After the quiet creeping left of sponsored links on Google SERPs in August (reported right here by Zack MacLean), September brings with it another little tweak with big ideas, this time to everyone’s favourite white space – the Google homepage.
Yesterday the official Google blog announced that its search box will now be bigger (“S-U-P-E-R-sized”, no less), taking up a greater width on the page and utilizing bigger text for both the query users type in and the suggestion box dropdown.
This may all sound like pretty minor stuff, but in fact it points to several important developments, both in the way Google handles search and the way it delivers ads.
First, time for caffeine. No, not that kind (well, maybe that kind too); we’re talking about Google’s “next-generation infrastructure”, code-named “Caffeine”, which is currently under development and available for testing purposes here.
A few people have been reporting their findings after putting Caffeine through its paces, with most agreeing that it’s faster, the index size is larger and, most likely, it’s going to seriously shake up existing rankings. Over at Search Engine Land, Greg Sterling has reported on these ranking changes, suggesting that, amongst other things, when Caffeine rolls out we’re likely to see “a boost in relevance for long-tail searches.”
That chimes well with trends reported by Hitwise, comScore and others that have shown a gradual increase over the last few years in the use of search terms containing three, four, five or even more words, at the expense of one and two word searches. It also makes sense in the context of Bing’s recent launch, with features like the left-hand side “explorer bar” promising increased results relevancy for searches on long tail terms.
So, maybe a bigger search box shows Google gearing up for continued dominance in a future of more specific search terms and ever more demanding users. Seems likely, but that’s not where the story ends. What’s much more important about this move is the additional emphasis it gives to the drop down suggestion box – a space that’s becoming more important than ever.
The humble suggestion box has become a new front for innovation this year, with Google testing the inclusion of direct URL links in their suggestions, and even ads, as discussed in this great article from TechCrunch.
So an expansion of the search box and an increase in text size means the new and improved suggestions box gets a massive boost in prominence with benefits for users (speed of searching with URL suggestions) and for advertisers, who can jump the gun and reach users before they’ve even clicked on Search.
The best may be yet to come though. Looking forward, perhaps it won’t be long before we see ads that make even more use of the suggestion box’s enlarged canvas. Amongst the next generation of adwords ads, we’ve already seen expandable “PlusBox” ads that include Maps, Products and now even Videos. Could rich ad content right within your Google.com homepage be far off? And if so, what does that mean for Google’s much-loved clean white space?