Google is changing and it will affect your site

Google are never one to rest on their laurels, and the past few months have seen a lot of changes to Google’s search pages that you might have easily missed.

Some of the changes at Google are more visible than others, and some more useful than others, but it goes to show that Google aren’t quite ready to let things stagnate just yet after the launch of Microsoft’s Bing.

Realtime results

OK, so maybe you have to be using another search engine to miss it, but a list of recent search result changes would be incomplete without mentioning this big one.

For some search terms Google are now displaying realtime results: effectively results from Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks. Undoubtedly this will have an effect on search engine optimisation, but whether that means more up to date (and more relevant) results are being returned or simply people will spam Twitter to be featured at the top of Google’s search results remains to be seen.

google realtime results

Site owners might also start registering their search keywords as a Twitter account, in the same vein of buying web site URLs with keywords to get their keywords at the top of the search engine results pages. If this happens, this could drastically change the way Twitter (and Twitter username choices) is seen.


For those web site pages that contain breadcrumbs, Google are starting to show them underneath the search result listings. It’s not available just yet with every site, but for those listings that do contain them I can see this feature being particularly useful to the end user, showing for example direct links to a product’s category for an online shop’s listing.

google breadcrumbs

Web site owners can take advantage of this now by introducing breadcrumbs to their sites on any relevant pages. It’s always worth adding them to pages, as even if Google don’t add them to your site’s listing, it’s good practice to add them anyway because breadcrumbs not only improve usability but they could also help with your search engine ranking.

Personalised search for everybody

Google Personalised Search now works even for people who aren’t logged in. This is a big one for search ranking, as this might result in your site getting a different ranking for each visitor who performs a search.

If a result has been clicked a number of times, then that site will start to appear higher up in the search rankings for that visitor, with the user’s search and click activity being stored for 180 days. This will mean that you don’t need to be logged in and have search history enabled for search results to be tailored to your habits and preferred sites, which will result in more more relevant searches in the long term for more people.

But this is bad news for web site owners who care about search engine optimisation: you can no longer be certain where your site will rank. You can have an idea, but if searchers click on other sites, your link might be pushed from page one to page two without you knowing about it.


Another useful one for users if they want to know at a glance which country a web site is based. Web site owners that are registered with Google Webmaster Tools can now set their geographical location, which is displayed next to the page URL.

google location

The region is only shown for results that don’t have country top level domains (for example .com and .net), and the region you are searching from isn’t shown (so if you’re searching from the UK, web sites set as being from there won’t show the UK region name).

This feature, however, could also be confusing if it doesn’t work properly. If a site owner sets their site to be based in the United States but it’s got worldwide appeal, potential visitors from other countries might be turned away before they even visit. So this is a great feature, but it’s certainly one to be used wisely, to ensure you get the right target audience and don’t turn anybody away who might otherwise be interested in your site.

If you want to set your web site’s region, you can do this in Google Webmaster Tools by selecting Site Configuration > Settings > Geographic Target.

Search features in search bar

Those handy search features that Google provide are now available in the search bar of the homepage.

Search for “london weather” and get the weather in London for the next four days. Enter for “diaphanous” and find out what it means. Type in a unit conversion or maths sum and get the answer. All displayed at the top of the auto-suggest box without having to wait for the results page. You can also type some site names such as “Twitter” and the twitter homepage is suggested at the top of the list.

google weather

This update is only available on, so if you’re not based in the United States you’ll have to click on the “go to” link before this works.

In addition to this, the “Google Search” and “I’m Feeling Lucky” buttons are now displayed inside the auto-suggest box. This is a tiny update you barely notice, but it’s also an update which makes usability that little bit better. For those who don’t press the return key to perform a search, the buttons are now visible and selectable straight away, rather than hidden underneath a drop down box that needs to be closed before they can be clicked.

Anchor links in results

For those pages with internal anchor links, Google have started to show these on search result pages. In addition to this, a “Jump to” link is also shown in the result if the relevant area of the page is after an anchor.

It’s hard to say how Google decides which listings to show these with, but chances of having them for your site’s listings are higher if you use semantic anchor names, show a table of contents, and logically split the sections.

Local public transit next to location

For major attractions, the location and map details are starting to show nearest public transit details.

google pubic transit

There probably isn’t much you can do to influence your business or premises containing these details, obviously it’s very location specific. But it wouldn’t harm to submit your site and business details to Google Maps and ensure your full location details are completed.

Bigger image results thumbnails

This is a small change to the image thumbnails that appear on the main search results page. There’s now a new layout which includes larger images, depending on the quality of the thumbnails.

google image

  • Nice article I hope you can keep these summary’s once every x-month so we can keep up to date :)

  • Well that got me thinking on a Monday morning, which is usually rather difficult.

  • Great artcle, any Idea on how google rank images ? Thanks

  • I think it’s great that Google are trying to make search more relevant for its users. Making use of semantic anchors and those kind of techniques is really going to encourage site makers to improve the quality of their content and markup rather than wasting time stressing about page ranks.

    That’s a big step in the right direction for the future of the web!

  • Useful to know, especially how this may affect Twitter. Thanks!

  • Yea I noticed too that they started including Twitter in their search results – especially now that I get about a hundred Google alerts for my name everyday since I twitter so much. ;)

  • We have to live with google changes or find another job…

  • Dan Zollman

    This is cool! Thanks for the article.

    Any idea how Google identifies breadcrumbs? Is there a microformat for them, and/or should they use a ‘nav’ element?

  • Becky

    Thanks everybody for your kind words, it’s much appreciated

    @Laura Agreed, it’s always been about content and providing what results the users want but recent changes have made this even clearer. Like you, I hope it encourages developers to use semantic markup

    @Dan As far as I can tell, it appears that Google are recognising sensible markups, such as ul/li rather than a specific microformat or tag. Although personally when I create my next site design I’ll be using the nav element, being firmly in the “Use HTML5 tags now” camp :)

  • It’s a real shame that Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t let you set bigger regions for targetting than 1 country – we just launched a site primarily for students in Europe, but limiting to one country is a shame!

  • I quite like the idea of the breadcrumb result, but have not seen it in use yet. As for google changing all the time I guess we just need to keep up.

  • Thanks for keeping us up to date! I guess I need to do some updating to my site!

  • Great article! I just recently removed my breadcrumbs on my website, to make it cleaner, but it’s important to consider especially if I am working on a clients website!

  • The dog on the left in the images results looks like a greyhound on steroids!!

  • Oh, I love the modifications. Sometimes it is the littlest things that make the biggest difference!

  • Changes are good but sometimes changing things very frequently can go wrong. I’m just concerned about showing geographical locations in the search results. It can take users away without even visiting the site.

    Thanks for putting this all together.

  • Jonny

    Great artical guys

  • Real time results will definitely help to get up-to-date results but will be more challenging for webmasters

  • Giant google makes crazy moves…. it looks like microsoft done. Beside that web master must change all the SEO strategy… :(

  • Chris Pollard

    Personally, I think anything that makes it harder for scammers to “game” the system is a good thing!

    Far too much emphasis gets put on SEO, instead of where it should be – a quality site with great CONTENT. If you have the content, the engines will find you.

    The idea that there is an entire sub-industry out there doing nothing but trying to cheat their way to the top of Google disgusts me. Yeah, I get that it’s about trying to give yourself the best chance to be seen, but when I’m searching for something, and all the top results are spam-ridden crap, it really ticks me off that it’s because of SEO run amok.

    I like game changers. This is a game changer. I hope nobody figures out how to game it. (Although sadly I’m sure it’s just a matter of time.)

    • Sure but we are still in the infancy of whatever this thing is. In comparison to where things will be in 100 years that is. People taking advantage is a part of it and probably a good part of it as for whatever the internet will be in a hundred years it won’t get there without all the people taking advantage of the system for everyone to learn from.

  • Thanks for the post. Just checked Twitter for some highly competitive dutch keywords. The were already gone. ;-)

  • Ben

    Fantastic Post! I have just come across this blog from Technorati, and I’m glad I did! Keep up the great Content!!

  • Thanks for the great post. A lot of reminders here on what the future of Google will look like. I’ve been a little lazy when it comes to twitter but now I can see this is going to be huge.

  • I’m worried about the “region”, I have an international site and don’t want users to be turned away because it says a country that doesnt represent them. Will we have control over this and be able to turn it off?

    • Becky

      Yes, you get to choose the country (if any) in Webmaster Tools, so you have complete control over what is shown

  • Tim

    It would be nice if we knew how to add the breadcrumb features to our css so that we could implement this

  • I think it’s great, the whole point of a search engine is to give users relevant and useful information.

  • Looks like Google is going to put more weight behind sites that are updated more frequently rather than ‘static’ sites. This will really reward sites that have regular blog posts and twitter/flickr feeds.

  • Personalized search without being logged in will definitely scare people SEO wise. That is, until there is a way to work around it and get an unpersonalized, per region view back from google.

  • Joy

    I also wanted to note the new social results for searches. When I search for something, say, within my industry, I will also get results from people in my social circle that matches my search criteria. I’m not sure how it works, but I know it uses your Google contacts.

    Very cool – and interesting on how it will affect social search. Are my twitter friends going to also be added to my Google contacts? Will search results be more tailored based on my social circle’s click activity? Cool stuff to think about…especially on how we can optimize our sites.

  • Thanks for keeping us up to date, it’s always good to know what changes we should expect from Google. I like the idea of rewarding sites that have great twitter feed and frequently updated content.

  • Great article, thanks for sharing. I think its a great idea to give more weight to sites with content that is updated on a regular basis

  • Speaking of great content, I’d like to see Google rank sites using the number of clicks due to Google image searches as one of the ranking factors.

    Thanks for the post.

  • All I know is that all my reviews and search performance leading into my site keeps coming and going. Whatever they are doing at Google is messing me up!

  • i think great designs and good development would give you best seo results
    means :
    01- title tags
    02- head tags
    03- nice content
    04- footer links
    05- backlinks
    06- your PR
    07- breadcramps
    08- ?
    all this steps will give you nice designed page and hight results in Google
    no ?

  • Jackie

    The “new” Google is ugly and crowded. And the new image search is a turn off. Time to look for another browser. I also hate the Everything worthless sidebar.

  • Google is in constant dynamic. Now the instant search and combining organic SEO results with Google Places results is making the SEO optimization a challenging place.

  • Google is changing and is the search results combine local results, global results, news, video and news

  • Nice article. Especially since it shows how fast Google are changing if you take into account all the changes that have been introduced since this post was published.