We took 50,000 random keywords in the US database to find out just how different the SERPs are for the same search query on different platforms.
Spoiler alert: Not exactly chalk and cheese, but the big picture is disturbing.
There are a lot of deviations between platforms: not too many extremes, but only 13% of websites get to retain the exact same position across devices. SERPs on different devices are distinct due to different SERP features and, obviously, the screen space, which drastically changes the user experience and your website’s visibility.
With the share of mobile traffic eating up more and more global bandwidth, this becomes a point of great concern.
Our Research Methodology
In our study, we used the SEMrush Organic Research tool to look into URL Deviations and Domain Position Deviations for the 50,000 random keywords in the US database.
Picture it like this — we took snapshots of desktop SERPs and compared them to snapshots of mobile SERPs for the same query. Data on the URL Deviations shows an overall picture of how many pages lose their positions in mobile search.
For a more precise and detailed presentation of the difference between desktop and mobile SERPs, we have used the Domain Positions Deviations. By tracking domains and not specific pages, we have ensured that we are taking into account mobile versions of pages with different URLs.
How many pages lose their visibility in mobile search?
We tracked how many pages lost their position in mobile search compared to the desktop results. A staggering 30% of pages that are present on the first page of desktop search results are moved beyond the top 10 results in mobile search.
The table below shows how many desktop results dropped out of the top 10, 30, and 100 on mobile devices.
Number of pages that lose their visibility in mobile search
Domain Position Deviations
How many domains changed their position in mobile search?
The next table presents how many domains get to keep their position. As we have already established, only 13% of websites have the same position across devices.
Digging further, we counted how many domains shifted in mobile search within one, three, or ten positions from their place on desktops.
Shifting one position may not seem like a big deal, but you have to keep in mind that mobile and desktop search result pages have different scroll depths and click-through rates. Compared to desktops, dropping out of the top 3 on mobiles will take a much more drastic toll on your traffic.
Number of domains that changed their position in mobile search
The stats are very compelling. They speak to what I have been saying for a long time, that people really need to look at actual mobile SERPs to see what is going on.
Mobile & desktop are different – sometimes very different. This is especially true because things like Knowledge Graph, which show on the right in desktop, show on the top of mobile, pushing other results down.
According to SparkToro/JumpShot, most mobile searches don’t result in a website click – 62% of people stay in Google’s hosted assets. That leaves 38% of people that MIGHT click on your website and only the clicks that go to your website get into your analytics. If you are below position 1 in organic rankings, the likelihood of you getting the click goes down and down; basing an SEO strategy on this kind of shaky data alone seems crazy!
I have been speaking and writing a lot about Entity-First Indexing, as opposed to Mobile-First Indexing, because I believe that Google’s shift to Mobile-First Indexing was a move to organize information around their Knowledge Graph. You can notice how websites (‘Seen on the Web’ results) are being pulled INTO maps (part of the Knowledge Graph) rather than the other way around.
SEOs need to think about the Topic Layer likely how web content gets categorized into the Knowledge Graph. It seems like sometimes bits of information get enough engagement from web content to move them into the Topic Layer. It seems like this may be partially influenced by ‘Related Topics’ in the Knowledge Graph, as well as popular ‘People Also Ask’ Interactions.
Google has doubled down on media optimization recently because media is highly engaging content that can be searched for and accessed through regular search or voice search; this means that brands need to:
Make and optimize videos & live streams – ideally hosted on YouTube.
Make and optimize podcasts – submitted to Google as an XML feed.
Use great Images with descriptive alt text.
Launch Native Apps, Web Apps or PWAs- Indexed with Google’s new Indexing API or Hosted in Firebase
Optimize Google My Business with Info & Media
We tend to describe the bits of information that get pulled in from the Edge Layer to the Topic Layer as ‘Fraggles.’ This word is a combination of the word ‘Fragment’ and ‘Handle’ because often, when these assets are highlighted in a search, Google will open the page and scroll directly to the content on the page, as if an HTML handle or jump links were there. Sometimes these are present, and sometimes Google seems to just know where to scroll on its own.
What is important here is that one page can rank, but within that ranking, there can be a vertical or horizontal carousel of additional, clickable snippets of information all from the same page. This makes the listing take up more space and look more authoritative, driving more clicks, and when people find exactly what they want, more engagement and happy customers. Fraggles are new, but in our unscientific research, it seems like the following things tend to drive Fraggles:
Adding jump links – especially for content that is H2/H3.
Star rankings/ratings for responses.
Q&A Markup & Star Ratings for ‘Best Answer’.
Anything you might otherwise do to drive Featured Snippets/Google Answers (tables, bulleted lists, schema, etc.).
Understand how your brand and brand assets are understood by Google and the Knowledge Graph using the following tools:
Run by Google
Google Cloud Natural Language API: https://cloud.google.com/natural-language/
Google MarketFinder: https://marketfinder.thinkwithgoogle.com/intl/en/
Why are 31% of desktop search results not visible on mobile SERPs?
I read a few months back that over 50% of all search results are taken from the mobile index, so this may explain why 31% of desktop searches are not visible on mobile search. This coupled with the fact that people are designing the mobile side of things to be more about user intent and closer to the buying stage, means desktop searches tend to have a lot more information on the pages and are more tailored towards people looking for information.
Wondering why only 10% of URLs able to keep the same position on Desktop and Mobile?
Factors like CTR and a number of other things will be higher on mobile devices, simply because more people are coming onto websites from mobile devices, so those smaller factors that are part of the algorithm will have much more interaction and this could potentially result in better positions on a mobile device than the desktop. Things like page speed and mobile friendliness are also important factors on the mobile side, and again people are working that side of things. And it would also appear, according to what I read, that over 50% of Google’s search results come from the mobile index and that will increase, and then we should have a more settled bunch of URLs on desktop and mobile.
A good position on both SERPs: A “Good” Position on Desktop vs. “Good” on Mobile
I think it makes sense to have good positions on both desktop and mobile devices, as you never know where your next customer will come from, so being higher up on either of those will give you more of a chance of getting that customer onto your website. As the stats suggest, more people are using mobile devices in a lot of cases, so I would always want to work on that side as a priority, but I wouldn’t ignore desktop at this stage, as personally I still get a fair amount of traffic from desktop.
The data obtained from this SEMrush study shows that traffic to a mobile-first index is progressing rapidly, although it is probably not yet fully completed either by Google or by many websites. If more than 30% of the results that appear on Google’s front page for desktop searches are not retained in the results from mobile devices, it is probably because there is still a similar percentage of websites that have not been adapted to mobile devices. In this scenario, websites with similar content that have already implemented it win the game and ”crash” into the first mobile results.
On the other hand, we find that only 10% of the results maintain their position; this could be caused by multiple factors. It is possible that geolocation in the search from mobile devices is of high value, while it is not that important when searching from desktop computers. This means that local results have greater opportunities to appear in mobile searches, while proximity does not weigh so much on the relevance for desktop searches. In addition to geolocation, the influence of personalized results, the acceptance of the suggested searches to avoid typing further, the searches themselves, which are different when you have a physical keyboard or not, or even voice searches, all have an influence so that the order of the results can be different on mobile and on desktop.
There is a curious fact that the number of domains that hold their position is higher than the number of URLs; this could be due to domains that have adopted specific mobile versions in subdomains of type “m.” In these cases, it is possible that Google was displaying different URLs in desktop and mobile searches, although in both cases belonging to the same domain (though different subdomains). Despite this, we are also seeing in recent days URLs of type “m.” in results obtained for searches from desktop (which then redirect to the desktop version).
Given the increasing use of mobile phones to access the Internet, I believe that it is imperative to adapt all websites to mobile devices, not only to make them compatible, but to make them fully functional. Equally, it is important to consider mobile searches, different types of keywords, voice searches, suggested searches or the way in which it affects the default geolocation that Google introduces – keep all of this in mind when setting goals of visibility, keyword research, content optimization, and analysis of the results.