Here’s a fresh reminder that you’re not just competing against other companies in your own industry. You’re also competing against Google.
According to a study by The Markup, 41% of links on the first page of Google search results include links to other Google web properties.
In this guide, I’ll cover what we know about the research.
It Gets Worse at the Top
According to The Markup, Google links make up 61% of the top 15% of links on Page 1.
You might be able to outrank your competitors, but how can you outrank Google itself?
By the way, some people view the top 15% of the search results as something similar to “above the fold” content. It’s like the first screen on an iPhone X before scrolling down.
The study also shares this discouraging find: “For one in five searches in our sample, links to external websites did not appear on the first screen at all.”
How They Did It
So how did The Markup conduct its study that led to these troubling results?
The company analyzed more than 15,000 popular queries. It found that “41 percent of the first page of search results on mobile devices to its own properties and what it calls “direct answers,” which are populated with information copied from other sources, sometimes without their knowledge or consent.”
Here’s an example. The Markup did a search on the keyword “myocardial infarction.”
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “How could Google return anything related to its own business with a search term like that?”
But it did. According to the study, the first four results all included direct links to Google properties:
- Google’s dictionary definition
- A “people also ask” card
- A knowledge panel
- A “related conditions” carousel with links to other Google searches
The Markup found that a user would need to scroll almost half-way down the page before getting to the first non-Google organic result.
The Study Got a Response
A spokesperson from Google responded to the study with the following statement:
Providing feedback links, helping people reformulate queries or explore topics, and presenting quick facts is not designed to preference Google. These features are fundamentally in the interest of users, which we validate through a rigorous testing process.
Sometimes, the most helpful information will be a link to another website—other times, it will be a map, a restaurant listing, a video or an image.
That seems like a far cry from a famous statement made by Google co-founder Larry Page in 2004: “We want to get you out of Google and to the right place as fast as possible.”
In fact, a Google spokesperson has flat-out stated that directing people to off-Google web properties is “not always the best way to assist people.”
Maybe Google wants to keep all the search traffic to itself.
There’s no shortage of anecdotes from SEOs that support The Markup’s research. Perhaps the best evidence comes from the travel industry.
Once upon a time, people would type travel-related searches into Google’s search bar and get back lots of organic links pointing them to places where they could satisfy their vacation needs while travel companies earned a nice fee.
Those days are quickly disappearing.
Just this past November, travel research firm Skift wrote: “The fact that Google is leveraging its dominance as a search engine into taking market share away from travel competitors is no longer even debatable.”
Wrapping It Up
A good strategy to compete against this is to ensure that your site appears in related searches like “People also search for…”
Check out the keywords in those searches and optimize your content accordingly.
But perhaps the best approach is to consider allocating more money to search advertising.