Experimental Google Search Results Page

    October 17, 2005

On the one-word query [skol], typed into Google Search, the usual results appear at the top, but then below that, the user is prompted to extend their query to [skol beer] or view the first three results for that longer phrase.

That’s a nice bonus for the top-ranking pages on the two-word phrase — they actually get ‘upgraded’ to the first page of results.

Attempts to replicate this experiment with beer and liquor brands such as Corona (I got a regional listings prompt for Corona, CA), Export, Canadian (at the bottom of the SERP, prompted to view Google Groups threads), and Johnny Walker proved fruitless.

I’m guessing, then, that this is driven by deeper studies of user behavior. ‘Skol’ happens to be one of those one-word queries where the two-word phrase is often the user’s true intent. Increasingly, then, what appears on the page is going to be situational, even if personalization and the user’s search history, preferences, etc. are not taken into account.

Prompting users to enter two-word phrases instead of one-word phrases can be a subtle way of training users to be better searchers, too. Beware, though. It sometimes pays off just to use the one-word search. Multiple-word searches in Google Images, for example, could be too restrictive, whereas just entering a person’s name or first name or last name might give you a lucky find if that person’s name turns up in the filename, for example.

Supposedly the top search scientists feel that search is a problem that is “about 5% solved.” It sure is fun to watch them on the way towards solving it. As users, we’re part of that quest.

In related news, John Battelle finds something I’m sure you’re seeing now too: a promo for the Google toolbar is now often appearing at the bottom of the Google home page or at the end of a page of results. I’ve also noticed they continue to frequently use a red “new!” notation next to the Google Local link on the home page. If you need to know what’s important to them, these little attempts to drive users to their featured properties will give you a clue. (Remember, Google doesn’t advertise.) Of note is a recent Hitwise report that shows Yahoo leading Google in local search.

These little prompts are no coincidence. Google, believe it or not, is playing catchup in a few areas. Because of their massive traffic flows, a couple of subtle prompts can help them play that game skilfully. As GMail continues to lag its competitors, I expect they’ll turn on the jets there in six months or so.

Andrew Goodman is Principal of Page Zero Media, a marketing consultancy which focuses on maximizing clients’ paid search marketing campaigns.

In 1999 Andrew co-founded Traffick.com, an acclaimed “guide to portals” which foresaw the rise of trends such as paid search and semantic analysis.