August 18 Algo Update: The Cyclone Before The Storm

Around August 18, just prior to the August Core Update announcement, MozCast recorded extremely high temperatures, peaking at 127°F. This stood out even compared to August’s unusually high ranking-volatility and the Core Update itself (so far).

Screenshot showing MozCast temperatures from August 11th to 24th

While it’s easy to lump this volatility into the August Core Update, we recorded a distinct and probably unrelated event — a massive drop in indented results on page-one SERPs.

Indented results drop 50%

An indented result in Google is any organic result that’s grouped under another, higher-ranking result from the same domain. For example, below is a screenshot of a search for “Excalibur” that pulls up Wikipedia pages for both the sword and the film.

Screenshot of the Wikipedia ranking search results for the keyword 'Excalibur'

Between August 17-19, the percentage of page-one Google SERPs with indented results in the MozCast 10K tracking set dropped from 24.10% to 12.04%, as shown below.

Screenshot of evident drop in indented results from August 17th to August 19th

Half (almost exactly 50%) of SERPs with indented results lost them over this two-day period, and that loss has not recovered as of the writing of this post.

Indented = Promoted organic

Here’s why this matters and why this change shook up the SERPs: Indented results are often (not always) promoted from lower-ranking organic results. Consider this indented result from a search for “banquet halls” in Portland, Oregon, on August 17.

Screenshot showing the ranking search results for the keyword 'banquet halls'.

These two results effectively ranked 1st and 2nd. On August 20, the indented result (now a stand-alone organic result) dropped to 4th place, with a Places Pack and People Also Ask feature between 3rd and 4th, resulting in a substantial vertical drop.

And below is a set of indented results from a search for “green card renewal” on August 17.

Screenshot showing the ranking search results for the keyword 'green card renewal'

These results effectively occupied the 1st through 3rd positions. As of August 25, these results were split into 1st, 3rd, and 5th, with a People Also Ask feature before the 5th result.

Long-term trends (18 months)

While we can’t predict the future, this drop is consistent with a long-term trend. The graph below shows the percentage of page-one Google SERPs with indented results over the past 18 months.

Graph showing the drop in percentage of page-one Google SERPs with indented results over the past 18 months

The most recent drop is squeezed at the very end, but there was also a sizable drop at the end of July 2022 and a steady decline in the year since then. Keep in mind that Google had only reinstated indented results a few months earlier (at the end of 2021). This trend could reverse, of course, but my hunch is that Google’s initial roll-out was too aggressive.

Since this is effectively a re-ranking layer and doesn’t seem to be connected to the quality of individual results, there’s not much you can do about it. It’s like the car next to you at the stoplight turning down their music. Whether you like the song or not, they control the volume.

The volatility itself can be frustrating and adds to the noise of an already loud summer, but this shake-up should not impact your primary ranking for any affected SERPs. In some cases, if you were ranking below someone else’s intended results, you may even see minor gains. As always, keep your eyes open, monitor your organic search traffic, and try not to panic.

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