The Googlolution – Is Google changing too quickly?

I read with interest a number of posts recently, many of them to do with the recent introduction of Google Instant to the search results. During recent months however there have been a number of new tweaks and changes to the user experience, some of which have improved our experience within the search environment – however some have been met with a very mixed reaction.

Google have always been known for being quick to integrate new technologies and ideas into their search results over the last couple of months we have a number of new user changes:

  • Google Instant – September
  • Brand Stacking – August
  • Integration of Fourth Result- August
  • Changes in paid search results pallete – July
  • Integration of local search results into paid and organic results – July
  • 3 Organic results on query – September
  • 20 results per page – September
  • Ajax Results – Fully rolled out – September
  • Image Search – September

That’s 8 (!) quite major user centric changes during the last three months alone, something us search engine marketeers have had to evaluate and consider its impact. From a user perspective however, one may ask is Google overdoing the amount of testing, refinement and rollout of new enhancements at the moment.

Human beings are strange beasts, many of us are not particularly good at change – particularly big changes. It takes us out of our comfort zone – one only has to look at the myriad of responses on the announcement of Google Instant to see that. It is thus interesting (albeit not hugely suprising) to see Google playing around with their search results to such an extent, particularly when one considers the following. I have done a number of presentations with my colleague at Mediavest and husband of fellow State of Search blogger Lisa Myers where we show Google in 2001 and contrast it with 2008. During that time very little changed at Google – however those times appear to be well and truly over.

In the strive for increased revenue and relevance, Google’s results pages have changed significantly over the last year or so. At the moment Google can get away with it, they have very little competition within Western Europe and the North Americas and whilst that dominance exists they will probably get away tweaking this and testing that however one has to think whether they would be undertaking this level of ‘testing’ if the threat of Bing (or any other search engine) had been greater – I would suggest not.

When looking at the rationale behind these changes however one has to consider the level of change that has taken place. Technology in particular has been a huge driving force, not just in terms of Google’s IT architecture, but also in terms of new web programming technologies such as XML, HTML5 and Ajax have allowed Google to develop new frameworks and ways of presenting content they could not do before (Instant being a superb example of this – as this would be impossible to do without in particular AJAX). Further to this, the freedom and brand equity they enjoy has given them the opportunity to test without much perceived threat from competitors, something many organisations don’t get a chance to do.

Recent search engine usage figures would suggest that these changes haven’t changed peoples attitude towards Google – in fact many of the recent studies suggest Google had continued to make marginal increases in mature markets such as the US and the UK. That said Bing would appear to be turning a corner and making some fairly significant inroads particularly in the US if the most recent Neilsen figures are to be believed (Bing have seen around a 30% YOY increase in searches).

Top U.S. Search Sites – August 2010
Rank Brand Share of Searches MoM change % YoY change %
1 Google Search 65.1% 1% 1%
2 MSN/Windows Live/Bing Search 13.9% 2% 30%
3 Yahoo! Search 13.1% -8% -18%
4 Search 2.1% 0% 24%
5 AOL Search 2.0% 0% -37%
Source: The Nielsen Company

So for the meantime, it would appear that change is not necessarily a bad thing. That said there is a fine balance and one that Google have to be wary off. Usability and Relevance in tandem have long been one of Google’s key selling points, offsetting one may have a considerable impact.

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About Peter Young

Peter has been around the industry for a while now, having previously headed up both search and SEO operations at Connectpoint (now Amaze), Mediavest, Brilliant Media and now Search & Social Director for Mediacom.