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Google might as well have been called Simple. Back when Google was a new entrant in the search engine market and larger competitors were cluttering up their homepages with as much content as could be aggregated on a single page, Google took a different approach and offered internet users an alternative: a clean, if not sparse, homepage that focused on one thing -- search.

Relatively-speaking, that homepage hasn't changed much in the past decade. But what has changed: Google's SERPs.

In its effort to index the world's information, Google has increasingly added to SERPs that were once just about as simple as its homepage. A search for 'social networking', for instance, returns news items, tweets, images, videos and book results alongside traditional results. A search for 'iPhone' returns shopping listings, news items and videos. In addition to results that are based on content type and content source, Google has made other changes, some subtle and others not-so-subtle. From Sitelinks to forum post highlights to music results, not all SERPs look the same. And you've probably noticed that the AdWords ads that keep Google's employees well-fed have moved closer to the SERPs.

Taken alone, none of these changes seem extreme. And Google's intentions are clear: it wants to make it easier for its users to find the information that's most relevant to their queries. But a recent search experience that had me combing through SERPs that happened to include lots of the 'features' above made me wonder: are Google's SERPs getting just a little bit messy?

On one hand, it'd be a stretch to argue that any of Google's SERPs represent the most extreme example of clutter seen on the web. Google's SERPs are still very much usable. On the other hand, trying to surface news items, tweets, images, videos, etc. all on a single page is really, really difficult to do without creating some clutter. And 'some clutter' is definitely what some of Google's SERPs now have.

The question is whether or not Google is degrading the search experience to a detrimental amount. Even if it is, it's unclear what the impact would be given Google's dominant position in search. But I do think cluttered SERPs highlight a challenge that Google and other search engines will increasingly grapple with. In my opinion, SERPs based on content type, source, and vertical are here to stay. Realistically, they're a necessity. But Google (and others) should consider just how much they throw at users on a single SERP. For a 'social networking' query, is it really necessary to return news items, tweets, images, videos and book results on a single page? Probably not.

Google's job is to help users find relevant information. Today, that requires looking not just at content itself should be highlighted, but which type of content.

Photo credit: dullhunk via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 4 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2381 more posts from this author

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Yogendra Oza

Yeah, Thanks true and I am completely agree with this view.

Google pioneer the search engine industry only because its easy and simple approach. People come on their site with a single motive "SEARCH" and all other things follow. But time changes and Google is thinking that search is not the only activity which people are doing on net. People need news, people want to see photos and videos, people want to read their friends social networking updates etc. Due to that Google is thinking that he should tap these things too and if it is not able to do it, it can affect them in the long run.

May be only due to this factor, search results are messed up. We are not able to find clean and relevant text searches. Now they are offering News, Video, Images etc and the default screen size is getting bigger from tails.

Yogendra Oza

www.AffiliateManager.in | www.AffiliateMount.com

over 6 years ago

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Matt

I don't think google has gone too far just yet... most of the options are quite well hidden... and adblock takes care of the ads for me.

over 6 years ago

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Jennifer Mowat, Director at The Frugal Trading Company Ltd

Whilst I 'personally' agree that pages are getting more difficult to navigate, am I being naive to think that Google have probably made these changes based on behaviours of the majority of its users? I presume that after searching on a  topic, users are then refining via the news tabs or advanced search, so therefore those results are an attempt to provide what people are looking at.

Very interested in views on this!

over 6 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

A good post and something I've been wondering for a while and I'm sure something Google must be sensitive to as well.

It's not just visual "clutter" (which is going to get 'worse' as the ads themselves become more graphical) it's also the nature of that clutter. Specifically, imagery is one thing, but with Twitter integration in particular at the moment it is animated/moving. So things are becoming more 'distracting' too perhaps?

What happens when rich media (video, overlays, microsites) are served as ads via the DoubleClick platform?

What happens when it's the election, or World Cup etc. and you can imagine how unusuable the Twitter stream could become as it zips past your eyes on the page...?

over 6 years ago

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Michael Jessop

I can understand that Google SERPs now differ greatly to the original SERPs that Google created, however a direct comparison is simply irrelevant. With the development of Web 2.0 and the astonishing increase in Social Networks and Social Media, it isn't surprising that Google et al have endeavoured to bring those results to their users.

Google Caffeine indicated to SEOers that search engines were looking to real time results in striving to provide better results to its users. Google's QDF (Query Deserves Freshness) algorythm is essentially built around realtime results. It is here when searching for topical news e.g. (Michael Jackson's Death) when Google uses all the different elements to provide you access to information happening literally second by second.

You would have:-

  • Breaking News Results
  • Social Network Results
  • Latest Images
  • Latest Blogs

This also gives Online Marketers a very short window of opportunity to publish an article relevant to a particular term. If a relevant topic becomes included in the QDF query group you can publish articles, Press Releases, Social Media, Tweets, Videos and images at the peak of conversation and really have traffic visiting your site.

If Google deploys QDF it has monitored realtime trends etc and has decided to give QDF to this particular term (no doubt "Alice in Wonderland" is now in QDF). If QDF is deployed you can be sure that search traffic has increased with the conversation and therefore gives you more reasons to rank for that term.

Overall - The more information Google can give me when I need it, the better!

over 6 years ago

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Neale Gilhooley

Yes it's far too busy. I have gone from being amazed at the results to bamboozled by the SERP's.

As a Google advertiser I have seen my own PPC Adverts and my organic results being pushed down and around the page by the Local Search/Google Maps and as a Google user I see the natural listing going further down and even off the page.  Way too much competing content, if I wanted to see video I would click the Video search.

Get back to basics or we’ll forget why we fell in love with Google just as fast as we fell in love.

over 6 years ago

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selina howells

I would have thought more of a problem for Google is on any consumer query Google no longer returns what I would call organic results it is as if all the results have moved over from what used to be the right hand advertising column intoi what was natural results. Try a search for the leading bank account 'alliance leicester premier' which has signed up 1 million customers in the last year, there are no advertising results on the rght when I search and what used to natural results I suspect are all results affiliated to Alliance & Leciester. http://www.google.co.uk/#hl=en&ei=uPaQS8vNIdq5jAfYo6CACw&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&ved=0CBYQBSgA&q=alliance+leicester+premier&spell=1&fp=c6c9946001627c7b

over 6 years ago

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Michael Jessop

@Selina - I think that is the issue with bringing PPC into the centre of the page and placing paid results above organic. Google is now "forcing" brands to bid on their brand even if they rank organically. it's a smart business move by Google but does cheapen the SEO team by having to use PPC to ensure decent brand protection.

over 6 years ago

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Barry Hurd

Google is no longer the usability king of the search world. When Google started, it excelled at being a simple "one box" of information. No clutter went in and minimal clutter came out. In today's version, the results are changing on an almost daily basis for each individual..... leading to confusion and loss of processing. Look at other alternative engines such as Viewzi, Kosmix, or Clusty and think about the results vs the advertising. Right now we are looking the the "Yellow-paginization of Google" (I.E. it is getting devoured by the ad revenue sharks.)

over 6 years ago

Alec Kinnear

Alec Kinnear, Creative Director at Foliovision

Good point, Patricio. I think you've caught Google at the tipping point. It's been about the last two months I've been more annoyed by the results than pleased. Deciphering the page now requires careful navigation. Non-intuitive.

Really it would be better to have separate tabs/links as in days of yore. News, images, videos, blogs.

over 6 years ago

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Jamil Kassam

I think Google have caused themselves a problem in this area. They've been so clean in terms of design in the past, now with all the different types of results they are trying to integrate into the SERPs they are struggling to maintain that clean cut look. I wonder if the average user has an issue or if it's just the industry that is analysing it so hard.

over 6 years ago

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