Latest Organic Search changes to be aware of (and watch…)

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Part 1 – Changes to the Search Engine Result Pages

There have been a number of changes introduced by the search engines in the last year or so – some algorithm-based and many tool changes.  In this series of posts, we’ll sum up some of the more significant ones (mostly from Google of course) and provide some high level reasons why these changes are important for you to keep your eye on moving forward.  This is the first in a series of posts about Search changes that you should be aware of.

In this post we’ll discuss the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages – but you already knew that right?) and in later posts we’ll also talk about Search Engine Tool changes and Search Engine localization changes:

Google Instant Search (http://www.google.com/instant/ )

What is it?

This one showed up in the result pages part way through 2010 and really changed the way people search using Google. Essentially Google is doing a real-time search as you type into the search field and populating results based on what you currently have typed, providing different results as you type in additional words.  In theory this isn’t all that bad and idea but in practice it really seems to cause problems.

Most would agree that the primary reason Google made this change wasn’t for users but for PPC advertising dollars.  By showing multiple realtime results for searchers, there are more opportunities for PPC results to also show and as such more competition for phrases.

Why you should care…

Internet Users are already short on attention span and focus – presenting users with results before they finish typing what they think they are looking for could very well cause them to click on non-relevant results – thus looking at information different than the original topic they were searching for and derailing their initial intentions for search.  Although the instant results can be disabled – it’s safe to assume that most users will not disable it and as such – If you are a business that knows the better long-tail phrase is iphone bluetooth handsfree device and you optimize for that phrase (and know that people will actually type in that phrase) – there is now a greater chance that a potential view for that phrase will get hijacked prior to the user even finishing typing the phrase.

So thinking about order of words in phrases (i.e. making sure iphone is first in your long-tail phrase vs handsfree and then placing it appropriately on your pages such as page titles etc. etc. etc.) is even greater importance.  It might even be argued that a change like this makes optimizing for short-head (single word / non-long-tail) phrases a little more important again (but no easier of course).

Think about someone wanting to look for the phrase iPhone bluetooth handsfree device – now each word typed is going to bring up a new SERP result and another set of PPC results to go along with it.  So any PPC advertisers competing for the term iPhone is going to not only show up for someone typing in iPhone alone but also the first realtime result for anyone using iPhone as the first phrase etc.

Google Instant Previews (http://www.google.com/landing/instantpreviews/)

What is it?

We talked about this one in a previous post and the concept is simple: When enabled, users can hover over any search result to see a pop-up type view of that page (Google caches these). This one is a great one for users and lousy for PPC advertisers (unlike Google Instant above).  What it does is provides a nice view of the page but at the same time it actually covers some of the PPC ads to the right of the SERPs.

Why you should care…

This now puts much more emphasis on making sure your design is attractive to users (not that this hasn’t always been important) since now it is entirely likely that people using previews will look at result page images until they see something that they like.  At the same time, this provides more value to the entire SERP page since now if the view of the first results looks lousy, users will likely skip it.

Other things to consider here is that these previews are static which means all of your fancy Flash banners (or even javascript animations in many cases) will not load or function – so having a site that shows poorly with flash or javascript disabled (read: if your site is not entirely meeting Accessibility / Usability standards) will also appear poorly in Google Instant Previews.

Site Speed now affects Search Ranking

What is it?

This one is a long-time coming item for the search engines, yet it was not officially considered until part way through last year as a factor in ranking.  The idea here is the slower your site loads for the crawlers, the more it will negatively affect your ability to rank.

Why you should care…

This one is pretty obvious.  A slow loading site is going to be much less valuable (and perceived as less stable) to users.  So finally optimizing your site is important for Organic search and there are many, many sites that are poorly optimized (Large file sizes, redundant code, no-compression, excessive server calls etc. etc.) who will start feeling the pain (if they aren’t already).

That’s it for Part 1.  The next part of this series (Part 2) talks more about the SERP changes including Social Indicators and Click-through-ratio affecting Search Ranking and Google Location changes…Part 2 is now posted! Read it here: Latest Organic Search changes to be aware of (and watch…) Part 2

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