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by Stephen Logan on 3rd December 2010
Even as somebody who works with the Internet day in, day out, the near complete overhaul in Google’s results pages this year has taken me aback slightly. First there was social integration, then we (briefly) lost the UK searches button, next up was site search, before Google Instant came along and blew everything out of the water [see: The Changing Anatomy of a Google Search Page | Why Have Google Sidelined UK Results? | What Value does Google’s Site Search offer SERPs or Sites? | Google Delivering Search Results in an Instant].
Your average SERP has changed immeasurably. Not just in terms of aesthetics or even function, but in its very make-up. The way sites are being ranked and what results are returned is a world away from what we had last year.
Let’s take the massive brand push as a good example. 12 months ago it would be unthinkable that a single site could dominate a Google result page. Now you can routinely find major brands securing the top four or five positions – sometimes even more [see: Big Brands Benefit from Latest Google Update].
Of course, it would be impossible to talk about changes to Google SERPs without at least mentioning the Places update [What Does the Google Places SERP Update Mean for Local Search?]. Overnight the whole makeup of result pages changed. Local searches were now embedded within general queries, with company info and even a map for support. Suddenly organic rankings were overhauled and local optimisation became paramount.
Google Instant and the various updates associated with its inclusion (such as the site preview function) hasn’t massively influenced the way the SERPs look or act; however, it has impacted the way we search. By automatically updating as you type, a searcher can charge through numerous results pages whilst performing a single search. It also allows you to browse without using a map, by including a blue navigational arrow which tabs through the results on request [see: Google SERP Browsing Goes Mouse-Free].
Along with all the on page elements – such as news, images and video – the Google results are almost unrecognisable. If I had been marooned on a desert island for the past year or so, search would be an alien concept. So much has happened, so much has been added, it sometimes seems like the only thing that hasn’t changed is the logo.
The same feeling of confusion must be true for occasional users too. When I discuss it with non-Internet folk (i.e. all my friends and family), there is a sense of bemusement as to what it all means. Most appear to just ignore the majority of added elements and dive in for the result that best matches their expectations. Complete obliviousness is not uncommon.
So does Google really need to be continually adding elements and complication to its SERPs? Is it helping your search experience?
Naturally I search with monotonous regularity, so I’m increasingly blind to everything. Instant is switched off and I rarely browse, it’s one product or piece of information that I’m after – the rest is superfluous. Whilst I recognise why Google is evolving, it could be seen as just adding more clutter in the way of what would ordinarily be a linear journey. There’s a fair chance that I’m not alone in this too.
The issue is that on any given day you can get a Google SERP that includes any combination of:
It’s a mess of information. But as long as you know what you’re looking for, the rest is easily ignored. Unfortunately, for those who are trying to get ahead on search engines through SEO, each element adds an extra obstacle (as well as a potential opportunity of course). Equally, if you’re entirely clueless as to what it is that you want to find, then confusion could point you in the direction of something not entirely relevant.
So what do you think, have Google’s SERPs become too complicated? Or are Google simply innovators trying to offer the best service? We know that you have to evolve or die online, but have they gone too far now? What do you think might be next too?