Since launching in September 1998, Google as a business has gone through a gluttony of changes. Some of the biggest of these have related to the service they are most famous for providing: search. While here in the SEO industry we regularly talk about Google’s evolution in terms of webmaster tools and search algorithms, the truth is that, to the end user, neither of those make much of an impression, as to consumers they are very much ‘under the bonnet.’
Top 10 Links
The biggest change a regular user of Google’s search engine service will have noticed in recent times is how they’ve moved beyond simply providing the top 10 links for whatever keyword or phrase has been searched for. Many people will associate these changes with the more prominent presence of paid search ads on pages, but the reality is that Google have already started looking far beyond this.
Google CEO Larry Page recently confirmed to company investors that they are looking to diversify how they present search results. Google’s main motivation for this is that they’re continuously looking to provide browsers with what they’re looking for, as fast as possible.
Google’s mission to bring as much information as possible onto the first page of their search results has not been without controversy or criticism. Given the way Google are attempting to develop this as a ‘one stop shop’ of information being sought by browsers, it would not be surprising to see potential action taken with similar motivations to those which led to the creation of Google’s European anti-trust law. This will almost certainly happen if these changes result in websites losing significant traffic owing to changes in the presentation of search results.
For their part, Google are sure to continue affirming that the changes they are making intend to make life as easy as possible for their customers and enable them to enhance their service further.
Here are some notable examples of how Google are moving beyond traditional keyword search in their presentation of search results. In all cases, the added features are in addition to the top 10 organic search links, although these are featured less prominently, and any sponsored listings, where applicable.
Searching for a product or service in a specific town, for example, ‘things to do in London,’ generates a points of interest bar along the top of the screen, allowing browsers to click on any specific activity or place and see the relevant search results for this.
In addition, browsers are presented with a Google Map showing the place, in this case London, they have input, with a link to directions from their current location within the map.
Should a browser request a specific search rather than something general, such as ‘hotels in London’ or ‘restaurants in London,’ they’ll be presented with a map showing all examples, with the top options highlighted with links to external websites and contact details.
Instead of simply showing the best websites for getting a local weather report, Google now brings the weather direct for a browser’s location, if they simply type in ‘weather’ or ‘weather forecast,’ or for a specific location that has been entered. Specific days and dates can also be entered into the search box if a browser wants weather forecasts in advance.
Whether it is Justin Bieber, Rihanna, David Beckham or another instantly recognisable global celebrity, they all make up a huge proportion of daily global searches.
Browsers seeking out information about their favourite celebrity using Google are now presented with the top three latest news stories related to them, as well as a sidebar featuring a wealth of information including career achievements, relatives, and images and names of similar celebrities who are also popular search subjects.
Ask Jeeves was the first search engine to popularise the asking of questions online, and although it would present search results in what became the traditional manner, the uniqueness of how users search is what made this particular platform popular.
Typing questions or ‘how to’ into Google is becoming more common as people seek specific pieces of content and information. Google presents the answers in two different ways.
If a browser asks Google how old someone is, how tall they are, when a product was released, or the date an event is happening, for example, they’ll provide the answer straight away at the top of the search results.
If the answer to a question is a person or business, then Google presents a link that will show search results related to the person or company in question. The sidebar running down the right side of the screen will also provide further information excerpts relating to the question.
Ask Google the distance between two places, and browsers are shown the distance, how long it takes to travel between the two, and a map of a suggested route. Google will even estimate the costs related to the journey to allow for more accurate planning of a trip. Clicking the map then opens the usual Google Maps menu including options to change the route and mode of transport.
It is clear that Google shifting their focus exclusively from keyword search to providing information and answers to their customers quicker is going to benefit many, albeit at the expense of upsetting others. There is no doubt that Google will continue to develop the presentation and delivery of their search results in order to consistently provide the best user experience for browsers, particularly in terms of knowledge based search such as the examples here, as well as the increasing personalisation of search results in the future.