Friday, 17 April 2009

Google make changes to search results

Google has made a number of notable changes to their search results. The first, as described by Search Engine Land, has increased the frequency of local business listings being displayed within the first page of results. Whereas previously the small map and 10 business listings only appeared for popular search terms combined with a location in the search query, Google has now started to include these results for these common terms even if the user has not included a location in the query.

This is being done when Google recognises a term that has local search intent and combines this with the identification of a user's location by their IP address. The mapped results are not shown at the top of the search listings - which happens if a search is made with a locational term - but the inclusion within the results aims to improve the local search focus for users.

It's by no means a perfect solution for searchers and much will depend on the IP address of a user's ISP (Internet Service Provider), but this change will have a big impact for local businesses who will now get a further opportunity to appear within the search results list for a potential customer and highlights the importance of getting an optimised local business listing set up with Google.

The second recent change to the ranking results has been reported by the Google Webmaster Blog and concerns the 'sitelinks' that are often displayed under a large or popular website's listing so that users have more opportunities to click directly into a prominent section of the website. Until now, sitelinks have only ever appeared on the first search result, and so at most one site could have sitelinks per query.

Google has now introduced an expansion of these sitelinks into a single row of links which will be displayed for results that didn't show sitelinks before, even for results that aren't in the first position. This means multiple results on one query can now have sitelinks and up to 4 sitelinks can show up right above the page URL, instead of the usual two columns below the URL of the first result.

This will help to show users some relevant sub-pages in the site and give an idea of what the site is about. Comparing the sitelinks that appear for each result can even illustrate the difference between the sites. Google says that, just like regular sitelinks, the new one-line sitelinks are generated algorithmically and the decisions on when to show them and which links to display are entirely based on the expected benefit to users.

For webmasters, this new feature means it's possible that their site will start showing sitelinks for a number of queries where it previously didn't and although site owners can't tell Google which links to include, the can block links they may not want to show, through access to the Google Webmasters Console. However, in most cases this change will probably increase the visibility of, and traffic to, a website, whilst also improving the experience of users, so it's another change that can support the search marketing for websites.

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