Implications of Google search changes

Google’s search result page, once as famous for its simplicity as its notoriously secret ranking algorithm has undergone a slew of changes in the last 2 months. Google does not actively promote these changes to end users, allowing them to find out about new features through discovery during regular use. The recent changes are focused on giving the company a stronger position in the ‘local’ space and making the search experience more ‘instant’.

Here is an illustrative screenshot and run down of the 7 changes:

1. Google Instant – Results below the search box now ‘instantly’ change as the user types.

Implication: Users get predictive results even before they complete their query thereby saving time (Google estimates it will save 2-5 seconds per search).  For advertisers it means impression counts will go up and they will need to bid on expensive head terms more as users may not get to the end of long tail search queries.

2 & 8. Instant Previews – A magnifying glass now appears alongside natural results which when clicked offers a preview (see number 8 on screenshot) of the destination page / website without having to navigate to it. A user can now base his judgement on whether to click by just taking a look at the preview from within the search results.

Implications: Users save time but website owners have to pay more attention to making their webpage design appealing and distinct for the preview facility.

3 & 4. Places Search – Local information is now clustered in a map that appears above the right column of sponsored ads. These results appear when Google thinks you are looking for local information. If you do a generic search but want to view local results, a new ‘Places’ link in the left hand menu will bring you these results.

Implications : Users now get a larger cluster of links on average. Google says it saves people an average of 2 seconds on local information searches. The links appear as red pins on the map and provide more comprehensive information about the plotted results than before, like reviews, ratings and addresses for a business. For business owners claiming their Google Places listing , optimising and ensuring its completeness is now even more important.

5. Ads – The heading at the top of the right hand column of Adwords paid ads are now referred to as just ‘Ads’ from the previous ‘sponsored ads’.

Implication: Marginal to none.

6. Change to 7-Pack – Earlier businesses could appear in the set of 7 local business ads that appeared along side the local business map as well as have its website listing appear below separately. Now it can have only one appearance within the 7-pack thereby limiting its visibility.

Implications: Local businesses must now have a well optimised website for local searches or risk disappearing from front page results altogether.

7. Adwords Ads – The right hand column ads positions 4 onwards have now been pushed lower down to accommodate the local Places Search map.

Implication: This means some positions are now below the fold making competition more intense leading to Cost per Click inflation. Some advertisers that have effectively employed a position #5 or #6 strategy due to lower budgets or because this is where they get their best ROI are now at a disadvantage.