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Why Are My Search Results So Different?

Explaining the Search Changes at Bing and Google


Updated August 09, 2012
Over the past three to six months, astute Internet users have likely noticed a change in the results served by Google and Bing. Core changes to the logic or algorithm behind the results have been implemented that indicate a significant shift in the way “search” is done. Let’s take a high level look at the trends driving search, as we enter the third and fourth quarters of 2012.

Quality of Search Results

One of the most significant changes over the past six to twelve months has been a Google change in the order of sites that rank highly within their results. Through a series of updates nicknamed “Panda” and “Penguin”, Google has implemented quality rating factors that actively penalize sites with points of assessment that indicate low quality (Panda) or search engine manipulation (Penguin). For search engine users, this means fewer ad-heavy or spammy sites are making it into Google’s top ten results.

Search Engine Real Estate

For a moment, consider that search engine results pages (“SERPs”) have a limited amount of “real estate” within which to display navigation, search results, maps, images, advertisements and the like. In the recent past, search engines have been struggling to better include local results, social media, images and video within this finite SERP real estate (while keeping shareholders happy, of course).

Bing’s Social Sidebar

There’s a great debate on whether social media should be treated as information to be layered on top of existing search results or, in contrast, presented as a separate search results set. Google continues to invest in the former perspective, as Google+ and social media mentions increasingly supplement their core search results. Bing, on the other hand, has integrated social media search results and interactivity into a “sidebar” along the right hand side of the page. While two search engines taking two different approaches does not establish a “trend” per se, search engine users like you and I will see this debate continue to impact our search experience as we move beyond 2012 into 2013.

Google Shopping is Gone

Online marketers are keenly aware of one change to SERP real estate that has recently taken shape: the retirement of (free) Google Shopping results and replacement with (paid) Google Product Listing Ads (“PLAs”). Near term, search engine users will see Google test the placement of PLAs in different places on their results pages but, longer term, online marketers and end users alike will gradually see a shift from what were formerly non-biased, “natural” shopping results to advertisements featured for revenue-based reasons.

Local Intent

The search for “Kentucky Fried Chicken” is a great way to think about search relevance. If search engines can correctly interpret whether you’re in Kentucky looking for fried chicken or New Jersey looking for a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant and return the correct results to you, then a significant jump in logic will have been made. Google, in particular, has been working to solve this problem for years and, in the recent past, their advancements in determining the local intent of both searchers and web pages themselves has resulted in increased search engine real estate being allocated to local business information, maps and geographically-relevant results. As we see Google and Bing better able to interpret this local intent, search and online marketing trends will continue to allocate more real estate to geo-sensitive results and messaging.

Semantic Search

Semantic search (search results driven by linguistic context) will continue to be the biggest trend guiding search and online marketing into 2013 and beyond. Google’s name for this is the Knowledge Graph but, in general, the principle is that search engines are using all information at their disposal to bring in deeper and more relevant listings to their results pages. Use of implicit local intent, as mentioned above, is a good example of semantics impacting search.

Another can be seen through a Google search of a historical person like Geronimo, which not only returns traditional search results but also includes a photo, his birth date and other related information. As Google and Bing get better at building maps of semantic relationships among text and media assets, search and online marketing will continue to evolve to provide depth of information, not just breadth.

About the Author

Clay Cazier, Senior Director SEO Strategy at PM Digital, has more than 13 years of web development and search engine optimization experience, including successful ventures in healthcare, travel, legal and retail verticals. Clay’s role at PM Digital is to provide the strategic foundation, best practices and business support needed to craft SEO and Social Media campaigns that meet client traffic and revenue goals. Fueling his passion for helping clients are skills that range from HTML/PHP coding and affiliate site creation to social media outreach and advanced Wordpress development.

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