Google today announced two changes to their search results pages. The first is a refinement to the suggested searches at the bottom of the SERPs — Google will now offer semantic-style suggested searches*, where its system has a better understanding of related concepts and where to find them. (And it will do so in 37 languages!)
The other is a little more significant: In order to help users who are using longer queries and search strings, the longer the search you enter, the longer the “snippets” Google will show you underneath the dark blue linked results. As they explain it:
Suppose you were looking for information about Earth’s rotation around the sun, and specifically wanted to know about its tilt and distance from the sun. So you type all of that into Google: [earth's rotation axis tilt and distance from sun]. A normal-length snippet wouldn’t be able to show you the context for all of those words, but with longer snippets you can be sure that the first result covers all those topics.
Mashable — one of my top sources for web- and social-media related content — mentions these changes briefly, and refers to the semantic results as the more important of the two. “Not so fast!” says Marshall Kilpatrick at ReadWriteWeb — these changes could affect whether people actually click through to your page:
It’s pretty simple, really. If you’re shown a link to another Google search query, you’re more likely to perform another search instead of going offsite to visit the first results links you were shown. If you’re shown 3 lines of excerpts instead of two, you’re more likely to get the full answer to your question without having to visit the page that the answer is on, off-site.
Two very different reactions, so I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. I don’t necessarily think it’s in Google’s best interest to develop search results strategies that keep people from visiting other pages, but, as Kilpatrick also points out, 80% of searches are informational in nature, while only 10% are navigational. If you get the information you need right there on the SERP, why click?
On the positive side, longer snippets could potentially put to rest any confusion the usefulness of your meta keywords and meta descriptions. If your content is well-written and well-organized, and you’ve used your keywords wisely, then as average query length increases, you’ll stand to benefit from the longer snippets returned from the search.
I tested this myself, using a four-word phrase that isn’t searched for very often, relatively speaking, but which is important to our business. The Business Wire home page was the #2 natural result, a deep page using the search phrase was #3, and a blog post on the topic was #7. Can’t see as we have any reason to complain!
Seriously, beyond that little self-serving test, Business Wire will keep a close eye on this and other search-related topics — one of our goals remains to ensure that your press releases help to drive consumer, investor and media traffic to your site. As the search game changes, we’ll always offer the clearest advice to you to ensure that you continue to benefit from our distribution technology.
What are your thoughts on this? What positives and negatives do you see, and what ways can you think of for changing those informational searches into navigational and/or transactional searches? Might this affect they way you write content for the web? Let us know what you think in the comments.
*The alliteration there was completely unplanned, but worked pretty nicely.