How to Make Ever-Changing Search Engine Results Pages Work for Your Brand

Executive Summary

The status quo for search engine results have changed, now offering more results per search, and incorporating more vertical site information within. In some cases this can lead to pharma brand results appearing later in the search results stream. We recommend several tactics to address this, and among the most critical is to partner with online publishers who can help boost content value.


Search engines have always presented search results in a list format, with 10 results per page in order of importance, based on the user’s search intent and backend search algorithms. In time, most users became accustomed to seeing this format after completing a search. More recently, however, the display of organic search engine results pages changed dramatically with the addition of results from other websites’ custom search engines, leading not only to more results, but to broader results.

These custom search engines—vertical search engines—work like web search engines but find content exclusively from their own websites. In the past, vertical search results could only be accessed using a website’s vertical search engine. Today, these results are part of a typical search engine result page.

With these changes in search engine behavior, it is no longer enough to build content in just the brand website to improve a brand’s web presence. The brand management team now has a bigger responsibility in making sure the brand’s content reaches as many users as possible – it also needs to be sharable. Brand managers have to plan for creating content that will be hosted in other well-known websites that are authorities in the industry. They have to build connections with publishers who already host discussions about the brand. On top of that, they would benefit from establishing strong social media profiles so all users can use their preferred social networks to easily find the brand.

While analyzing the search landscape, the CMI SEO team discovered this article on Moz where the author performed a case study for the search term “autism speaks”, which yielded unconventional search results, including vertical results. We, at CMI, performed our own search for a different term and found the following results listed below.

What most of us are used to seeing is the current format in every page of search results following the first page—10 total organic search results per search query (below).  Note: for a better view of the images within this POV, please visit Google and run similar searches.

In the current search landscape, the first page of search results yields a significantly different outcome.

While reviewing the first page results, three types of results were evident: organic, news, and vertical. With these conditions in mind, out of the 11 total results displayed, Google had five standard search results for “world health organization”.

Organic results are the traditionally optimized pages related to a topic. The six sitelinks below the first organic search result, which lead to specific pages in the website, are a part of the same result. Among the five standard search results, all five of them were organic results.

News results are pages from trusted news sources, which show up based on real-time relevance to the topic. News results are in their own category and only cover current events. This means that if an “in the news” result shows up, it is not counted towards the total for standard search results. Our search query, at the time, produced three total news results.

Vertical results
are from custom vertical search engines within websites that contain enough content segments to warrant their own search feature (Amazon, Yelp, Realtor, etc.). In the case of “world health organization”, there were three vertical results.

When Google shows five organic results out of eleven total search results, it means that the remaining results are not counted as organic. News results change on a daily basis. So, why did Google present the last three search results? Because those were vertical results compiled through vertical search engines.

There is a faded line that separates the last portion of search results, which indicates the start of the vertical results list. Despite their display on a separate list, vertical results are not limited to that section. Some of the same exact vertical results can still appear as organic results for different keywords.

Vertical Results in Mobile Search

So, what about mobile? Yes, this certainly applies to all mobile searches. Below is a screenshot of a search for the word “world health organization” on an Android phone.

There is a search box in the #1 organic result, “top stories” news results, and articles from The Guardian, which are vertical results. This time, the vertical results are not at the bottom of the page.  Among the organic results, two of them were from social media accounts.

If a topic, such as a disease state, has enough content written about it and enough large publications continually writing about it, those articles will eventually be interspersed as a part of the search engine results pages to the patients and HCPs—the pharma brands’ target audience.

How This Affects Pharma Search Results

So, how can we expect the pharma search engine results pages to change? Just like content for the World Health Organization, there is plenty of content for all pharma drugs’ indications, such as “HIV”.

Search Results for “HIV.”
Again, the second page of results is what all results used to look like for a long time (below).  Note: for a better view of the images within this POV, please visit Google and run similar searches.

As with “world health organization”, the search query for “HIV” brings different results in the first page.

These search results looked different from “world health organization”. There were 8 organic results and 3 news results, which covered results #1 to #11. The three vertical search results for #12 to #14 were still on the first page of Google competing against disease state websites.

This meant there were 14 total search results, which still exceeds the previous standard of 10 results. Because of the broad keyword used in the exercise, there was no specific #1 pharma brand result.

What Pharma Brands Can Do

Just as the case was for, any brand can also appear as the first search results with up to 6 additional sitelinks that guide the user to more internal pages of the brand website. However, it is not enough to maintain branded organic rankings in the search results. Online publications have long since grounded their organic search presence by continually producing new content that covers multiple topics in order to gain a wide audience. Rather than trying to beat them, brands can use their vertical results space as a new opportunity.

The biggest takeaway is that search engine optimization strategies to gain organic rankings must expand beyond their current capabilities. With the addition of vertical search results, brand managers can take advantage of the existing content about the brands in related websites, especially those that regularly discuss similar topics.

This strategy can take the form of, but are not limited to, any of the following:

  1. Working with third party websites to generate fresh new content with information that could only be available from the brand
  2. Reaching out to publishers who host content referring to the brand to link back to specific pages in the brand’s website
  3. Establishing a presence in social media platforms (Facebook/Twitter) with regular daily/weekly updates about the brand

CMI/Compas works with our internal Supplier Partner Team to identify opportunities like this – many exclusive – that can better maximize our clients’ branding efforts.

CMI is more than happy to review these effective strategies and more, in order to help steadily maintain high rankings for a brand, so the limited number of organic results does not negatively impact the brand. Please feel free to contact us for additional information on how CMI can help your brand stay on top of managing a strong organic search presence.