Google’s Recent Changes: Expert Commentary

    April 5, 2004

The launch of Gmail overshadowed many of the changes that Google announced recently. I spoke with several SEO experts recently about what they thought was significant about Google’s changes.

Discuss Google’s non-Gmail changes in the forum.

Google has been going through some changes
Google has been going through some changes

Google’s personalized search was, for me, both the most exciting and disappointing advance. Exciting because this is a key direction for search development, disappointing because it wasn’t immediately useful. Ok, so I’m being a little hard on a beta project.

Here’s what the SEOs thought about Personalized Search:

    I have to say that the personalization enhancements intrigue me the most. Many people have expected this as the “next wave” of search. With Google’s purchase of Applied Semantics, it was only a matter of time before we would see this technology, so this is exciting.

    The upside of personalized search results is limitless. The prospect of an engine that “learns” what you like/don’t like, find relevant, or prefer to avoid brings a new level to Web marketing. Already, ranking reports are becoming a thing of the past: they are only accurate for the moment they are run. In essence, the change will force Web sites to provide comprehensive, resourceful information in order to survive. It will also raise the standards for SEO expertise.

    As a side note – Google is getting the press for this, but Yahoo has most likely been tracking search preferences for quite some time, as Yahoo has the login capability that Google does not. So when I perform a search, I am sure there is some element of tracking going on. So I expect personalization to be implemented with Yahoo as well.

    Matt Bailey

    I think the introduction of Google Personalized Web Search is very exciting and hints at the future of search engine technology. While the actual results from Personalized Web Search are far from being ready for full implementation – I’m still seeing some unrelated websites show up in the searches, even with very specific keywords and personalization – I do think it is a positive step for the leader in search.

    It is interesting that Google states that your privacy is protected, so far as they wont sell your info to anyone else, but that doesn’t preclude them from using it for themselves.

    Andy Beal

Froogle Gets Primetime Placement:

After the personalized search, the next big talk among the experts was Froogle and its move to prime time, right there on the front page (at the expense of the directories, of course – we’ll get to that though).

    Finally, Froogle has come off the bench to become one of the starting five. Just in time for March Madness, if you’re looking for a basketball. (I did. The top listing was a glow in the dark basketball on Yahoo Auctions.) Or, if you’d prefer a baseball metaphor, Froogle is now in the starting rotation. What will this mean for Yahoo Shopping and As Satchel Paige once said, “Don’t look back. Something may be gaining on you.”

    Greg Jarboe

    LOVE Froogle. Have always loved Froogle. I am very happy to finally see it appear as a main “file tab.”

    Though I have to admit, I miss seeing the Froogle categories. People like to browse.

    Personally, the searches I perform the most are the default Google, News, Froogle and images. Which is exactly what they have on their current file tabs.

    Shari Thurow

    Adding Froogle is a good thing for users, obviously.

    Dan Thies, SEO Research Labs

    I have mixed reactions to the “cosmetic” changes at Google. First of all, these changes seem to be designed to promote Froogle and demote the Google Directory. I am pleased to see that images, news and groups are still accentuated but the real story is in the promotion of Froogle.


    As others have already noted, the Google Directory (aka The Open Directory Project, aka DMOZ) has been booted off Google’s home page. Could this be the last nail in the coffin for directories? By the way, when was the last time you used a directory to find anything?

    Greg Jarboe

AdWords Appearance Change:

The change in the AdWords appearance drew some interesting commentary too. Google brought their search ads out of the little colored boxes (meanwhile Yahoo and MSN put their ads into little colored boxes) and made them look a little more “indexy.”

    It appears that the primary objective of the redesign was to make the AdWords listings more clickable and less segregated. It’s well known that sponsored listings or ppc listings are less likely to be clicked on because there is an inherent perceived value in naturally ranking for a search term rather than having a budget large enough to “buy” a listing. Google’s not dumb and knows that one way to increase revenues is to make the paid listings stand out less and make them “appear” more like natural listings.

    Jason Dowdell

    My first thought was the new all text ads looked much noisier on the page than the neat colored boxes. I was hoping it was just my isolated reaction, so I did some quick usability testing to find out. I’m hearing the same comments from my test subjects. They notice the ads, but they say the results pages (especially pages with many ads) look quite busy and
    cluttered without the little boxes. When I showed testers mockups of results pages with the old box style ads, they said the pages looked cleaner, more organized and their eyes were drawn to the colored boxes. It will be interesting to watch how this change affects click through rates.

    Christine Churchill

    I liked having the Adwords in little boxes, and they’ve done away with that.

    Dan Thies

Pictures in Google News Search

Greg Jarboe, a former reporter and co-founder of SEO-PR, thought the addition of pictures to regular news search was big news.

    If you search on Google News, you will now find a photo often appears along with some of the top results. For example, I just searched for John Kerry and a photo from the Christian Science Monitor appeared in the top listing. The photos are eye-catching and are likely to generate higher click through rates for stories with associated graphics.

    Greg Jarboe

Various Reactions to Google’s Changes:

    The coolest thing to me, though, is that they’re now showing more search results “above the fold” – on the typical monitor, you’ll more listings without having to scroll.

    Dan Thies

Daniel Brandt was particularly unenthusiastic about Google’s changes.

    No, Google’s new stuff is all rather ho-hum to me. I think Google is trying to stay on the front pages of various media, to create the impression that Yahoo doesn’t have a chance. Pre-IPO Buzz Plan B, or something. These side shows that the media lap up don’t interest me much.

    However, I notice that Yahoo gets fresh material into their index faster than Google. If Yahoo expands their crawl to cover the web better, I think they will be a serious competitor. They’re copying everything Google is doing, and it’s a halfway-decent imitation.

    Not very original on Yahoo’s part, but since they’re simply going for Google’s market share, who cares about being clever or original?

    (Check out, Daniel’s new site.)

    Daniel Brandt

Joe Griffin, president of, gave his thoughts on recent changes in Google’s algorithm.

    The latest Google update appears to have a more sophisticated body content analysis engine. Keyword proximity and density changes in the algo are definitely at play. Also, we’re noticing a lot of the sites now ranking that were originally affected in the Florida update – more so now than on the last update. We are not seeing any of the issues that arose in the
    Florida update on this index with our clients.

    Joe Griffin

Garrett French is the editor of iEntry’s eBusiness channel. You can talk to him directly at WebProWorld, the eBusiness Community Forum.