When you think of Google, what do you think of? A quirky, fun, dynamic brand? An algorithm? A curious little robot? A hub of information?
Personally, I think of a big hungry monster that is eating the information on websites, or forcing us to surrender information, and then putting it in the SERPs to pass it off as its own.
I’m not talking about simply including a website in the SERPs. I’m talking about when Google specifically takes pieces of information from websites and display that information on search results pages, or when they create an online property for you to give your information to, so that it can be used in the SERPs.
Here are some examples:
Google Places results now let users compare hotel prices directly on the SERPs, without even needing to visit the hotel websites. Arguably the only time the user needs to visit the actual hotel website is to pay. That might not even be the case for much longer, with the rise in popularity of Google Checkout
Google Merchant Centre is another way Google encourage you to give your information to them for use in the SERPs. The detail in these results includes prices and places to purchase from. If the user clicks on a result, they are taken to another page on the Google domain for more information. From here they can add it to a shopping list or go to the retailer’s website to buy it.
If a user searches for gig or show tickets, Google take information from websites to display the date and location of possible shows matching the search query. The user can then click on the date or venue and be taken to that specific page within the website to purchase it. Once again the user can do the research prior to their purchase without even visiting the website.
Google Images is nothing new, but it is another way that the big hungry Google monster is taking pieces of information from websites and offering them up in search results:
Sitelinks are another way Google are making part of your website redundant. Who needs a Home page when you can go straight to a deeper page right?! That might be true if the sitelinks were guaranteed to be relevant to the search query, or if they showed a balanced overview of a site’s contents. This also throws all kinds of issues out there when designing the navigation for a site.
In the good old days, a user would have to visit a website to determine whether it was any good. Now we have the +1 button to serve as a signal to whether people we know or even the general population have decided that the site is worth a look or not. This is yet another thing reducing the user’s need to visit the actual website as they can make up their mind from the SERPs. Arguably Meta descriptions have played this role for years but it just seems to me like the +1 button takes it s step further.
Even information we take for granted such as definitions are displayed directly in the SERPs, with no need to visit the website.
Microformats (also known as Rich Snippets), are perhaps the most sneaky way Google are thieving content to feed their information-hunger. By marking up our content for Google, they can take bits of it and add it to their SERPs.
Videos now appear directly in the SERPs with information such as their running time or who is in it.
Search for a recipe and you might find yourself greeted by additional information in the search result, such as the ingredients, or how long the recipe takes to complete.
Reviews often appear in the SERPs thanks to Rich Snippets:
So what does all this mean?
I understand that Google’s aim is to make the SERPs as efficient as possible for users, but I can’t help but think that by taking information directly from sites, or asking us to supply information to be used in search results pages, they are starting to make the consumer’s need to visit an actual website redundant.
Some of these functions do arguably make the search process more efficient for users, but sometimes it can also be misleading. For example, the limited space in the SERPs means that only select additional information is displayed, which could lead the user to make a decision based only on this limited information, when they would actually benefit from researching further.
An interesting insight into the side-effects of these developments is that it is making consumers lazy. Instead of shopping around or researching something, consumers are becoming more likely to look on Google and take the first piece of information they find, or compare the only few options Google displays.
One option would be to stop giving Google this information. We could choose not to mark up our content, not to have a Places profile, or not to submit our products to Google product feed. The problem with this is that if a business chooses not to have a Google Places profile for example, they are going to miss out on extra exposure within the SERPs which could be crucial if their competitors do have a profile listing. It almost becomes impossible for anyone who wants to compete in a market place to not use these profiles and services because so many businesses are already using them and supplying information to Google.
Is the growing popularity of these functions giving Google too much power? No wonder so many consumers think that Google ‘own’ the internet.
Could the future be that webmasters would simply create information and feed it directly to Google, without even the need for a website?
What are your thoughts on the way Google uses your information? Feel free to leave your comments below.
Google have now added a further feature to make the users need to visit an actual website even more redundant. When you Google ‘What’s my IP?’ Google can now provide you with the answer directly on the SERP. This will impact the traffic to a large number of websites such as whatismyip.com
Robot leaning on an imaginary object via BigStock