A Perfect Ten? Try a Perfect Seven

Posted by Melissa Cahoon

Over the past few months we've noticed that about 10% of the time, fewer than 10 results display on Google's first search engine results page (SERP). Why are fewer domains making the all-important first page of Google results? Yesterday Google answered that question:

We're continuing to work out the best ways to show multiple results from a single site when it's clear users are interested in that site. Separately, we're also experimenting with varying the number of results per page, as we do periodically. Overall our goal is to provide the most relevant results for a given query as quickly as possible, whether it's a wide variety of sources or navigation deep into a particular source. There's always room for improvement, so we're going to keep working on getting the mix right.

In a recent article on SEOmoz Peter J. Meyers, the president of User Effect, points out that historically 1% to 4% of SERPs have displayed fewer than 10 results. But that percentage jumped to over 18% early last week. While some of these SERPs displayed eight or nine results, most displayed just seven.

Meyers notes that the SERPs impacted are mostly for branded keyword searches (i.e., searches for company names). The SERPs for branded keywords tend to lack diversity in domains; that is, many of the top 10 results are from the same domain. He speculates that Google eliminated three search results to increase domain diversity, or the variety of domains that rank on the first page. He also points out that many of the SERPs displaying fewer than 10 links include sitelinks displayed within the top ranking.

What this Means for You

On the plus side, we already work with our clients to ensure domain diversity by maintaining active accounts on well-known social media sites and distributing content across multiple domains. For example, the Google search results for 'RepEquity' (pictured below) include the RepEquity Blog and RepEquity Labs sites in addition our main site, www.RepEquity.com.

RepEquity Search Results

This change could also mean a huge win for clients fighting false reports on sites like Ripoff Report, Scam.com and others. According to a Search Engine Watch report, Google is looking hard at verified data when deciding what content ranks?or not. 'Verified data in this case seems to be any source that has to go through a fairly rigorous verification process,' writes associate editor Danny Goodwin. Sites with unverifiable sources of data, like Ripoff Report, may be penalized and have a harder time ranking on page one.

It's not unusual for Google to favor content on certain domains that it deems to be highly relevant and credible. On the SERPs that include fewer than 10 results, we are seeing evidence that Google may favor well-known domains like wsj.com or usatoday.com, even if the content (in this case news) is outdated. This could negatively impact clients who may be haunted by negative press from long-ago indiscretions. If this is a problem for your brand, please contact us.


As Google continues to work on the SERPs, these tips will help you weather the storm, even if Google returns to displaying 10 results on each page.

  • Use Google Webmaster Tools to implement sitelinks for your branded pages.
  • Claim your company name on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  • Ensure all of your web sites and microsites are content-rich and optimized for search.

If you have questions about the recent changes in Google's SERPs or need help managing your brand's online reputation, contact us.