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Google Search Changes

Google changed the design of their Search Results page again recently. In this article, I will show the changes as I am seeing them here in New Zealand, some possible reasons for those changes and then take a look at how Google Chrome is a key component of Google's Search strategy.

Firstly everyone's view of Google Search is dependent on a number of factors.

  • Whether logged into a Google Account
  • Location
  • Search History
  • Browsing History
  • The terms they are searching for.

Because Google is storing your history while you are logged into your Google account, your search experience is very particular to you.

I searched anonymously for "tauranga dentists" across 4 different Search engines and I was not logged into Google, Yahoo or Microsoft accounts at the time of the searches. The results are shown in the following images showing approximately the same screen area. These searches were made on the morning of Tuesday February 23, New Zealand time. The first large image shows the Google Search , followed by the searches in Yahoo, Bing and Duckduckgo.

Google Search Results

Yahoo Search ResultsBing Search ResultsDuckduckgo Search Results

Note that the right hand column of Google Ads is no longer there, there are 4 Google Ads at the top of the list and they all include Site Links - thereby taking up much more real estate. Next comes the Google map with the 3 top results. So the first genuine organic search is below here and is thus "below the fold".

In the same real estate on the page, Yahoo delivers 6 results, Bing 4 results and 2 Ads and Duckduckgo 5 results and 1 Ad (see small images above - save and open the images to see full size).

Why are Google doing this? It standardises the search results across all devices given it is now one column wide. And of course, Google will be looking to increase revenue and there are 3 reasons why this change can deliver this for them. Reason number 1 is to force more people to click on the Ads but I suspect, it is reason number 2 that is the main driver - if being number 1 in organic search forces you below the fold, then you will need to start bidding for those keywords in order to remain visible.

Reason number 3 is possibly to force the bidding up for those businesses who were happy to sit somewhere in the right hand column - where clicks are cheap and your Ad is still being seen. If you're only bidding high enough for position 5 or 6, you'll be at the foot of the page and effectively forgotten.

Those of us with long memories can remember the time when Google wasn't the dominant search engine - in the late 1990s, everyone seemed to have their favourite search engine, names such as Altavista, Lycos, Dogpile plus a host of others. The search results they delivered were variable and would often be either incorrect or even inappropriate as people knew how to game the search algorithms. Google Search came along as very simple and uncluttered and delivered much better search results. 

Altavista 1999Lycos 1999Dogpile 1999

Take a look at the screenshots above that show the search engines back in November 1999 and compare it to Google Search (in the banner of the article). While the competitors are crowded and confusing, Google is clean and clear. In hindsight, it is easy to see why, in just a few years, an internet search become "to google" and the rest is history.

According to Google Chrome exceeded 47% browser market share in January 2016 with Safari second on 13% while Firefox/Internet Explorer lag behind on 9%. In New Zealand, Chrome has almost 49% with Safari in second place at almost 26%. Note that this is the market share across all devices, including mobile phones.

So why is the domination of Google Chrome so important for Search? Because Chrome allows you to search from the URL bar, no need to bring up first. And as soon as you start typing, Chrome begins offering you suggestions.

The key, though, is that Chrome offers you suggestions of Search terms. It wants to take you to Search results because Adwords live there and that generates revenue. Chrome will offer you suggestions of recent URLs from your history but it appears to me that this history is "short". I haven't investigated deeply but having never changed a history duration setting in Chrome, my informal observation is that Chrome forgets quite quickly that you have been to a website - so that next time you start typing the URL it can direct you to Search.

My first example is Briscoes, a discount homeware store in locations throughout New Zealand. I'm sure I have never searched for Briscoes before but I know what the URL is so I start typing it.

Search for BriscoesSearch for Briscoes

It is only when I add the dot to make it "briscoes." that Chrome starts offering me a URL to select.

So what if the store name has more than one word, let's try another NZ store, Cabbages and Kings which I know has the URL

Just typing in "cabbagesandkings" does not convince Chrome that I am typing in a URL. I can even type "cabbagesandkings.c" and still it offers me only search terms. It takes one more letter and finally the URL is offered to me.

Cabbages and Kings SearchCabbages and Kings SearchCabbages and Kings Search

Now this may appear picky but I hope you see my point - the Search arena is dominated by Google and the browser arena is dominated by Chrome. With automatic updates, Chrome can be tweaked to be less and less useful to the user and constantly push them to Google Search where they are greeted by a whole screen of Google Ads.

So can Google retain this domination over search and browser? With the huge number of mobile devices and Android having a clear worldwide lead, it is likely to continue for the forseeable future. Then again, Internet Explorer was dominant for many years purely because it was installed on most PCs and there may come a time when Google pushes too far and people start to look for alternatives.

The number of people switching to is growing all the time because it doesn't track your searches, and it isn't trying to anticipate what you want to search for. Similarly Firefox separates the URL bar and the Search bar and lets you choose which search engine to use. Are you looking to make the switch?