Search is Evolving
Our number one goal is to give people the answers they’re looking for. Sometimes the best, most relevant answer is a list of websites – our traditional “ten blue links.” Other times the best answer might be a news article, sports score, stock quote, video, comparison shopping results, or a map. Today, search is still in its infancy, and we continue to explore novel ways to present and order information to make it more accessible and useful.
Google provides answers at the top of the page for many different kinds of queries, including conversions, mortgage rates and package tracking.
It’s All About Answers
Need a quick answer? When a searcher types in “height of the empire state building” into Google, we analyze web results so that we can provide the answer at the top of the page. A searcher can type in “7845 + 567”, and get the answer (8,412) instead of just ten links to calculator sites. When someone types a street address into Google, we think the most useful way to answer that query is with a map at the top of the results page – and every other search engine takes the same approach. Today some of these answers rely on data Google licenses from third parties, including data for sports scores, weather, movie showtimes, flight status and stock quotes. We provide other answers through our algorithms, which can sometimes predict the answer to questions based on data available on the web. To learn more about some of these features, visit our Explore Google Search site.
The shift from “ten blue links” to richer search results is an industry-wide trend. For example, Yahoo has talked many times publicly about how their goal is to provide answers such as weather forecasts and “overview” boxes, not just links. Microsoft’s Bing advertises they want to help people make decisions with experiences like a special flight search feature that helps people pick the right fare. This kind of innovation and competition provides more choices and better search engines for consumers.
An Industry Trend
“Bing and Yahoo are doing similar things…In Fact, the whole industry is moving away from ‘10 blue links’ – with the goal of providing answers to user queries instead of straight search results” – Ryan Singel, Wired (7/16/10)
Over the years search has steadily evolved into a much richer experience. On the left is an image of the Google results page in 2001 with only textual web results; on the right is Google today, with integrated live sports scores, news results, images and other rich information.
The Evolving, Rich Results Page
A decade ago, Google and other search engines crawled text web pages and provided lists of links. As the Internet has gotten richer – and our ability to crawl and index new types of content has grown – all search engines have expanded to include things like videos, maps, and more. A results page with all of this rich information can help searchers more quickly find the answers they’re looking for. For example, when someone does a search for “pictures of Egyptian pyramids,” we provide image results at the top of the page. Our image results surface the best pictures from across the web – the pictures don’t belong to Google.
On September 11th, 2001, major search engines were not capable of returning breaking news automatically.
Google on 9/11 and Today
“I remember distinctly how Google reacted during the 9/11 attacks… its results were so out of date. How things have changed, in so many ways. Recall Google back on September 11. The screenshot below is four hours after the attack: You can see how Google was literally telling people not to try searching, putting links to news sites on its home page… And that’s what brings the improvement to Google today, causing its results to be topped by news reports” – Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land, Google & The Death of Osama Bin Laden, 02/05/11
When we run user tests on integrating shopping results, our users strongly prefer the richer experience (shown on the right).
When people are shopping, they want to find products
We show specialized results when our user testing shows that consumers find the results useful. For example, when a user searches on Google for a product, like “12 inch circulon frying pan”, our testing suggests that our users prefer to see Google shopping; it aids their efforts to comparison shop, find deals and save money.
With Google’s relatively new places search results, information is clustered more efficiently, packing in more links to relevant business sites and reviews, and making the page easier to scan.
When people are looking for somewhere to go, they want to find places
Today, many people search Google for local information like nearby restaurants and parks. Roughly 20% of searches are local in some way, and 40% on mobile, so we’ve invested in providing a great local search experience.
When we organize local information we organize search results around particular businesses. Local search results cluster web results in an efficient display, packing in 30-40 web links on a single results page. This makes it easier for people to scan the results page and compare businesses. In our testing we’ve found this saves users an average of two seconds to find the place they’re looking for. Our search results are good for businesses and review sites too. Google sent 27 billion clicks to local businesses in the last year alone.
Today, searching is becoming a radically different experience than before, especially on mobile phones. Search doesn’t just provide lists, it answers questions and even helps you navigate your way home.
Entirely New Ways to Find Information
As search engines continue to evolve, we’re likely to move far beyond providing lists of links. Searchers can already find information organized in new ways. For example, on a globe in Google Earth, on a timeline in search, in a table with Google Squared, on a wheel with Image Swirl, or in a moving chart with Public Data Explorer. Google is becoming more like an application, providing new ways to interact with information to find answers. For example, with the left-hand panel on the results page, searchers can refine queries based on content type (Images, Videos, etc) or more specific criteria like date ranges, reading level, or translated pages. With Google Instant, the results page updates dynamically as someone types, making search more like a back-and-forth conversation.
With search by voice, people can speak searches into mobile phones and get answers, whether it’s “Call Bob Jacobson,” “Send a text message to Mom, I’m running late, call you in 5,” “Navigate to home,” or “Madonna’s height.” With each of these examples, Google is answering questions, but may never provide a list of ten links – and we think that’s a good thing. The perfect search engine responds to every command, whether by voice, when you snap a picture, or perhaps spontaneously, as if by magic.