in the UK now trigger at least one AMP result. In countries such as India and Mexico, where mobile usage is significantly higher than the UK due to socio-economic factors, 93% and 94% of mobile searches respectively include at least one AMP result.

Figure 1: Share of mobile search results across countries that list at least one AMP result from Google.

So, AMP content now appears very frequently. And what many searchers may not realise is that when they click on an AMP result, they are not visiting the original website that published the content; they are actually landing on a Google server that presents the requested, pre-cached version of the AMP site within Google’s own closed domain, the ampproject.org. In other words, all AMP traffic stays within the Google ecosystem.

While AMP is great for searchers because it gives them a super-fast mobile browsing experience, it is also great for Google. By keeping searchers within its own perimeters, AMP provides Google with a handy way of collecting huge amounts of behavioural data that can support Google analytics and Google’s AdSense programme.

In fact, according to SimilarWeb, the ampproject.org has grown so much that it is now the 16th biggest website in the world, attracting 2.6 billion monthly visits a year. This puts the site just behind Amazon.com in the ranking of the world’s largest domains, and well ahead of Netflix, Reddit or eBay.

AMP is an example of how Google is becoming a host for information, gathering insights from the online activity of millions of online users.

2) Featured Snippets and Direct Answers: Get the answer in the SERP

With Featured Snippets, Google provides short answers to searchers’ queries in a widget box that appears above the organic search results. The box contains the key text and images from a relevant web result which answers the searcher’s question. (It also includes a link to the original web page that searchers can click to view the full information).

In many cases, because searchers get their question answered by the information that’s displayed in the box, they never need to click through to the original site.

In a similar way, Direct Answer boxes deliver answers within the SERPs in response to fact-based search queries. In this case, the information comes from Google’s Knowledge Graph, a knowledge base of information about things, people and places that has been pulled together from trusted sources such as Wikipedia and other high quality websites.

With Direct Answers, the search engine doesn’t include a link to the external website where content originates.

A Direct Answer box
A Featured Snippet

So, both Featured Snippets and Direct Answers are a way of Google keeping searchers satisfied without them having to move away from its own pages.

And Searchmetrics analysis of search results for a keyword set of 3,000 questions (such as ‘who painted the Mona Lisa’ and ‘when is Mother’s Day’) reveals that Google shows either a Featured Snippet or a Direct Answers response box for 47% of those searches in the UK – 36% in the US.

SERP Feature US UK
Featured Snippets 36% 44%
Direct Answers 11% 9%
Sum 47% of all queries 53% of all queries

3) Videos and Video Carousels: how YouTube dominates

Today people have a huge hunger for viewing video content online and Google of course understands this very well.

In the UK the search engine now integrates video within the SERPs for most searches (56.75% on Desktop, 61.19% on Mobile – data from the Searchmetrics Research Cloud database). These integrations consist of either video results showing individual videos blended into the SERPs or Video Carousels (which allow searchers to click and toggle through a larger number of relevant videos).

In Videos integrations and Video Carousels the lion’s share of videos come from YouTube. If you analyse the main keywords for which YouTube’s main competitor, Vimeo.com, appears in Video Carousels on desktops, you find that YouTube still dominates. Because, even for those keywords, Video Carousels featuring YouTube-hosted videos always appear on page one of Google’s results, while Carousels featuring Vimeo-hosted videos appear on page two or three. It is only for the brand-keyword “Vimeo”, that videos hosted on Vimeo take the page one Video Carousel.

Search visibility of YouTube v Vimeo

As the chart above shows, while YouTube’s visibility in the search results seems to be growing, Vimeo’s visibility has somehow got stuck.

Conclusion

It’s essential for web-based businesses to continuously monitor the make-up of the search results pages for their target keywords if they are to stay on top of constantly evolving threats and opportunities.