Google search is trying to become ever better. Their standard 10 blue links are a thing of the past. Now it’s a more ‘augmented’ affair as they constantly try to improve the quality of their results. They genuinely want you to find what you want rather than becoming disenfranchised and switch to Bing.
So obsessed are they with improving the quality and therefore engagement of their links that Marissa Mayer (Google employee #20, super geek, now CEO of Yahoo!) infamously tested over 41 shades of blue for the links. She went on to test infinitesimal variations in the amount of white space between the Google logo and the first answer in a search-results list.
The “do you feel lucky” button may be scarcely used but it was a show of personality. It broke with hardcore geekness of search and displayed a little bit of humour. This has been surpassed by taking first click results and showing them within the search engine result. These SERPs are eating the first click traffic from many websites. Type in “Skyfall” and you’ll return the times showing in your local cinema. Brilliant.
That’s great if their clairvoyant algorithm gets you a simple answer immediately but not so good for those sites providing those answers for a living and hoping Google will be a traffic provider rather than eating your low-hanging fruit.
Google “Formula 1” and you’ll return the opening race calendar for 2013. If that’s what you were hoping to find after having clicked on a Google result or two, then they’ve saved you a few seconds. But I suspect that knowing the internet as you do, you hoped to click on a result inside Google, get to a nice F1 site that had a clear label to a page showing you the season calendar. Having found out when the season starts, you also scan around for a headline, a banner, or a menu that tickles your F1 fancy and you explore a few more pages feeding your interest. If you like said site, you may bookmark it. Perhaps you follow them on your social media channel of choice or sign up to their newsletter. If you’re old-school you add them to your RSS. Whatever, you will engage with a good quality site that operates in the vertical you’re interested in (in this case, F1).
But alas as Google speeds up the ‘knowledge transfer’ you don’t get that full experience and F1Fanatic.com doesn’t get a new subscriber. Arguably, that leaves both parties worse off: the visitor as they don’t now get that rich experience (they get a sterile, factual one at Google) and the content provider as their visitor numbers from Google fall.
Google are changing from an information engine to a knowledge engine. Most would have said Google was achieving this 5 years ago, but in reality they weren’t. The pragmatist in me says quicker, fuller results can only be good for the web. The businessman says it’s akin to the supermarkets jumping on the dry cleaners’, the key cutters’, card sellers’ bandwagon. Where there are eyeballs, the vultures are sure to follow.
Either way this is a subtle but substantial change – especially if you’re the layer of the content web whose referrals are about to be wiped out.