Something very interesting is beginning to happen in search results.
Until very recently, the line between social media updates and Google’s keyword-based search results was fairly distinct. Of course, Google will show results from Facebook or Twitter when relevant, but anybody who witnessed the long, drawn-out death of Google’s own social media platform can reasonably assume that Google would prefer to serve users results that originate from their own platform, vs. a competitive platform like Twitter or Facebook, even when user preference is clearly for a third-party option.
But now Google Plus is even more of a ghost town than when it started, and it’s become abundantly clear that Facebook and Twitter are the big players in social. That’s where some of the biggest, most active conversations in the world are happening, in real time, and it’s changing virtually everything about the way media operates these days.
So how can Google, the largest and most valuable player in digital advertising and search – and a very close second to Apple in tech – stay competitive?
“Google Posts” May Be The Future Of Search
We suspect the answer may be (strongly) suggested by the emergence of Google’s new “Posts” feature – a mode of user-controlled contribution to search results being offered to a very select few users for now, including 2016 presidential candidates and some small businesses, but potentially available to celebrities and bigger brands / organizations down the road.
(Check out the new Google page for this feature here. Interestingly, while the original version of the site -as captured in Mike Blumenthal’s post from earlier in the month – specifically referred to “US presidential candidates, Google has since omitted that wording and changed it to “people and organizations you care about,” strongly suggesting a much wider expansion of the service in coming weeks.)
At first glance, this may not seem all that revolutionary. After all, Google Plus allowed people to contribute directly – sort of – to search engine results, and Google was pretty active about prioritizing results from its own platform, at least until it officially began to phase the platform out. So what makes this new Posts medium so special?
Mobile Cards & New Results Pages
A close look at two things reveals what the future of search engine results may look like: the card-based format now used in Google’s mobile app, and the actual results for these “Posts” searches. See the screenshots below.
And here’s the result for a direct presidential candidate search:
As you can see, results from Posts (as we’re calling it, based on the site URL – Google doesn’t seem to have specified a product name yet) clearly follow this distinct, swipeable, highly mobile-friendly format, jumping out from the search results pages and offering a clear alternative to blue links, video, and more.
And that’s not all that makes this new format special. Let’s take an even closer look.
Notice the blue “Verified” badge – just like Facebook and Twitter – to indicate that the results are directly from the named candidate’s campaign, and not a third party.
These cards, which appear in a swipeable gallery format much like Facebook’s popular ad carousel format, allow users to include imagery and a short amount of text. From what we can tell, up to eight of the most recent posts can be viewed from within search results, and just like Facebook, the results include a link to view more posts.
Even more interesting, the cards include an obvious “share” button, so users can share posts directly from search results to other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.
And these results are showing up right above Twitter results – such that, at first glance, it almost looks like the Google results are pulled directly from Twitter (but they’re not):
Also, it seems that for most of these searches, the “Posts” results aren’t limited to the card gallery format, either. Check out the new, expanded Knowledge Graph sidebar entry that appears now, with links to the user’s Google profile:
And when you click through to the profile, here’s what you see:
Pretty interesting stuff.
So What Does It All Mean?
As Ron Amadeo over at Ars Technica notes, these are not quite the same as any other social network – that information moves too quickly and isn’t particularly relevant to search users. However, it seems to be targeting a middle ground between evergreen-style content that is highly useful to users (such as information about a candidate’s stance on a particular issue) but not particularly time-bound – and the fast-moving, instantly-up-to-date nature of content shared on platforms like Twitter.
There are a few different things we could probably reasonably infer about what this will mean for Google search results.
1. More Self-Promotion In Search
For the limited field that currently has access to this feature, Google search results are now yet another place to self-promote to potentially millions of users. While there is a waitlist for small businesses to apply, it’s difficult to tell how many are actually able to use the feature – but down the road it’s not at all unlikely that most small businesses, as well as celebrities and larger brands, could share posts directly from the interface to search results. That means more options for reaching search users, and something that could very possibly make SEO – at least for strongly branded searches – relatively obsolete.
And it makes sense, too – Google, just like Facebook, has an interest in keeping users on its own domain and properties, rather than sending them away to other websites, as has always been the case before now (except, of course, for Knowledge Graph results).
2. Google May Be (Finally, Sort Of) Competitive In Social
The failed experiments of Buzz, Wave, and Plus seem to have finally convinced Google that a separate platform is not a viable means of accessing social traffic and usership. Instead, this seems to be an attempt to utilize the strength and staying power of their most recognizable interface – the search results page – to capture the attention (and content) of the millions of people actively using social media each day.
We’ll have to wait and see whether or not it fulfills that promise. But for now, it seems like an effective compromise between Google’s past failed attempts, and what they already know to work well.
3. The Card Format Is Probably Here To Stay
This change is only one of a few that suggest Google’s card-based results format is the future for search results. Not only is it more mobile-friendly and responsive than the “ten blue links” format, but it also opens up tons of possibilities in terms of social sharing directly from the results page (as opposed to on the result’s own domain) and data collection (because of the wider variety of interactions, especially on mobile, with a card as opposed to a link).
That’s as far as we can tell for right now. From the looks of it, though, Google is testing and changing this new feature rapidly – so expect more news soon.
So where do you stand? Is this the future of Google or not? We’d love to hear your input, so let us know what you think in the comments.