Is Google Search Too Complex?
I have a confession to make: I’m simple-minded. That’s why Google has always been my favorite search engine, even back in the days when Google had competitors. Google SERPs used to be clean and to-the-point. Now when I use Google, it looks like this:
A few user-experience points worth noting:
- Paid ad real estate has grown in size and visual emphasis.
- Speaking of real estate, Google+ content has moved to Boardwalk and Park Place.
- Sorting options are through the roof.
- Actual search results are in the sub-basement, barely above the fold.
For comparison, look at this 2007 Google SERP from a Rand Fishkin post:
Five elements on this page! Those were the days, my friend.
So here’s the question: Is Google moving forward or backward with all this complexity?
Conventional wisdom says “forward.” People want options. They want content-based and connection-based results. They want extreme fine-tunability. This all makes a certain amount of sense, but here are three reasons why I think Google is taking its search engine in the wrong direction.
1. The UX problem. Google products are notoriously non-intuitive. Gmail and Reader have gotten trashed on this score in recent months, but Google Search has been an exception – so far – delivering a good user experience. Complicating its search engine plays right into its weakness. We used to call that “leading with your chin,” because your competitor would knock your head off.
2. Mushrooming mobile. Complex slicing and dicing and re-slicing and re-dicing of search results is challenging enough on a desktop monitor with 1280×1024 resolution. Try it on an iPhone or iPad. Tablets and smart phones are pushing search in the direction of simple. As users develop simple search habits and preferences on mobile devices, they’ll want the same on their computers … if they still use them.
3. The last straw. By all appearances, Google is aggressively changing its business model to highlight personalization and paid advertising. This may be fine from Google’s point of view because personalization encourages people to log in for life, and ads fill the coffers. But a lot of users don’t like social sharing, and a lot more don’t like ads. Making SERPs harder to understand than quantum physics might be just the thing to drive them into the waiting arms of Bing.
Despite all this, I have great respect for Google and happily use many of their products. They are an extremely intelligent company … but now I’m wondering if perhaps they are too smart for their own good.
Businesses have a tendency to over-complicate products and processes – and the smarter they are, the stronger the tendency is. Could it be that Google is getting wrapped around its own technology axle? Are social media evangelists and cutting-edge marketing theorists overly influencing Google’s strategy?
These questions are important because Google Search needs eyeballs, and non-geeks and non-evangelists constitute a lot of them. If these folks are all as simple-minded as I am, Google could be in for trouble.
How do you like Google Search? Do you like it more or less than you did three years ago, and are you concerned with where it’s going?
By Brad Shorr
Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, a Chicago SEO agency. They specialize in middle market B2B, with clients in a wide variety of niche industries, including small business merchant accounts and gloves.