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Google’s Shifting Search Page: How Your Clicks Can Change the Results You See

Submitted by on March 25, 2010 – 1:02 pm3 Comments

For a number of years, SEO folks have fruitlessly wondered if or how Google has used searcher behavior to improve the results it serves up.  Will they push a site down if searchers ignore that link on the results page?  Or bump it up if searchers click through and spend a lot of time on the site?  Many have gazed upon that black box; few have divined its mysteries.

Yesterday, though, we saw some of the first hard evidence that Google is testing this approach.  Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land reported that several people had noticed that if you click on a discussion board link within the Google results, and then click the ‘back’ button to see the search results again, you find a new option to “Get more discussion results.”  A kind of un-intrusive way of asking “Hey, are you into those kind of results?  Because I can hook you up with a whole lot more of that.”

I immediately had to investigate whether this applied to HealthCentral results.  Sure enough, they did.

A search for migraine community brings up HealthCentral’s popular Migraine message board.  If you click the link and then hit back to return to the original results page….

…you see the new language.  Clicking that link brings you to a new set of results that only contains links to resources that Google knows to be discussion boards.


What does all this mean?  In itself, not a whole lot.  Apart from a few very passionate pockets of users, HealthCentral has largely moved on from the old school discussion board format.  Many other large sites have done so as well – the third party message board software tends to be awkward to use, and more and more Web users prefer an experience that is a little more dynamic and relevant than the mile-long message board threads of the late 90s.

Still, I think this is a strong indication that Google isn’t just thinking about Discussions here, but rather might be planning to follow the same path with other content types.  You’ll notice in the above picture that in addition to “Discussions,” Google tries to divide up content into other buckets as well–images, videos, news, blogs, updates and books.  Imagine clicking on a news article, hitting the back button, and getting the option to look only at other news content.

Even this would be a relatively minor change.  But the extension that would be really interesting is whether Google might automatically change your results, depending on what you click on.  For example, you could hypothetically click on a news result, hit the back button, and your results automatically shift to favor news results, since that’s what you seem interested in.  Or taking this even further, Google could start favoring one kind of content over another according to your personal search and click-through history.  That is, if you always seem to select the video result after performing a search, maybe Google will begin serving up more video content in your search results pages in the future.

Lots of speculation here, but I think that the bottom line is that Google might be starting to pay a little bit more attention to the type of content you want to consume, rather than just the topic.  They don’t want you to have to choose between one interface when you’re searching for images, another one when you’re searching for news, and so on… they want you to be able to accomplish everything from one search box, anticipating the type of content you’re looking for before you even signal it.

If your hunger for search analytics knowledge hasn’t yet been sated, follow me on Twitter – @SearchDan.  The profundity of my insights is matched only by the sharpness of my witticisms.

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3 Comments »

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  • Reggie Berez says:

    Wow! It is like you read my mind! You seem to know a lot about this, just like you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could do with some pictures to drive the content home a bit, but other than that, this is good blog post. A wonderful read. I will certainly revisit again.

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