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Research: How Google's Desktop Facelift Affects Organic Search Results

Search is a constantly evolving element of the customer journey. From the algorithms that define search results to the design of the pages that serve those results to consumers, the playing field is an ever-changing environment, which marketers must navigate wisely. Our initial research into the affect of recent changes to Google’s desktop results page indicates a greater emphasis on user intent, the importance of a holistic customer journey, and the value of including non-branded elements in a digital strategy.

Google’s Design Changes

On December 15th, 2016, Google rolled out a new desktop search interface that mimics their modular mobile user interface. To those unfamiliar with the mobile design, actually looks like, it consists of a tabular design that highlights search features in boxes. Imitating the desktop Knowledge Graph real estate, which appears in the right-hand rail of the search engine result page, these featured elements frequently feature Twitter carousels, People Also Search For, and Top Stories (vertical and horizontal design) modules. The Local Pack and Answer Box were two of the original features of the Google SERP that were primarily showcased in this manner, but this new layout creates a previously unseen level of design consistency for Google results.

To illustrate some of the specific elements mentioned, here are examples of some of the new design elements:

The Research

Looking at 60 SEO clients spanning a diverse range of verticals and representing 60 million in weekly organic impressions in Google Search Console, our week-over-week comparison was an opportunity to see if Google’s change to desktop design impacted organic search results. Please note that we compared the weeks of November 28th through December 4th (and yes, this includes Cyber Monday) to December 5th through December 11th when the rollout officially began. Our results were as follows:

Week Over Week Variances




Average CTR

Average Position

Brand Keywords





Non-Brand Keywords





  • By far the most noticeable change was the 23% increase in impressions for non-brand keywords. This increase is likely responsible for the increased click-through rate and positions during the same time period. The increased impressions could have been driven by the increased prominence of the boxed elements, which appear to have preferred placement in the new design layout. This change could allow branded sites the opportunity to gather more real estate in the non-brand SERP if they have strong positions within social platforms and news outlets that offer the opportunity to expand content beyond their brand.
  • Brand saw a decline across the board on clicks, impressions, CTR, and positioning. While the data collected for our initial research may have been influenced in part by the increased traffic associated with Cyber Monday week, we did notice that the top stories and Twitter carousel appeared above the Local 3-Pack for a variety of top brand queries. While this may shift some visibility off brand websites, brands that increase their attention on the full consumer journey will still be able to successfully build a more satisfied and loyal consumer.

Additional Industry Insight

While we pursued these conversations and research internally, we also solicited input from our technology partner of choice, BrightEdge, asking them to weigh in on this recent change. Jim Yu, CEO of BrightEdge, responded with some additional insights:

“Google’s new desktop SERP is a sign of Google’s constant evolution of SERP results in line with changing consumer behavior. The linear customer journey no longer exists and is now fractured into hundreds of new ‘micro-moments’ where consumers are using multiple devices (desktop and mobile) to address their needs whenever and wherever they are. The recent desktop SERP layout indicates that they have changed their desktop version to match the mobile version.

Knowing that organic search results are different on desktop computers or smartphones is important because content that is believed to be optimized for high rankings on desktops may actually rank differently or poorly on smartphones. In fact, according to new research from BrightEdge, 73 percent of Google search queries show different results on mobile devices compared to desktop.

Rankings do vary depending upon SERP layout and this is why we recently introduced BrightEdge Intent Signal. Intent Signal is the first and only solution that actually helps search marketers understand and optimize for organic potential and measure what matters: traffic, conversion and revenue. Intent Signal automatically identifies which topics show organic results above or below the fold. It then goes a step further to tell you when your pages show above the fold – and are highly visible – and where you should focus your efforts to capture more of the organic opportunity in key moments that matter.”

Key Takeaways

While it’s still early to make sweeping assumptions about how this will impact organic search and SEO in the long run, we are confident that this latest Google design change puts even more focus on user intent on desktop. It’s also important to note that while the new layout has a tabular design that is similar to the mobile experience, that the occurrences and location of these rich results varies widely depending on device type. Overall, the design element changes emphasize the need for brands to:

  • Increase their touchpoints and truly be present in all areas of the consumer journey. Brands have almost innumerable opportunities to engage customers across a wide variety of search mediums including local, video, quick answers, images, maps, and more. A successful organic search strategy weaves these tools together to ensure relevant contact with the target customer, whenever and wherever he or she chooses to search.
  • Unlike a mobile result where users are most commonly concentrating on location-based needs, desktop search is an answer engine for users looking to expand their knowledge. Content expansion and long-form answer-based copy can boost visibility for improved Desktop CTR and overall conversion.  
  • Lastly, don’t underestimate the power and necessity of non-brand in your digital strategy. Non-brand searches are a great opportunity for brands to expand their upper funnel through quick answers. Quick answers build trust and authority that can lead to “new to file” increases in the future.

As always, the iProspect team will continue working to keep you ahead of the curve on the ever-evolving search landscape. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about how you can activate these strategies for your own brand, please reach out to your SEO team to learn exactly how these insights and best practices can be applied to improve your organic search performance on Google’s redesigned desktop SERPs.