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Google's New SERP: Hit Or Miss ?

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Just about ten days ago, we reported on the launch of the new Google search results pages (SERPs). Some positive feedback has emerged, both from the general public and from search professionals, although users seemed mostly infuriated at the outset.
So hit or miss ?

On May 5th, Google unveiled its new search results page, deploying a whole range of tools including Universal search as a core feature, more search options, find and compare, a cleaner logo and finally, the much-criticized dynamic left-hand navigation bar.

The look and feel - "Hate it !"
At the time, and judging from the comments to our post, the majority of users were forming a solid "I hate the new Google search page" camp. The left hand navigation bar was disqualified as "counter-intuitive", "redundant" with the top menu, and the icons for the various "Everything" options were said to be "clutter", "as ugly as sin" (in case you wonder, these are all direct quotes from the comments). Many compared the new page to Bing and threatened to switch to another search engine, as they deemed Google had failed to "keep it simple."

In terms of actual content, one of the other main reproaches made was the localization of searches: users from different countries (namely Canada, UK, Australia and South Africa) were complaining that it was no longer just as easy as a top button click to have only results for their country to be displayed on the page.

The recurring request was for Google to make the switch to the new design optional as many users voiced their anger of having been "forced" into this change, without having been consulted and without having the possibility to roll back to the "old look".

However, despite all the negative noise around it, some rare positive feedback was to be found too on the part of users.

The SERP for what it is: from "Not Bothered" To "Love It"
Here is a selection from the positive reactions: "the search results are still prominent and I know right where to look"; "it looks OK"; "I love it. The new structure is better organized. The search box is much longer allowing people to explore more terminology when they search."

As you may see, the positive reaction is more about the enhanced search capacities than the overall look. One commentator even replied to users in the Hate it" camp, saying : "Wake up, this is all about increasing PPC sales, not the user experience."

Is this true?
Dominik Johnson Senior Consultant at Explido Webmarketing has published an interesting attention analysis of the new Google SERPs, including heatmaps. The post is in German, but the key findings are translated below. Interestingly, according to this study, the new design seems to heavily favour organic results.

newgoogleserps1.png

Strangely the search button really suffers from this new design - which implies that Google wants us to search less, and perhaps, find more. The hot spot analysis below, shows an increased focus on the top 3 paid search listings, but much less attention being drawn to the right hand ads column.

google-hotspots.jpg

This may mean that average cost per click prices will go up with the increase competition for the top PPC slots. However, with less attention on the right hand column, businesses are likely to drop their bid prices and continually increment their pricing to target the 6th and 7th ad slots which seems to attract more attention. This will mean that there will be bigger margins for bidding wars to take place.

google-heatmap.jpg

What Google seems to be saying to PPC advertisers with this redesign is:


  • Bet more confidently by aiming for the top slot on the keywords that you know work for your business

  • Freed up pricing on the long tail will enable you to test drive more traffic from new keywords

Test drive time
I punched in "PPC". This is what came up, with all options collapsed on the left hand side:

Google SERP.JPG

Visually, the experience is pleasing: the logo is more sober, the colors all very close to - if not altogether - primary colors, i.e. easy for the eye and brain to catch and remember. The icons have a somewhat naïve feel about them, which makes the experience more playful.

The only thing that disturbs me is the redundancy, indeed, of the main menu, which you can find both on the top of the page and on the left side bar...

Each of the 3 columns have their own purpose so it's easy to know where to look according to what you are looking for.


  • In term of content, the right sidebar is for sponsored links and ads - nothing new there.

  • The news is, of course, the left sidebar search menu. The options there are numerous and make the search experience more readily accurate, to the point.

  • The center part of the page is for results, as usual, but the new feature in there is the box in the middle of the page that allows you to scroll through all the latest, real-time results on your search. For instance, the "PPC" search yielded a tweet citing Search Engine Watch !

True enough though, it becomes a little more tedious to actually get the pages displayed to be that of a specific country. You have to either go into "Advanced Search" at the top of the page or to "Search within results" at the very bottom of it.

Overall, graphically, it conveys a sense of simplicity and as far as actual results are concerned, the content now goes further, without having to be a search professional.

I quite agree with Rich Kahn, CEO of search marketing company & search engine eZanga: "They came up with a clean, easy to use way to offer the data, plus added some really nice features allowing you to refine your results on the fly. They kept their site clean and simple, with the extra features that a user can opt to use."

The business of search
After the public outcry, more reports have emerged from the search business and those were all quite positive.

Generally speaking, the feeling is that Google's new SERPs give more visibility: users are more likely to dig deeper into their queries as the options are now readily available and easy to use. A sort of refine-as-you-go improvement for the user.

In terms of visibility again, real-time updates was another winner with the new SERP: real-time results have become much more accessible for any query without having to look specifically through the "advanced search" options. And with real-time results, social content comes to the forefront too. Both are opportunities for search marketing.

"In terms of search marketing opportunities, it definitely opens the door to more advertising real estate and not just for text ads," said Rich Kahn.

How this also translates is that "ranking in all of Google's different search engines has become even more important for getting traffic from Google" as WebProNews' Chris Crum explained.

In short, if anything else, as a professional, the new SERP may get you increased traffic.

Room for further improvement
Speaking of real-time results, "the latest isn't necessarily the greatest", said Olly Connelly, Founder of vpsBible.com, a company that shows VPS-Linux newbies how to set up their own web server.

"I want to see results not just for the newest content, but for newly amended content, encouraging producers to improve their info and so improving research," Connelly added, noting that "Quality new content is great, but if old content is remastered then that's as good as new, or likely better".

"I hope the Google guys are tweaking their algorithm to allow for that," he commented.

Beyond that point, there is also the eternal flash battle, reminding of Apple's spat against Adobe: users who are reluctant about using flash technology are not seeing the real-time box in their Google SERP...

To conclude and widen the perspective, let's cite eZanga's Kahn, expectations of seeing "more graphical ad units rolling into this new design", thereby opening a new path for search in general and search marketing in particular.

So hit or miss? Time is needed to adjust to changes. The new SERP, beyond just a new, fresher look, also holds a lot of great potential for search.

What do YOU think will be next? What do you think Google's plans are?

This post was authored by Liva Judic (@merrybubbles) with Jonathan Allen (@jc1000000). Many thanks to Dominik Johnson for permission to translate and publish his study.


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