Posted March 24, 2009 1:09 pm by with 13 comments

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by Peter Young

In a move that will surprise few within the industry Google have announced two new features within the Google search results, first an expanded list of related searches and second the rollout of extended snippets—both of which could affect search behaviour quite significantly.

Firstly, Google have announced the deployment of a ‘new technology’ that better understands concepts and relationships associated with a query. This technology will allow Google to offer a greater number of related searches to users via the search results (found at the bottom/top of certain searches).

For example, if you search for [principles of physics], our algorithms understand that “angular momentum,” “special relativity,” “big bang” and “quantum mechanic” are related terms that could help you find what you need. Here’s an example (click on the images in the post to view them larger):

These improvements are not merely restricted to English-based searches, searches in other languages/countries will also incorporate the new technology moving forward. In total around 37 languages should be affected by the changes.

As well as the extended related search functionality, Google have also announced the rollout of the extended snippets. Extended snippets have been spotted fairly extensively in the past, and it is largely unsurprising that these have now passed the testing phase.

In searches of more than three words, the usual length snippet may not be enough for you to judge the result’s relevance. In these situations, Google will now look at extending the number of lines for the description to allow greater opportunity to see the result in context. This in my opinion will have two main effects

  1. The description tag becomes ‘less important’. Reading between the lines this would suggest that the snippet is likely to be taken from the body of the page, rather than the site description.
  2. Site structure and content becomes key. Given that Google is using the main body for retrieving this context—allowing Google to find the content becomes more and more important. Providing the essential signals to Google thus is essential.

The extended snippets do not appear on all results; however, there is certainly a far wider range of searches affected by the new improvements

It will be interesting to see how the new improvements affect search behaviour, particularly with reference to the extended snippets. Given the greater amount of SERP real estate taken up by the extended snippets, and the fact that many of these snippets are returned in context, I would suggest this could significantly affect organic vs paid clickthrough.

What effects do you foresee from these changes?

Peter Young is the SEO Manager at MediaVest in Manchester, UK and also a regular blogger at Holistic Search.

  • oh fun – I love how Google does things just to keep the SEO world on it’s toes!

    Alan Bleiweiss’s last blog post..Deceptive SEO Tactics And How to Uncover Them

  • Uh oh…organic search further cannibalizing paid clicks? How did this make it out of beta?! 😛

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..Too Many URLs Spoil the SEO: Fixing a Common Ecommerce Duplicate Content Problem

  • Ben

    I’m glad they are changing it! In our area, the organic search results have been getting loaded with portal sites that add very little value to the searcher (IMHO). Is everyone in agreement that organic results will be (almost) purely informational and paid ads will (continue) to be purely commerce?

  • @Ben I hope not, though I’m biased because I’m on the ecommerce side 🙂 But really, not every retailer uses Google Adwords (or advertises for all its products/keywords) and Google Base to appear in Google Product Search. So search users who also depend on Google for commercial searches may get frustrated with too many Wikipedia results.

    I do think Google’s getting better and better at detecting intent whether a search is transactional or informational, and maybe searchwiki (if anyone bothers to use it) could also help.

    Linda Bustos’s last blog post..Too Many URLs Spoil the SEO: Fixing a Common Ecommerce Duplicate Content Problem

  • I agree with Linda – while I take great joy in having a handful of very well capitalized mid-size business owners who can afford spending six figures on paid advertising, the vast majority of my clients are small business owners and non-profits who can not afford to compete in the paid search arena.

    While I am all for the free flow of valid and valuable information (which I believe the web is most ideally suited for), it is only through organic optimization that we have the ability to help them compete, especially in this economy.

    Perhaps one day there may be a dual channel Google offering – one for business and one for information flow. Until then, there needs to be a mix.

    At the same time though, I continually encourage my clients to provide relevant information to their site visitors where that information is purely information, and not all about selling. I even go so far as to encourage them to establish a blog that is completely about information for it’s own sake, to generate email newsletters that are the same, and to participate in the online community by giving freely of their knowledge so that more quality information is available. The fact that a side benefit of that is some people who might not have otherwise found them will potentially click through to their profile or a side link to their offerings is a bonus that helps me motivate them to do so. Yet I always emphasize that it needs to be about giving to the community.

    Alan Blewieiss’s last blog post..Deceptive SEO Tactics And How to Uncover Them

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  • Its good to listen that they are giving something new for the organic results which are going to become completely informational.

  • I foresee more directed traffic to home pages. There will probably be lower bounce rates and higher conversion rates on landing pages. This will likely be good for analytics data. When visitors get a better feel from the SERP about what each site is primarily concerned with, their search will have a more defined, targeted focus.

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  • nice article. i have to disagree about the meta description becoming less important tho. but, i agree that bounce rates should dip down significantly for long tail traffic (dunno that’s been much of a prob tho, not for my sites anyhow).

    i love the longer snippets when searching for obscure information, it saves me seconds x seconds x seconds.. over time i’m sure i’m saving days and weeks of my time. hmm… i might need to calculate the time savings and get a nap in.


    Buster Collings’s last blog post..Google Lengthens Snippets, But The Meta Description Still Important

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  • Drenzul

    Would be nice to have a mix of both unless the query is clearly for one or the other.

    If I search for ‘car stereo’ there is no way for the SE to know if I’m wanting to buy a car stereo or if I want information on them so both should be fed back to me in order of quality.

    If I search for ‘car stereo information’ or ‘buy a car stereo’ then ofc it should return the e-commerce/local business results or the info sites depending on relevance.

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