Leaving SERP City
February 23, 2015
Google Rolls Out Increased Entity Search in 2014
It’s not news that things have come along way since the typical search engine results page (SERP) displayed ten simple blue links for a given search query. From maps to products, from news to authors, from contributors and carousels to answers, news, ratings, and more, the search engine continues to show more and more marked up data within its results, transforming the search engine into a decision engine. Below, I wanted to take a look at a few examples I’ve seen in the wild to shed light on how Google is now behaving, underscoring how rich snippets and structured data are now Hummingbird nectar for Google’s brand new engine. We’re leaving SERP City for entity search in 2014. And for the sake of consistency, and because I’m a sports fan, unless otherwise cited, all examples below will be sports-related.
Answer Boxes Everywhere
The knowledge graph already generally answered most questions by pulling text from trusted sources; from iMDB to Wikipedia, we saw queries answered with concise snippets displayed to the right of these major search results, complete with images, relevant data and related searches. However, when Google announced the rollout of the Hummingbird algorithm, they specified that it was designed to respond to an increasing need to answer more complex search queries that users were increasingly inclined to type. While many a naive webmaster may have rushed to hurriedly create an FAQ page, the result of Hummingbird looks more like this:
Recently, my girlfriend and I sat watching a hockey game when she asked me how big a hockey rink was. Having been an avid hockey fan and player for a number of years, I was shocked at my inability to answer the question; however, I wholly was unsurprised at Google’s efficiency. Using the answer box above, Google responded with a concise response that satisfied my query, complete with a citation!
What’s extraordinarily curious is the fact that the cited domain, nhl.com, was the third or fourth organic result in the search. Clearly, the algorithm is forced to reconcile a compromise between the authority on the topic, in this case, the NHL, and other factors like the Domain Authority and TLD of a top-ten search result candidate like Wikipedia. Similarly, the willingness to have a content-diverse SERP robs the user of getting to the website cited in the answer box by putting News results ahead of their preferred cited source. It’s a curious development that begs the question: If Google deemed this site worthy of answering my question, why is it losing out to other sites in ranking?
A corresponding discovery on the way in which News results are changing includes the gradual rollout of cards to display News results.
Anyone seeing a total News redesign on this SERP? https://t.co/yxoMFsjWmP
— Dr. Pete Meyers (@dr_pete) February 5, 2014
The resulting display showed news concisely displayed with something that appears to me like it would be more intuitive for users on a mobile device.
Decisions, Decisions: SERP Dominance
With other queries, Google’s propensity and confidence in satisfying a user’s query is getting so high that even paid channels are shut out. An example that caught my eye on Twitter was for another sports-related search for [NCAA tournament].
This screenshot is zoomed out to illustrate that the user has to actually go below the fold to even get to the first organic search result. From the marked-up data for two separate NCAA-level tournaments to the knowledge graph on the right with information about the organization itself, it’s incredible to see Google be so decisive with its results.
The last element that really caught my eye was an increased personalization due to the rollout of hashtags in Google+. As a soccer obsessive and a huge proponent of the English Premier League, I recently wrote a blog about my club, Aston Villa, and shared it on Google+ with all the relevant hashtags. Shortly thereafter, when performing a search for the club, I was shocked to find that my blog had made it to position two in the SERPs!
This was, of course, a result of personalization. Forget that Google might now nofollow links within your Google+ profile; when signed into Chrome or Google+, hashtags that satisfy your query within your circles tend to shine through SERP pages and ascend right to the top. And why not? These links within these posts are from users that you’ve vetted by including them in your circles–the primary social circle you share with Google.
While this may improve user experience for those that have devoted time into currating their circles on Google+, it may be alarming to others looking for more qualified search results within their SERP. There’s a chance that these items may still be testing, but seeing these SERPs throughout the past week indicates not only a continued willingness to provide the best user experience through great content, but also a growing preference for marked up sites, and the increasing importance of structured data.