Continuous scrolling has fully rolled out across mobile and desktop in Google Search. This doesn’t only affect the number of ads and organic listings users see per session, but also the performance of organic and paid campaigns. Search marketers need to analyse user behaviour and campaign performance carefully to understand the full impact of continuous scrolling–and how to optimise for it.
Google first introduced continuous scrolling to mobile in October 2021. Then, in December 2022, it rolled out a slightly different version of continuous scrolling for desktop searches in English, in the US only.
For users in the UK, continuous scrolling rolled out gradually for desktop during the first half of 2023. Now, continuous scrolling is the default experience for searches across desktop and mobile, which raises several questions:
Some of these questions will prove more difficult to answer than others and it will take time to analyse all the necessary data. At this point, we’re only just starting to get the insights we need to measure the impact of continuous scrolling.
The good news is, it doesn’t seem like continuous scrolling will shatter search marketing as we know it. In fact, early signs suggest the impact on desktop sessions could be even smaller than on mobile sessions.
Continuous scrolling replaces the old pagination system in Google Search. So, instead of having pages one, two, three, etc., the first six pages of results incrementally load as users scroll down the SERPs.
This is the key difference between continuous scrolling on mobile and desktop. On mobile, results keep loading as users scroll down the results page, which essentially provides infinite scrolling for mobile searches. However, on desktop, the first six pages’ worth of results load continuously. When users reach the end of the first ~60 results, they’ll see a “More results” button.
Clicking on the “More results” button only loads ~10 more results so users will have to keep pressing the button to load another page of results at a time.
In terms of the results pages (SERPs) themselves, early analysis shows little has changed. For the most part, ads still load in the same positions although fewer text ads appear with continuous scrolling. Instead of ads showing at the bottom of one page and the top of the next, there’s one space for ads between results that were previously ranking on different pages.
Aside from showing slightly fewer text ads, continuous scrolling could have other implications for Google Ads campaigns. Unfortunately, it’s too early to draw serious conclusions and we can only speculate until we have a lot more data.
The first thing PPC advertisers should look for is whether continuous scrolling increases the average. number of ad impressions per session. The question is, are users scrolling through more results and seeing more ads than they were previously? Answering this will require controlled eye-tracking tests or – at the very least – heatmap analysis.
If users are seeing more ads per session, this will have an impact on performance metrics like CTRs. When Google rolled out continuous scrolling for mobile searches, it warned campaigns could see declining CTRs.
“Search, Shopping, and Local campaigns that serve ads on US-English queries may see more mobile impressions, which could result in lower CTR. We expect clicks, conversions, average CPC, and average CPA to remain flat.”
It also suggested advertisers might see “more impressions from top ads and fewer impressions from bottom ads”.
Keep in mind that these comments reference continuous scrolling for mobile searches and don’t necessarily apply to desktop in the same way. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for similar behaviour across both experiences but don’t make any assumptions about desktop, based on mobile sessions.
Early data suggests continuous scrolling on desktop isn’t having a major impact on user behaviour or campaign performance. If you were hoping this update would make “page one” any less important, it looks like you’ll be disappointed.
Then again, the next time a new client says they want to rank on page one for every keyword imaginable, you can simply tell them there is no page one anymore.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. In 2018, Nielsen Norman Group released findings from an eye-tracking study showing how user scrolling habits had changed over the years. Back in 2010, it found 80% of viewing time was spent above the fold but this dropped to 57% by 2018.
Even still, despite new scrolling habits driven by the infinite scroll of social media apps like Instagram, 74% of viewing time takes place above the fold or directly beneath it.
Early analysis of continuous scrolling in Google Search shows similarly moderate results on desktop. The top three organic results are still getting over 50% of all impressions and 88% of clicks. Clicks outside of the top six positions may have doubled but we’re talking about an increase from 2% to 4%. That leaves 96% of all clicks going to the top six positions and 88% of those to the top three.
Yes, this could increase further over time but historical evidence suggests the desktop experience centres around the fold. People are used to infinite scrolling on mobile devices but this doesn’t appear to have carried over to desktop sessions.
Mobile impressions tell a different story with the top three results only getting 40% of all impressions. According to the same analysis, results ranking in positions 7-10 get 35% of impressions but this doesn’t translate to higher CTRs.
Even on mobile, the top three results take 91% of all clicks and only 3% goes to results ranking after position 10. Users are more likely to scroll through results on mobile but we have to remember that this doesn’t equate to action.
If continuous scrolling’s influence on user behaviour is as small as it appears, the biggest impact for search marketers could be on reporting. Clicks might be relatively stable but the relationship between impressions, CTRs and traffic have changed. Users are seeing more results and more ads per session but clicks are relatively stable. As Google warned when it rolled out continuous scrolling for mobile searches, this affects CTRs and we have to get used to seeing lower CTRs across campaigns.
As long as key actions like clicks and profit-related metrics like CPC, CPA and ROAS remain stable, this isn’t really a problem. Yes, CTR is important for Quality Scores but relative drops for everyone shouldn’t impact campaign performance.
The bigger problem is tracking ad performance against ad positions now that pages are essentially no more. Google recommends segmenting your performance data by “Top vs. Other” and reviewing your prominence metrics to understand how placement affects ad performance with continuous scrolling.
On a broader level, search marketers will need to analyse the long-term implications of continuous scrolling. So far, the impact is minimal – especially on desktop – but this could change over time, especially as Google rolls out other updates in the future.
The list goes on but we can only answer these questions with ongoing analysis and experimentation. Google is constantly rolling out updates, which makes it difficult to pin down behavioural patterns to specific changes – and that’s before you consider seasonal patterns and other variables.
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Lee has been working in the online arena, leading digital departments since the early 2000s, and oversees all our delivery services at Vertical Leap, having joined back in 2010.
Lee joined our company Operations Team in May 2019.
Before working at Vertical Leap, Lee completed a degree in Business Management & Communications at Winchester University, headed up the online development and direct marketing department for an international financial services company for ~7 years, and set up/run a limited company providing website design, development and digital marketing solutions.
Lee had his first solely authored industry book (Tactical SEO) published in 2016, with 2 further industry books being published in 2019, and can be seen regularly expert contributing to industry websites including State of Digital, Search Engine Journal, The Drum, plus many others.
Lee has a passion for management in the digital industry and loves to see the progression of others through personal learning, training and development. Outside the office he looks to help others while challenging himself, having skydived, bungie jumped and abseiled (despite a fear of heights) with many more fundraising and voluntary events completed and on the horizon.
As a husband and dad, Lee loves to spend time with his family and friends. His hobbies include exercising, trying new experiences, eating out, playing countless team sports, as well as watching films (Gangster movies in particular – “forget about it”).
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