Google Search Results Pages Landscape Changes Over The Years
Over the years Google has made many changes that force changes to the way companies conduct business online. Failure to meet these changes can and often meant, decreased sales and exposure for products and services. Nobody liked that unless of course, it was happening to the competition and not their own bottom line.
More often than not, Google changes had to do with their algorithms and the way they read the various signals that determine a website’s ranking within the SERPS or search engine ranking pages.
Speaking of SERPS have you noticed that this term is not used nearly as often as it once was? Could that be because it refers to the plural with respect to pages and everybody seems to know now that when it comes to Google there is only 1 page, the first page, that matters? But I digress. This post is more about landscape and less about rankings.
A brief history on Google’s Landscape
Up until October of 2000 Google’s search results pages offered links to 10 websites per page. Each of these links displayed pretty much the same information that they do today, A link in the form of a title followed by the same type of description that is in use today. Sure, there were other things that Google has removed or replaced since then like PageRank, but the link to a web address has always been the focus of the results pages.
October 2000 Google unleashed their AdWords program to an unsuspecting world. To accommodate 350 paying AdWords customer’s ads Google had to adjust the results page landscape to display those ads. The brunt of these paid placements was stretched along the right-hand side of the screen creating the two-part landscape; Organic Results taking up the left side of the screen and the Paid Results on the right. Giving us the first major landscape change.
As a side note this was also the same time that Google introduced a guest artist for their Google Doodle on the homepage. There have been many since but that is another story altogether.
With the dividing of the results pages there was some concern expressed by website owners and Internet marketing companies alike. The issue was quite simply a matter of Google selling top listings, giving big business an unfair advantage for the top of the organic listings.
Google responded by reciting their mantra of “Do No Evil” while telling everyone that the two sections would never meet. Of course, it wasn’t long after that the results page was divided by a thin line near the top. Above the line, marked for ads. Below the line, organic results. That thin line was all that stood between paid and organic results but it was enough to appease all but the most ardent of skeptics.
The landscape of the results pages stabilized for quite a while after that with a few exceptions. In 2002 Google launches Google News and eventually Google News feeds starting showing up in the serps. Not necessarily always at the top of the first page but usually somewhere on page 1.
This feed didn’t displace any of the 10 organic results as that number remained constant but that doesn’t matter when it is your listing being pushed below the fold. At some point the Google News feed did migrate to the top of the organic rankings for popular, news worthy searches.
Personalization & Universal Oh My!
While this move certainly made sense, especially to those accepted as a viable news source, for most it just meant being pushed further down the page. Edging ever closer to “below the fold” status.
In 2003 Google developed what was to become Google Books and they too would eventually get added to the results pages. At the time these types of results would be inserted into the serps for relative searches. Again, nothing too self serving here as the inclusion makes sense.
In 2005 Google introduces us to their maps along with a whole slew of innovative and helpful products. Maps led to Google Earth and some clever Mobile products but none of these affected the results pages directly as Maps and Images had their own type of results pages.
Also in 2005 Google unveiled their personalized search. Basically, what Personalized Search did was to examine your personal search history and based upon your search history and the sites you visited, any searching you did would result in Google showing you sites that you had already visited. The logic behind it is if you already been to a site then you must trust the site therefore said site is a good match for your query. Personally, I think this was an error in judgement because it was Google telling us what we want over let us discover what we want.
2006 saw the purchase of YouTube.com and naturally, if there was a video related to the search term a YT video was tucked away somewhere on the first result page. Depending upon on how relative the phrase was to a given video would determine exactly where the video was displayed.
With these new innovations and acquisitions getting top honors on the organic results pages, things were getting a little crowded. Depending upon the type of query being made, the first page could, and often did, see 3 or more google products shoulder their way past other websites. Books, Images, News, Videos, Maps could all make an appearance in the organic results.
In 2007 this became known as Universal Search and often, depending upon the search query, 3 Google products would replace some of the organic results leaving room for only 7 organic results. Sometimes you would still get 10 organic results along with the extra Universal Results but usually the Universal Results were mostly above the fold.
Knowledge Graph & Google My Business
Things pretty much stayed this way for the most part until 2012 when Google released Knowledge Graph in May. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Knowledge Graph KG is that area to the right of the organic results and it displays things like landmarks, celebrities, cities, sports teams, movies, works of art and more. The KG content was taken from the Metadata on a web page.
2014 Google Places turned into Google My Business and it offered an easier way for businesses to get into the Google world. GMB results soon replaced the Google Places Map Results at the top of the Organic Search Results. GMB and KG worked well together, so much so that for certain types of searches you didn’t even have to leave Google’s result pages to obtain specific types of information. You could get everything you needed without ever actually visiting a different site, which was pretty much the idea.
Soon after GMB was released Google replaced the Local Results Map listings with the 3-pack GMB results. Gone were the 5 or more Local Maps Results and replaced with the 3-pack GMB results block. I am not sure how this is better for the users as it took away more choices without having to click the Load More link. I am sure that some businesses were not too happy but what could they do other than to buy more AdWords placements.
With the ever-increasing popularity of mobile search Google dropped the paid ads along the right side of the results pages as things were getting a little tight on those narrow screens. Google wasn’t about to drop their GMB or KG from their results as those two, when working in concert together, kept eyeballs on Google so the right-side ads had to go. This pretty much leaves us where we are today.
The next big announcement for the Google landscape is the prioritization of Mobile Search. How this will impact the future landscape is unknown but what is clear is that if your business is not yet mobile friendly you had better make the change ASAP. There will still be a desktop version of Google search but it will not be upgraded as frequently as the mobile version and only “G” knows if a non-mobile friendly site will even show up on the mobile search. Why take the chance, convert, convert, convert.
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