One of the lesser-known recent Google updates, far less talked about than Panda, is the so-called ‘Bigfoot’ Update, which was first noted by specialized SEO blogs and publishing platforms back in the summer of 2012. Put in very simple terms, this apparent algorithm change meant that a smaller number of URLs were getting more space in Google’s top ten of search results. This phenomenon has also been referred to as ‘SERP crowding’. A graph published in August by the SEOMoz blog illustrated recent trends in this respect and revealed that, while in April domain diversity in the search engine result pages was around 61 per cent, the trend started taking a dive right around that time. It continued its descent and even took a sharp drop around mid-April, when Google Panda rolled around. The second sharp dive occurred in early June, around the time ‘Bigfoot’ was first noted. Then the drop seemed to pipe down, with domain diversity stabilizing around 57 to 55 per cent. It was only in mid-August that a slight improved was first noted.
That slight improvement also coincided with another interesting phenomenon, which your PPC management agencyprobably mentioned to you at the time. In August, some SERPs started showing no more than seven results. The phenomenon was thoroughly investigated at the time and the experts revealed that in mid-August the number of SERPs with less than ten results posted a visible spike, up from 1-4 per cent to no fewer than 18 per cent. What’s more, the number of SERPs with precisely seven results jumped to 10.7 per cent (from an anomalous .1 per cent) on August 13 and increased to 18.3 per cent. Furthermore, of the precisely seven result SERPs, most of the top ones were branded, or collected off major sites such as Wikpedia, which also include expanded in-site links. Queries like ‘pictures of…’ displayed a top result of an image block, followed by results with expanded links—the total number of results amounts to seven, but by counting the expanded links, one comes to the good old ten.
Determining whether or not the increase in SERP diversity, and implicit drop in crowding, is difficult to do with certainty. However, there is a fair chance that, at the time, Google decided to improve its SERP diversity by treating branded websites differently than it had done before. By allowing them to also show in-site links on the SERPs they were, effectively, awarding them more space in the SERPs. However, they were also, in a certain sense, allowing for legitimate search results, on non-branded pages, to garner more visibility. At the time, it’s not possible to work out whether or not this was Google’s actual intention. Yet an increase in diversity is usually a good thing—which is why, for all the controversy surrounding them, seven-result SERPs should not be regarded in a negative light.