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New Google Search Options

00:00 on Wed, 13 May 2009 | SEO | 0 Comments

If you're outside of the search world you may well not have noticed Google's "Show Options" has been rolled out for widespread usage.


Google Show Options
Google Search presents "Show Options"


Aside from the usual vertical options (in red), a subtle but very noteworthy "Show Options" link has appear (highlighted in green).

Clicking on these options gives you a whole host of filtering options.


Google Show Options
"More Options" Explored: Further filtering


There's some really interesting stuff in there ("ooh, Wonder Wheel!"), such as the Timeline and Reviews filtering. Rather than explain each feature in detail, I'd rather talk about the potential impact on users and businesses (especially SEOs). I'll leave the explaining to Google, who put this video together:



Why are these options here?
As our Google chums make clear in the demonstration, their stated aim is to increase the ease of finding specific information from searches. It's quite clear that we've seen a shift in user search behaviour over the last 5 years, with users become smarter at using search engines. Can't find what you're looking for? Most users will now go back and refine their search query, rather than trawl through several pages of results. Research also shows that searchers use more words on average than ever before when performing a search. Why? Because they know they're more likely to get relevant results.

Despite Google making these changes to aid its users, I would be surprised if the extra filter options have a wide adoption for a while. Google do a good job of making a search quick and painless task, great - but it means a small text link is unlikely to catch the eye of a web user speeding past on their way to the next site.

I'm certainly not writing off these new features, as I've already had some interesting results. As Google's Vice President of Search Products and User Experience, Marissa Mayer says;

"The race in search is far from over and innovation and continued improvement is absolutely pivotal,"

Which couldn't be more true. Despite Google having its very vocal critics, they are pressing their advantage (rightly or wrongly) to widen the gap between them and other search engines.


What's cool about Google's new search options?
Looking through some of the results provided, Google has done a moderately good job on introducing more intelligent snippets. For instance, if we are search for reviews of the Apple iPhone, Google has started showing snippets such as;


apple iphone review on Google
Apple iPhone review snippet on Google Review Search


Which instantly gives you a summary of the review. From the random results I've been experimenting with, the quality of these intelligent snippets is varied, but overall heading in the right direction.

For quite a while Google has been offering "dynamic" meta description data, trying to pull a piece of content from your site that is related to the search query used to display in the SERP snippet. Rather than having a "one size fits all" approach to meta descriptions (which can determine how many people click on your search result), I've had some success with increasing click-throughs just using these feature.

At the moment, it would appear Google is using their own semantic indexing to try and figure out the content on page and bring into these intelligent snippets, which is giving less-than-perfect results in many cases. It certainly wouldn't surprise me if the SEO world turns to The Resource Description Framework to start providing Google with more data about the type of content on the site, rather than letting it guess. Ensuring Google knows exactly what type of data you are providing will increase your chances of appearing prominently in these listings.

I think it's a pretty neat advancement from both a user and SEO community point of view. As a user, I spent this weekend doing a specific search and having dozens of unwanted directory sites thrown back at me. Being an experienced searcher, I started using advanced operands to specifically start weeding out sites from my search. It took me almost 15 minutes to find the sites I wanted and I had a search query string that could have been the introduction to a mad-lib novel. Not pleasant. As a user, if search options can relieve some of this manual process, then it's fine with me.

As an SEO, I also see the search options as a blessing. Further refinement gives us all "more room" to be listed. Rather than your e-commerce website competing with informational sites and news sites for a top 3 spot, having users specify what kind of information they're after, e..g "I want to buy", "I want reviews", "I want to see recent media coverage" can only help you attract more relevant (the key!) traffic.

The Wonder Wheel, as it is so joyfully named is more of a play thing (to me at least!), but I can actually see a legimate use for it.



Google Wonder Wheel
The Google Wonder Wheel on "Scuba Diving"



If I was running a website, I would let my content writers / editors / contributors loose on the Wonder Wheel. Exploring the Wonder Wheel gives you topics, ideas and potential titles for content. These are searches and related terms - does your website cover all of these topics?

I could see it has a great tool for planning content structure and brainstorming meetings. Any chance to use a whizzy graphic....


In short...

1) The SEO community has known about universal search since 2007, it's not something that's crept up on us (or something to worry about!)

2) I would expect emergence of more techniques SEOs can use to help Google classify the context of content.

3) User search behaviour will continue to evolve and become more sophisticated.



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