Wow – Google have been busy boys of late. Just when you think you can relax, a new raft of changes come sweeping through the search results. Google Instant has been probably the biggest change of recent weeks, however a recent post by Patrick Altoft suggested further changes are on the way, many of which could significantly impact our behaviour on the mainstream search results.
In particular some recent additions to the search engine pages would appear to encourage users to be able to make more of a decision before they even land on the site, something I remember my colleague Jon Myers talked about during SES a couple of years ago – however much of that was based on paid search, whereas a number of the recent tests have impacted organic search far more than that of paid search. These include:
Google snippet previews
This was highlighted by Patrick Altoft earlier today. Triggered by clicking on a particular result, it allows users to preview the page they are interested in before they click into the result itself. A number of characteristics appear even more magnified by this recent test:
- Obviously the fact users can see the site before the click into it. This means users can evaluate the potential value of a site prior to engaging with it. The four second rule would go right out the window here
- Descriptions appear far more extended. These have been taken from the site content itself rather than the description again bringing into play the importance of copy on the site rather than reliance on flash
- This doesn’t appear to be included on all results – and there appears to be no real pattern as to when these extended snippets are and aren’t used
There is no doubting whatsoever such a test could have a significant impact on user behaviour. I have no doubt Rubel and his masses will be rolling out the SEO is dead bandwagon on this one again, however in my opinion, its something that could significantly boost the impact of organic search results, should this be rolled out fully to users. That said, it may bring the conversion optimisation and SEO facets closer together than ever before.
Google page previews
Similarly to the snippets outlined above, are the page previews accessible via the more feature on the Google search results pages (availble by clicking on more and the option should sit below the standard view options). Similarly to the results above, these provide a preview of the site as part of the mainstream search results, however unlike the results above, these are generated as part of the page load and included within the resultset themselves.
Again these use a number of factors which draw much of the eyeline away from the paid search inventory towards those of the organic results. That said as this is user envoked, one may suggest such an action would suggest this is a more considered purchase in any case and as such the user would in all likelihood evaluate any results on the page in more detail whether paid or natural. The features again of this are:
- Increased snippet length of around 8 lines
- Not factored into all results, some results do still continue to display the traditional three line result -with the snippet cropped to suit
- Snippet sits within page itself to the right hand side of the organic results.
This however as highlighted above is not triggered as ‘easily’ as the page snippets identified by Patrick earlier. These results have also been around since late 2009 so one should perhaps not be suprised that Google has now started testing this within its ‘mainstream results’
Increased snippets are nothing new – Google introduced these a good couple of years ago, however this was very much the start of a new Google landscape, and perhaps one may argue a precurser to what was to come in terms of Google’s tweaking of results. This is now something which has been integrated into a number of recent Google tests, not least those identified above, and was the first to impact potential searcher evaluation of the page prior to engagement.
Traditionally triggered on 3+ search phrase searches, interestingly the results above have been on 1 word searches, so extention of this feature would now appear to be expanding, and I would be hugely suprised if this was the last incarnation featuring this that we see within the Google search landscape.
So what does this mean for searchers
Well for one, Google now has even more of a hold on your potential visitors. Not only are users now evaluating you once they land on your site, they have the ability to evaluate you even before you land on their site. The opportunity to thus sell to potential customers is now starting well into the search engine evaluation phase rather than on the site itself and where users once concentrated on title and snippet tags, we will have to enhance our skillset to ensure users are attracted to the site by the look and feel of the site itself.
One can’t help thinking this will mean big changes, big changes for SEO, big changes for PPC and big changes for consumers should this feature see further rollout. That said, whether or not the vast majority of users see the magnifying glass and thus evaluate this is open to debate, however there is no doubting that potentially its time to ensure your technical SEO matches your design optimisation.
Note: Images courtesy of Ryan McKay