Introducing the Google “SERP App” and why you should care

Google seems to always be experimenting with their search engine result pages (SERPs). This is true for both desktop and mobile SERPs. There’s so many variations it’s hard to keep up with them. The latest trend has been converting results into cards, which presents all kind of new possibilities for Google.

With all of Google’s experiments, one thing has remained the same, they continue to move towards a path of keeping you on their properties. I first wrote about this in early 2014 in my post How Google is becoming the new AOL.

For those reasons and others, it came as no surprise to me when I was using iOS’ Safari on my iPhone and found myself presented with my first Google SERP App. I call it an app, because that’s exactly what the experience feels like. I become trapped inside a search within a search — a kind of Google inception — and each click brings me a new experience, on Google.

I had done a search for when is the next episode of the circus (a political show on Showtime). The first result was the familiar answer box. Then the fun began when I clicked the arrow to reveal more results.

My iOS Safari browser page changed into something I’ve never seen before. I was locked into what looked like a single-purpose app for displaying tv episodes.

As you can see, it’s like no other Google SERP you’ve ever seen. Scrolling to the bottom ended with Episode 1, and scrolling back to the top ended with the furthest known expected episode that has yet to air.

I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know what to do next. Tapping on an episode didn’t do anything. So I tapped on the new and apparently secondary search input field that said Episodes, and that’s where my adventure began. I started typing Marc and the auto-suggestions came up. I tapped on marc maron.

That brought me to what appeared to be a Knowledge Graph result. However, I was still in their SERP App — the search within a search!

I continued down the SERP App rabbit hole. I mean why not, there’s no where else for me to navigate to except back. I scrolled down and they presented me with a list of similar comedians. I saw Louis C.K. and clicked on him. It then showed me his Knowledge Graph results, but this time I had new navigation options.

It was like I was on his website or was using AN APP! I tapped on Events and was presented with his upcoming shows.

I tapped a few more times on different things, but I probably could have stayed in their SERP App forever. I eventually escaped by clicking on a link to a site.

So why should you care? Great question and thanks for reading this far down the page. These are the reasons you should care:

  1. Answer boxes and knowledge graphs scrape info from your site and present the answer to the user without the need to visit your site.
  2. Turning the search experience into a browsable app of endless possibilities means Google is scraping and presenting content from dozens — perhaps occasionally hundreds — of sites during any given session. That means none of those sites are getting any traffic and the SERP App appears to be designed to trap you in it until you find your answer(s).