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