Google’s New Look for the New Year

Posted: January 5, 2022

Chriss Thompson Vice President of Media & Process Excellence

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How Google is Radically Changing Search Engine Result Pages in Higher Education….For the Better?

3 min. read

You can always count on Google to keep things interesting.

Just a few short hours into 2022, Google is rolling out BIG changes to their Search Engine Results Pages (SERP) for Higher Education. The new layout stands to impact everything from an institution’s online visibility, web traffic, and organic presence to how prospective students move through the decision-making journey in their search for information. 

As questions regarding the value of a college education dominate the news cycle and as COVID continues to ravage on-campus and online learning plans for institutions around the world, Google is taking real tangible steps in organizing information in the SERP. 

Spot the Difference

In the example below, you’ll see the previous SERP structure using a specific Branded term. The usual branded search results (home page) is showing in position 1, sitelinks for highly trafficked pages for the site appear below, along with “People Also Ask” results. 

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Further down the page, you would typically see Google Maps results, Image results, then finally, the Organic search results and Related Searches.

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Rolling out now is a completely new design with specific and prominent links to Admissions pages, Costs, Programs, and more. 

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In the right rail, we see very clear college facts sections and new structured data for enrollment figures, tuition costs, and income data. Back in the center section, we now are seeing consistent IPEDS data links to common programs, along with new top outcomes info connected from LinkedIn. 

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And as before and further down the page, we’re seeing traditional Organic search results, Images, and Related Searches.

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Okay, Google: Why the Change?

It is too early to know exactly why Google has made this change, but there are several theories. 

First, the continued growth of listing aggregator sites (think Niche.com) means that university websites can get outranked for certain terms – including their own brand name – in the SERP by those types of sites, just based on the nature of the Google algorithm. So this might be a reaction to that – giving the institution itself more real estate in the SERP and better overall visibility on their brand terms. 

Another reason might be in response to COVID and general questions about the value of a degree. With Google formatting the SERP in this way, it gives the institution the opportunity to better showcase results, link to other credible sources, such as IPEDS and LinkedIn, and gain more control over their organic presence overall, as long as the institutions themselves are willing to take that control and adequately manage all of their organic listing sources, including their primary domain. 

What it Means for Higher Education

With respect to the impact on audience behavior, the change will likely be a net positive, overall. 

Google Search is still a major source of information in the college selection process. And with Google making such viable and trusted data sources an integral part of the SERP through these layout changes, it means that searchers will have more direct access and be less susceptible to sources of erroneous, questionable, or perhaps less trusted third-party information.

These changes are some of the biggest seen for Higher Ed in quite some time. Given the potential impacts to our clients (and prospective clients) with these changes, we will be keeping a close eye on these over the coming weeks and months. And stay tuned for future news on the impacts we’re seeing with paid media campaigns and organic SERP rankings as well.

Chriss Thompson, VisionPoint’s Director of Media & Optimization, helps institutions use Google’s ever-changing technology to innovate their enrollment marketing strategies. Contact us to set up a call to discuss how we can help you stay competitive and thrive in the midst of Google’s latest changes. We’re on a mission to help higher ed institutions succeed.