Don’t Panic, SEOs! The Whisky-related Zero Result SERPs are a Bug

Update: Google have since put this experiment on hold (source).

Zero-result SERPs have caused a bit of a stir in the SEO industry this past fortnight. For time-related searches, instead of showing a variety of results, Google shows you the answer and… that’s it. Unless you click the ‘Show all results >’ box at the bottom, all you see is Google’s answer. Here’s an example for "time in cardiff":

"time in cardiff" search screenshot
The situation went into panicky overdrive when I checked Twitter this morning and saw tweets from overnight suggesting that whisky-related SERPs had been affected. Rightly so, if you searched for "lagavulin 16" – as in Lagavulin’s 16-year-old single malt bottle – it would show the time box, Google Shopping results, Google AdWords ads (if applicable) and that’s it:

"lagavulin 16" search screenshot
The time box was a particularly bizarre inclusion – what’s the time got to do with a search for a bottle of whisky anyway? There was also chatter that other bottles of whisky with numbers after them (as in their age) were producing similar results.

And that’s when it hit me: what if Google was thinking that people were searching for Lagavulin the place and that the number was the time, as in: “what time is it where I am if it’s 16:00 (i.e. 4pm) in Lagavulin, the Scottish village?”

I tagged Danny Sullivan (who now works for Google) in a tweet and he’s confirmed that it’s an “edge case” (interesting choice of phrase, Danny – not “bug”?) 😉

So there you have it, folks. No need to panic (yet). They’re not after our whisky SERPs – phew! Breatheinbreatheout breatheinbreatheout. Why not pour yourself a glass of Lagavulin?

…Too soon?


  • Taz

    March 20, 2018 at 11:10 am Reply

    Hey Steve, it would be really interesting to find out if this going to be permanently rolled out for all queries! For a small business owner like myself who has been working on organically raising my website ranking following much of the great free advice from your tweets and the SEO meets, I certainly hope this is not the case!

    • Steve

      March 20, 2018 at 12:59 pm Reply

      Thanks Taz. 🙂 At the moment the consensus seems to suggest that zero-result SERPs will only affect searches and queries with an absolute answer, such as "what is the time" or "time in new york". So while it may get rolled out much wider, and perhaps cover other areas (e.g. "what is my ip address"), it’s unlikely to cover every possible keyword – don’t worry, "cardiff wedding photographer" should be safe for a while yet…! 😉

      • Taz

        March 20, 2018 at 3:05 pm Reply

        Thank you and I hope so!

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