But are these changes benefitting end users? Or should it just stop messing about so much?
The answer seems to be a bit of both. Google does have to keep people using its search engoine, and providing the best user experience is how it can do that.
On the other hand, blurring the line between ads and organic results is not good UX, but about increasing revenues...
With so many tweaks, as well as major updates, is Google improving the search experience for the user?
Julia Logan, Irish Wonder:
I think it has become more clear than ever before that Google's 'improving the user search experience' mantra is nothing more than PR talk.
Google is a commercial entity, every step it takes now shows clearly that all it cares about is finding more ways to monetise.
Dr Pete Meyers, Marketing Scientist at Moz:
I think too many of the changes have been reactionary in 2013, and many have been driven by fear of losing revenue.
That's not necessarily to say that those changes are bad for users, but the rapid pace of change hasn't always given it time to evaluate or understand how back-to-back changes interact for everyday users.
Will Critchlow, Founder and CMO at Distilled:
I think it's a bit of both. Things that benefit regular users in my opinion:
- Knowledge graph / cards / one-boxes. Almost all are great for users.
- Improved query understanding benefits most regular users (though power users sometimes miss 'verbatim as default').
- Most social results have improved.
- Most fresh result and news-based results are useful.
Things that confuse and / or damage UX for regular users in my opinion:
- The rapidly-disappearing ad labelling. The background colour has been getting lighter and lighter and now it looks like it will be replaced by a small icon. I predict fewer users will be aware when they are clicking on an ad.
- The same applies to paid inclusion in product search. Not knowing if you are clicking on an ad or not is a bad UX.
Although I understand why Google is doing it, I believe that some of the penalties we have seen this year have made the search results worse for regular users. When big brands and sites that should be the right answer manipulate the results and get downgraded as a result, that hurts UX, a trade-off Google appears happy to make in the short term.
Kevin Gibbons, UK MD at Blueglass:
Google always likes to keep us on our toes! It will always be looking to improve the search experience for the user, and that can't be a bad thing.
I think one of the biggest shifts in mindset in 2013 has been that marketers are aligning their strategies much closer with customers and less with search engines.
Andrew Girdwood, Media Innovations Director at LBi:
Google is improving the search experience. The search engine is better than ever before. Search results are better and the search experience feels more appropriate for a wider number of devices.
I’m not a Google slave. My default search engine in my web browser is Bing (ever since Google Reader; what a great prompt for me to try the competition).
I enjoy the GUI improvements made this year and appreciate Google-as-a-destination when I’m searching for information on my smartphone.
Teddie Cowell, Director of SEO, Mediacom:
There is a lot of change going at the moment, it’s true, but search is undergoing a fairly abrupt metamorphosis from something that was relatively basic in function – dishing up lists of links to things, into something quite amazing which can give individuals contextually relevant information, in more useful forms and via more natural interactions than simply having to type requests into a web browser.
I see Google as leading the charge with the innovation and experimentation around this transformation from a caterpillar to a butterfly.
Yes, some of the ideas may prove flawed and some the experiments fail, but it’s a critical stage in the evolution search so we’ll have to live with the changes for a while yet.
Richard Baxter, CEO at SEOGadget:
Google has got to fiddle. What I like about Google is it genuinely bases the entire process of search updates on what’s best for the user. This classic insight from Danny Sullivan demonstrated just how much each change was scrutinised by the group, with the core success metrics being around improvements to user experience.
That’s just organic search though, and I can’t help but feel that when the other guys get involved (local, paid, video) that something’s not quite right.
Case in point: the search results for car insurance are pretty much entirely paid above the fold, with that huge sponsored quote feature (which isn’t awesome – I’ve used it!).
It’s the same with flights – do the search and you get this box with a list of cities that have routes from London: “272 cities with non-stop flights” – it takes up so much space.
How Google decided this was good for the user I have no idea.
Jimmy McCann, Head of SEO at Search Laboratory:
If you’re doing things the right way you’re going to welcome the fiddling rather than condemn it. Updates and tweaks are the only way for Google to get better and the stuff it's doing with Schema and other projects is making the search results better.
I certainly don’t agree with the doom and gloom merchant outlook that Google is moving everything toward paid.