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More Testing Of Middle Of The Page Query Refinement At Google

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The Googleplex is playing with its search results again. Out is the "Dissatisfied" query refinement we wrote about earlier this month. In is, well, the same thing -- they've just seemed to drop the word dissatisfied.

Mike Grehan dropped me a note yesterday about what seemed like to him to be commercial listings in the middle of regular results for el dorado. Looking more closely, they don't appear to be ads. Yes, they do have tracking codes. By they aren't codes as used for ads. Instead, it just looks like Google in particular wants to track clicks here as part of evaluating the test. For the record, as noted below, Google itself says these aren't ads.

Dave Naylor spotted the change last week and posted yesterday some screenshots of what he's seen. He illustrates how this test seems to be the same thing Google did earlier this month.

Look at his first screenshot, and you'll see in the middle of the page this section:

Dissatisfied See results for: tokenizer java

Under this comes three URLs, one from Sun.com and two from Koders.com. Now look at the second screenshot, and you'll see:

See results for: tokenizer java

The results have changed -- still three URLs, but this time two from Sun.com and one from Princeton University. Why the change? Results change all the time, so it's not surprising to see some shift.

What's going on? Google is likely wanting to help people refine their queries. Imagine the person who searched for [tokenizer] who was looking for that as it relates to Java. The skim the first results and don't see what they want. Google doesn't want them dissatisfied, so it's saying in the middle of the page essentially -- maybe you'd prefer these other results.

Go to Ask Jeeves, and you can see the much more mature way Ask has long done this. Same search, tokenizer, and on the right-hand side is a Narrow Your Search area which lists as alternatives to try, "tokenizer.java" as one.

So basically -- nothing really new here other than to drop the word "Dissatisfied." That makes sense. Directly suggesting to your searchers that they may be dissatisfied with you -- even if they are -- isn't the wisest of moves. There are other way to help them without calling yourself out as a failure.

Google Tests "Commercial" Results In Organic Listings from ClickZ looks at the situation leading off with one firm implying that Google is doing something "commercial" in nature in what it presents in that area. Google denies these are ads in that section, nor do they appear to be. One of the cited searches, for on demand, has plenty of commercial stuff outside the results. And in the tokenizer query above, the Princeton URL isn't commercial. FYI, MediaPost also has a brief article mentioning another example where you'll see this in action, us.

By the way, here's a thought. Over the past few months, we've had Google testing three ads up top rather than two, clustered results, a "more results" experiment and this current query refinement test.

I know there's a balancing in wanting to test things without messing with the test by drawing attention to it. But neither is it good for people to wonder if there's spyware at work or ad slip-ins happening without their knowledge. Put a message out on the Google Blog when these things are going on, so enquiring minds know and others don't have to guess or speculate.

Want to discuss? Visit our forum threads New More Results Experiment On Google and "Dissatisfied?" UI Change to Google.

Postscript: If you're looking for an official statement from Google, they just sent the following to SEW Blog:
Google is testing an automated technique for detecting when an alternate query might help users find what they are looking for more quickly. For these searches, which are both commercial and non-commercial in nature, Google displays one or more alternate queries together with a preview of their top results.
Postscript 2: Google's Matt Cutts provides further details in his UI fun: Better queries and UI fun: Better snippets has more information.

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