Google Brings Infinite Scroll to Mobile SERPs

Google has announced a rather sizable change to the way that mobile search results load: infinite scroll. For those unfamiliar, this is a UX format where content perpetually loads as you scroll down a given page. There’s less manual navigation, given that content is “lazy loaded” as you scroll down.

This format was largely designed for mobile use cases where “pages” aren’t optimal. It has already become a standard and expected design language in social feeds like Instagram. Overall, it’s a more fitting to mobile, given that tapping numbered links to page-forward (or back) is cumbersome.

In fact, pages are largely a holdover from the desktop era of search. Most searches happen on mobile devices these days so a mobile-first SERP makes sense. And given that Google has already transitioned to a mobile-first search index it’s logical to align that principle with the front-end UX.

And to Google’s benefit, this change will de-clutter the volume click targets. That’s valuable inventory for knowledge panels, video results, Google Shopping… and ads (more on that in a bit).

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Why Now?

A question from all of the above is why wasn’t this already in place? One answer is that Google was hanging on to a structure that drove considerable revenue. There’s a certain prominence to being on Page 1 of Google SERPs, which drives incremental ad spending. That goes away with no “pages.”

But to be fair, infinite scroll still offers “above the fold” inventory. And there’s arguably now more valuable inventory in what used to be considered “page 2” (“the best place to hide a body,” as the old saying goes). Those ad spots are now more user-accessible, and thus more valuable in CPC terms.

As for where ads will go, much is uncertain but Techcrunch reports that text ads will show at the top of the second page (as it automatically loads) and beyond. Fewer text ads will show at the bottom of each page than before; and there’s no change to where Shopping and Local ads appear.

As for timing, infinite scroll will roll out in the U.S. starting today on the Google’s mobile app for iOS and Android. This means that it won’t be activated in mobile browsers, where a large share of search volume happens. But that will presumably be added as the new feature is rolled out and tested.

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Innovator’s Dilemma 

Panning back, updates like this keep challengers like Yext on their toes. Yext has based most of its custom enterprise search and Answers paradigm on challenging Google’s hegenomy. Google has a classic innovator’s dillemma in that respect, and structural changes like the above are relatively rare.

Of course, the search algorithm is constantly changing, but the UX is fairly well-established. Past changes include universal search, knowledge panels and of course auto-complete. We’ll continue to see these changes gradually going forward, as companies like Yext innovate to provide a better alternative.

That disruption will include knowledge graphs on the back end; and voice and natural language processing (NLP) on the front end. Google offers these things through knowledge panels and voice search. But here again there’s an innovator’s dilemma in that stakes are high, so moves aren’t as nimble.

That innovator’s dillema is where disruption happens. Back to Yext, that’s exactly where it’s playing. We heard as much from Yext chief data officer Christian Ward at Localogy 2021 recently in Los Angeles. We’ll leave you with that video for additional insights, and we’ll keep watching this closely.

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