An Adequate Search Result

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Among a number of changes in search, including changing ‘Sponsored Links’ to ‘Ads’ and showing more organic listings per domain per search, Google introduced page previews to their results. Users can now see a scaled down screenshot of the site listed with the section matching the query highlighted. Aside from covering up the now relabelled ‘Ads’, a deviation from Google’s general trend with their paid listings, with use this new feature will change user behaviour.

Your Bounce Rate and Previews

With widespread use, Google’s previews will improve the bounce rate of some sites. If the user thinks your site does not look credible, usable or they just don’t like the colours they simply won’t come, instead of hitting ‘back’. As dramatic a change as it sounds, its effect for an eCommerce site will probably be minimal. A user who would have clicked ‘back’ would probably not have bought something anyway.

Perceived Authority and Relevance

Significantly, Google’s previews give the user one more piece of information for assessing the relevance of a site in a search engine result page (SERP). The person performing the search used to see only the site’s position for the query, how often the domain appears in the SERP, the title, extract, domain, URL (or pseudo breadcrumbs). The preview gives the user one more piece of information to gauge the authority of the site.

Each of these signals are judged by the user before they decide where to click. While the site’s position on the SERP is often the most significant, the others are also considered, and in different ways, depending on the user’s experience. For most a title and description that tallies with what is expected and a high position on the page is more than enough to initiate action.

Providing that the content is adequate for the purposes of the user, the search is concluded, regardless of how the content compares to other, unseen options. If it is good enough and it is there, it is the best possible option for the user in that moment.

Just Being Good Enough

A search result, like so many other things, does not need to be perfect. It merely needs to be good enough. The effort needed to find the information is as important as its quality. It is the difference between finding Wikipedia at the top of a SERP, or needing to access a specialised site’s search tools to locate a journal article to answer a science question.

Accessibility and conferred authority are more than adequate most of the time. Recent studies have revealed that some students regard search rankings as a solid indication of the authority and accuracy of a document. A paper titled Trust Online: Young Adults’ Evaluation of Web Content discussed the level of trust placed in search engines for determining a document’s credibility.

Google’s recent changes affect the information available to the user when they are making a decision on the SERP. Additional domain listings and previews can affect the perceived authority of a site. Nice previews and multiple listings can make a site look more useful, and the opposite will also be true. Changing the descriptive text next to the ads may affect how they are seen relative to the organic results as well, though I have not observed any changes at this time.

Despite these changes, it is still the order in which the results appear on the page that matters the most. Assuming the content the search engine presents makes the site sound relevant to the user, they will choose the one closer to the top of the page. Depending on how informed they are on the topic, it will more than likely be good enough too.

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