How Much is Too Much? The Evolution of the SERPs

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The year 2007 has been one of tremendous change for the major search engines. The shape-shifting started in May when CNET News.com proclaimed the arrival of Google’s “uber search site,” the freshly launched “Universal Search.”  Since then, Ask.com, MSN, and Yahoo! have each made pretty major changes to their user interface.  As I recently watched an Ask.com commercial on television, featuring what appears to be a fairly indecisive person with a lot of time on their hands moving their mouse over a search results page, I thought to myself: “what is happening to the good old days of search?”

Google’s updated look to their classic search engine results pages (SERPs) has incorporated many other types of results into their layout, which traditionally had consisted of a selection of pages introduced by bold titles and two line descriptions, often framed by ad listings generated by Google AdWords advertisers.  The most common changes seem to be the addition of (Google-owned) YouTube and other video results, as well as the occasional inclusion of (Google) news results and (Google-indexed) images.  Hmmm . . . this doesn’t seem all that groundbreaking to me.  I wonder how soon the clamoring will begin for a return to “Google Classic?”

Ask.com actually pokes fun at Google (and/or Yahoo! and MSN Live) in their most recent batch of commercials, which complete the previously described mouse journey by asking “or does it just do this?” and showing a “classic” looking SERP.  In addition to taking the steam out of the ad, the fact that most of their competitors no longer produce this type of results page kind of makes me yearn for the old days when simple results pages were all that was available.  I do not think I am alone in this.

Some will argue that the major search engines all provide ways to use advanced settings to dictate the results layout.  Many people don’t want to take the time for that.  As for me, 8 – 10 years of active searching has taught me to enter what I usually consider to be a more “refined” search term than less-active searchers might.  Consequently, I am often still rewarded with a “plain old list.”  I fear, however, that eventually even my results will be clouded by content I am not interested in.

In June, Ask.com launched Ask3D, and I covered this neat layout back in the last issue of Search Marketing Standard. I have not changed my opinion that I think it is cool, but quite frankly that coolness has not turned me into a regular user.  When I do have the luxury of time, and am researching something that typically is more to satisfy my interest in a topic than to find an answer, Ask3D is cool.  When I need a quick source for an article or a statistic related to a particular industry, however, I need 3 – 4 pages of “pure” results to look through to find my favorite.

In late September, Microsoft announced the arrival of its Live Search 2.0.  Many industry pundits chuckled and hoped MSN simply would begin to provide good results instead of the spam that has dominated that algorithm since its inception.  The new layout focuses on offering more choices and more formats.

In October, Yahoo! announced that they were going live with “Search Assist,” a part of a greater initiative to provide a wider variety of search results in their next-generation SERPs, such as video, images, and news. Sound familiar? How long will it take for users to be fed up with suggested searches?

Although I do feel that the new breed of SERPs will probably stay in at least some form, I also think that the overall user experience is being sacrificed for the benefit of a few searchers seeking multiple content formats.  This could be a great opportunity for top directories like Best of the Web (BOTW.org), which could gain more and more followers fed up with continually having to search deeper than the first page of the SERPs.

About the Author

Chris Boggs of Rosetta is a specialist in search engine optimization and paid search advertising. Chris joined Brulant in 2007 as the Manager of the SEO team, and Rosetta acquired Brulant in 2008.

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