Google experiments could limit competition for top search results

Google prides itself in its so-called “20 per cent time” philosophy that encourages the company’s engineers to pursue their own projects for up to 20 per cent of their work hours even if these ventures are not entirely connected to their regular duties.

The strategy helps boost creativity and foster innovation leading to very useful tweaks to existing products or insights into possible new directions. Recently the media has reported on 10 of the coolest experiments happening in the Google Labs.

Related storyGmail Priority Inbox filters frivolous e-mail

But the company’s attempts at offering its users real-time streaming search results and another experiment allowing a single site to dominate a search result page might be counted among Google’s flops, according to a search and social media expert.

“The recent experiments appear to provide no real value to users and might in fact irritate people,” according to Adam Bunn, head of search engine optimization at Greenlight Search Engine Marketing, in the United Kingdom.

Google wants to finish your sentence for you

Google’s experimental streaming search feature not only provides you with a list of possible entries as you type out your query on the search box, it also updates the contents of the results page as you go along. Essentially, the feature tries to predict what you are looking for.

You never have to press “enter” or click on the “search” button to view the results because Google is always retrieving new results for your query and constantly updating the page.

View the video below to see how the feature works in action:

While it might be helpful for some people that need to do a real quick search, the constant instant feedback has tendency to be annoying, says Bunn.

“I imagine this might be irritating for some people,” he said.

“Streaming search is a bit out there. I seriously doubt if this will ever go live,” Bunn added.

Single domain dominates search results

Another Google experiment allows a single site to dominate the search results, according to blogger Malcolm Coles, who writes about SEO issues.

“So before, if you searched for Guardian football I’m fairly sure you only saw a couple of results from the Guardian. Now if I do that search, all 10 of the first page of results are Guardian pages,” he said.

Likewise, he said, if you search for Amazon TV, the first 7 results are all from the Amazon site.

In his blog, Coles said he wasn’t sure if Google results have always shown that way. “I’d expect these searches to return two results from the obvious sites, and then the rest of the page to be other site or occasionally subdomains of the main site”.

“If it is a change, and not just a glitch, it is surely a massive boost to certain brands,” Coles said.

On the launch of the experiment last month Google software engineer Samarth Keshava, wrote on the Google Webmaster Central Blog that the search company’s intent was to show users more results from “relevant sites”.

The “change to our ranking algorithm that will make it much easier for users to find a large number of results from a single site,” the engineer said.

“For queries that indicate a strong user interest in a particular domain, like [exhibitions at amnh], we’ll now show more results from the relevant site (www.amnh.org),” Kesahava added.

Results of that search can be viewed here: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=exhibitions+at+amnh

“Since the user is looking for exhibitions at the museum, it’s far more likely that they’ll find what they’re looking for, faster. The last few results for this query are from other sites, preserving some diversity in the results,” Keshava explained. “We expect today’s improvement will help users find deeper results from a single site, while still providing diversity on the results page.”

The experimental feature has the potential of skewing “natural search result” or worst igniting a “potential bidding war” for search rankings, according to Bunn of Greenlight.

Rather than providing searchers with a variety of sources, Bunn said, the feature tends to limit a user’s choices. “Now you are more likely to be forced to see paid search ads.”

Related storySEO secrets to boost your Google Local rank

The single site results are now live on Google’s search tool. Examples can be seen by typing the name of a well-known company in first followed by another keyword – such as “apple help”.

If the change is permanent, it could provide some serious SEO problems for many small businesses that cannot afford to pay for getting on Google’s top search results rankings.  “It could even spark a potential bidding war among companies seeking higher search rankings.”

ITBusiness.ca attempted to contact Google for an interview, but didn’t receive a response by time of publication.

Nestor Arellano is a Senior Writer at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and join the IT Business Facebook Page.

Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+