Search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo have recently begun rolling out new features. Google touts “Search, Plus Your World” and the “Knowledge Graph” as revolutionary updates that will change the way that users search while making results more personal. Microsoft launched “Sidebar,” which appears in all Bing search engine result pages (SERPs) and allows users to see if Facebook friends can help answer search questions. Yahoo released a downloadable browser app for desktops and Apple products.
The Boston Globe’s Hiawatha Bray recently covered three of these new additions in an article describing how search is becoming “a lot more productive, and a lot more fun.” While these tools are picking up attention, I believe that they may be evidence that engines are losing touch with their original purpose.
The goal of search engines was once to guide users to the most authoritative sites relevant to their keywords, but these new features are leading away from that objective.
Google’s “Search, Plus Your World” initiative started early this year and has altered how signed-in users see the SERPs. The change added personal results from data collected on Google+ to pages, altering what individual users see. This algorithm change makes social media optimization a key part of rankings.
Google’s Knowledge Graph aggregates information from across multiple properties, increasing the chance of incorrect data being displayed. This is especially true when Wikipedia is listed as a source due to the facts that the site allows public edits.
Bing’s Sidebar is great if you have a large group of friends educated on the subjects you are searching, but what about the validity of these responses? I can personally say that while I have great friends, I wouldn’t exactly trust them with helping me on some more advanced searches as well as searches that have results open to personal interpretation such as political news.
Yahoo’s Axis cuts out the traditional SERPs by providing individual preview thumbnails of the search results. This image based system makes first appearances far more important than page content when targeting users
Bray wrote “With so many new features, choosing the best site is a lot less instinctive than it used to be.” While Bray is commenting of the decision of which engine to use, his comments speak to what is happening to search.
The changing face of Internet search engines will reduce the number of results that are objective and balanced, and create a popularity contest for results already appearing near the top of the page. Those working in the trenches of SEO services will soon be working with social tools more frequently in an effort to monopolize the various new social and visual areas appearing on SERPs.