Power Searching with Google
Towards the end of June I’d registered up for the Power Searching course, from Google Education. This is a series of 6 classes (each class has five videos and after each a practical activity), with Google+ Hangouts, two assessments (mid course and post course) and a forum with hints/tips and extra challenges. The course is pitched at those who wish to learn more about how to find “just the right information when the stakes are high.”
Why did I sign up? It wasn’t for the Google+ Hangouts or the certificate if I achieve over 70% in the course assessments, but the opportunity to pick up a new shortcut/timesaver when searching, like a new CTRL-F. Incidentally Google identified that despite CTRL-F reducing the time needed to find information in a regular web search by about 12%, only 10% of all searchers surveyed by Google knew about it.
I’m now halfway through the course and it’s been interesting, the course is well structured with video, closed captions, text versions and slides all available and the content has been fine with nothing overly taxing (so far):
- Matt Cutts has explained how spiders work and introduced the ideas of Google using over 200 questions when indexing and ranking sites based on: keywords, synonyms, article title, URL, page text, page rank and outside links pointing back (of course only from quality sites!)
- Understanding the structure of the search results page; page preview, page title, web address and snippet. I was impressed to see that Google did highlight where adverts can be shown in the results page.
- Foundation search skills i.e. being concise, using words you’d expect in the results, or not using certain special characters.
- Using the left hand side column to filter search results for different types of content and then using the filters offered by that content type e.g. colour filters when searching in images.
- Introduction to the Knowledge graph, autocomplete, search-as-you-type and related searches.
- And in the third class we looked at operators: “site:”, “filetype:”, removing invasive results with “-“, using OR and “”, “intext:” and using the Advanced Search form.
While I’ve not found my new CTRL-F, I’ve picked up a few reminders of good searching practice that may reduce the time I spend looking for information and I’m looking forward to the second half of the course.
Although I have been wondering why Google designed this course, is it just to encourage engagement with using the full set of Google search options?
Google Conspiracy Theories
In the course, I picked up a focus on “searching” as an activity made up of separate searches/using the different tools and options to get the final answer for complex questions rather than a single word search being the solution. There’s challenges set where users are encouraged to post back to the forums on how they solved the question posed; there was even a six degrees of separation game with the Knowledge Graph (although a lot of users were caught out with not searching using google.com but google.co.uk or other country version which don’t displaythe information panels).
I was reminded of WordStream’s Elisa Gabbert’s article from last week, introducing a conspiracy theory relating to the Google Knowledge Graph; namely that Google is using this new panel of information to retrain our eyes to see the right hand side of the search engine results (where adverts have historically been placed and where we’ve learned to not look). I think it’s a valid theory but I want to take it futher with the idea that Google is wanting users to spend more time on the Google search and search results pages, refining our searches, getting meeting times confirmed across different zones or picking up the information required from the Knowledge Graph without needing to go to a specific web page.
Last week Modesto Siotos from iCrossing UK, spotted that Google was testing a tabular sitelinks format returning more site links within the search results; if this makes it through testing it will mean a lot more linked pages are shown in the results page. Excellent news for the user experience, but website owners may see page views and time on site statistics drop as their visitors travel from the specific site link on Google search results, direct to the page without having to navigate through the website and its entertaining and distracting other pages.
If Google is doing this with organic results, what is happening with Google Ads?
Google Ads and the War on Free Clicks
Google is an advertising business, with approximately 97% of revenues coming from its core search engine advertising business and a new search marketing advertising study compiled by WordStream shows that “Clicks on paid search listing beat out organic clicks by nearly a 2:1 margin for keywords with high commercial intent in the US”.
WordStream’s infographic illustrating the results of the new study on Google ads is shown below and it illustrates how pay-per-click ads are taking over Google’s search engine results.
Google’s search listings are showing larger, more relevant and engaging ad formats while at the same time Google has attacked SEO web spam and by increasing privacy have reduced information available to website owners (not provideds).
Web searchers are being re-educated in how to use Google to find and navigate to the exact page of information desired, while new paid ad initiatives are claiming prime positioning in the search results page.
What do you think, is it a conspiracy or just good business practice?