Much of the Google talk lately has been centered around Google+, the company's new social network, and with good reason. It may have a significant impact on how Internet users use other established social sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even StumbleUpon. However, it is still Google search that drives the majority of web traffic for most site owners, and there is plenty going on in search as well.
What do you consider to be the most significant recent development in search? Share your thoughts in the comments.
What Would This New Google Design Mean for SEO?
First, I want to talk about a new user interface tweak Google is testing, which could have major implications for site owners and their visibility in Google search results.
The change, seen in the video below, has the search bar and navigation bar sticky at the top of the page and the left panel of search options sticky to the side. In other words, these things stay put as you scroll through search results, rather than disappearing as you scroll down as they do in the regular interface currently.
In the video, we see that results are still paginated. You still have to click through various pages of search results. How often do you really click past the first page?
However, the interface change closely resembles the current interface of Google Image Search. Here, the same things are stickied, but instead of paginated results pages, it has infinite scroll, meaning you can keep scrolling down the page to see more results. Eventually, you have to click "show more results," but it's not like clicking through multiple pages.
For all intents and purposes, all of the images appear on page one. It seems likely that if Google switches to this type of interface for regular web search results, it may implement the infinite scroll functionality as well. This would mean, of course, that users wouldn't have to click to page 2 of the search results to see your site if that's where you're currently ranking.
Users are far more likely, in my opinion, to look at more results if they're all presented on the page. I know this has been the case for me personally, using Google Image search. Similar functionality is also available in Twitter's timeline, and I know I take in more results there as well.
Google has changed its algorithm and interface so much over the years, with added personalization, local results, universal search, etc. that it is has become harder and harder to get your content seen by searchers, but if this actually pans out, it may actually help with visibility. Hopefully content quality will also be reflected.
We dont' know for sure that Google will implement any of this, but would it not make for a better user experience?
How would these changes impact SEO? Tell us what you think.
Google is getting more focused.
As you know, Google has tons of products and services, and constantly experiments with new potential ones. With Larry Page at the helm now, however, the company is getting much more focused. This was a major theme of what Page had to say in the company's earnings call last week. Since then, Google even made the bold announcement that it is shutting down Google Labs, which holds most of Google's experimental offerings.
"While we’ve learned a huge amount by launching very early prototypes in Labs, we believe that greater focus is crucial if we’re to make the most of the extraordinary opportunities ahead," said Google SVP for Research and Systems Infrastructure Bill Coghran.
Search items like Google Code Search, Google Trends, Google Suggest, Google Social Search, and even Google Maps started out in Google Labs.
That doesn't mean Google is looking to stop innovating. "We’ll continue to push speed and innovation—the driving forces behind Google Labs—across all our products, as the early launch of the Google+ field trial last month showed," said Coghran.
"Greater focus has also been another big feature for me this quarter--more wood behind fewer arrows, Page said in the earnings call. "Last month, for example, we announced that we will be closing Google Health and Google PowerMeter. We’ve also done substantial internal work simplifying and streamlining our product lines. While much of that work has not yet become visible externally, I am very happy with our progress here. Focus and prioritization are crucial given our amazing opportunities. Indeed I see more opportunities for Google today than ever before. Because believe it or not we are still in the very early stages of what we want to do."
"Even in search … which we’ve been working on for 12 years there have never been more important changes to make," he said. For example this quarter we launched a pilot that shows an author’s name and picture in the search results, making it easier for users to find things from authors they trust."
That last point by Page brings me to the next point. Who you are is becoming more important in search. We made note of this when Google announced the authorship markup, which enables the feature Page spoke of. To implement this, by the way, here is Google's instructions:
To identify the author of an article or page, include a link to an author page on your domain and add rel=”author” to that link, like this:
Written by <a rel=”author” href=”../authors/mattcutts”>Matt Cutts</a>.
This tells search engines: “The linked person is an author of this linking page.” The rel=”author” link must point to an author page on the same site as the content page. For example, the page http://example.com/content/webmaster_tips could have a link to the author page at http://example.com/authors/mattcutts. Google uses a variety of algorithms to determine whether two URLs are part of the same site. For example, http://example.com/content, http://www.example.com/content, and http://news.example.com can all be considered as part of the same site, even though the hostnames are not identical.
I find it interesting that this is the sole feature Page alluded to in the earnings call, with regards to search. This makes me wonder if Google places even more emphasis on this than I thought.
Watching the Subdomain Impact on Panda Recovery
We may find out how big a role content author can play in search rankings soon (separate form the actual authorship markup element) thanks to some experimenting by Panda update victim HubPages. We recently reported on HubPages' strategy of subdomaining content by author to keep content separate, so that the poor quality postings by some authors doesn't have an effect on the search rankings of those authors who are putting out higher quality. This also, in theory, is designed to keep the entire site from being pulled down by some less than stellar content.
This week, Hubpages announced that it was rolling out these subdomains. One author told WebProNews, "On one of my accounts at HubPages, I’m already seeing a bit of an increase of traffic and I’m quite sure it is from the subdomain/URL forwarding. HubPages, from what I can make of the update, is definitely heading in the right direction."
Definitely something to keep an eye on in the coming weeks/months.
Do you think subdomains are going to make a significant impact? Tell us what you think.
PageRank Gets Updated Again
Several weeks ago, Google launched an update to its PageRank (which displays in the Google toolbar). Google has played down the significance of PageRank, as it is only one of many signals, but it is still a signal, and one worth considering.
Interestingly, that update caused Google's own PageRank to drop from a 10 to a 9. This week, PageRank got another update, and sent Google back up to a 10.
Google doesn't usually update PageRank that frequently, so the new update raised a few eyebrows. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable thinks it's related to Twitter. "It was because, I believe, Twitter's PR was a PR 0 and Google didn't want people to think that Google downgraded Twitter's PageRank manually because of contract deals breaking between the two," he writes. He got the following statement from Google:
Recently Twitter has been making various changes to its robots.txt file and HTTP status codes. These changes temporarily resulted in unusual url canonicalization for Twitter by our algorithms. The canonical urls have started to settle down, and we've pushed a refresh of the toolbar PageRank data that reflects that. Twitter continues to have high PageRank in Google's index, and this variation was not a penalty.
Twitter's PR is a 9. Twitter's wasn't the only one to change, however. Various webmeisters took to the forums to note that their own had been changing.
Google is Nixing the Google Toolbar for Firefox
While we're on the topic of the Google Toolbar, it's also worth noting that it's being discontinued for Firefox.
"First of all, we'd like to thank all of our loyal users of Google Toolbar for Firefox," Brittney said on the Google Toolbar Help blog. "We deeply appreciate all of the feedback over the years that helped to make the product so useful. As we all know, over the past few years, there has been a tremendous amount of innovation in the browser space. For Firefox users, many features that were once offered by Google Toolbar for Firefox are now already built right into the browser. Therefore, while Google Toolbar for Firefox works on versions up to and including Firefox 4 only, it will not be supported on Firefox 5 and future versions. Please see our Help Center for additional details."
Google's own Chrome browser has over 160 million users, according to Page.
Google +1 Button Impressions
Page also announced that the +1 button is begin served 2.3 billion times a day. That means people are consuming a whole lot of content out there that carries this button. The button itself, as you may know, contributes directly to search rankings. The more +1's a piece of content gets, the more signals Google is receiving that people like this content, which increases its chances of ranking better.
It's just one of many signals Google uses, but it's a pretty direct signal.
While the button is yet to be integrated directly into Google+, the tremendous momentum of Google+ will likely only serve to fuel clicks of the +1 button. When I say it's not integrated, I mean that when you click the +1 button on a piece of content, it's not sharing it to your followers' streams. It's not like Facebook's "like" button, where it promotes that content to your friends' news feed. At least not yet. It goes to a separate tab on your Google profile that few probably see.
Still, despite any confusion that may arise from that, people are going to associate that "+1" with Google+. They're not only seeing it on content on the web, but on Google+ posts from within the social network. Presumably, they'll click it on the web more too.