It’s Google’s 18th Birthday, and we’re all feeling a bit nostalgic. Can it really be 18 years already? If your 90’s self is calling out through a sea of really bad fashion choices, have some fun and type “Google in 1998” in Google. Feeling the 90’s cool wash over you yet?
Google’s SERPs have changed a lot since 1998. While many changes seem obvious (aesthetic, user-friendliness, local options) others have occasionally had users rolling their eyes (ads…so many ads). We’re going to take a little stroll down memory lane and look at some of the biggest changes to Google’s SERPs.
Welcome, Google! Back in 1998, Google was winning at the minimalism game before “minimalism” was a phrase stolen by Apple (uhh..I mean..not stolen…just..borrowed…).
In 1999, Google added “GoogleScout” to its search results, providing users with an additional list of relevant URLs. Don’t remember the GoogleScout option? It’s almost impossible to find information on it as it is no longer relevant. While the Google Algorithm that provides search results has become that much more powerful, the addition of site links (read on!) deemed this unnecessary.
Aside from the very 1990’s-centric logo and the immense amount of white space without ads and local listings, it’s safe to say that Google has come a long way from its 1990’s beta.
Google SERPs 1998-2004
Looking more familiar? Between 2003 and 2004, big changes came to Google SERPs. Including online local listings, All Results, and Google Ads.
Local listings were introduced to help users find results relative to their areas. All Results tabs allowed users to search for a variety of search results options, but Google Ads raised eyebrows and still does to this day.
“Why?” we asked in dismay. “Why Google? You quirky, tech giant, you!” But the answer is simple, Google is a business. A business must make revenue to survive. An easy way to make revenue? Ads. And not just any ads, ads in a place that saw 86,142,700,000 users per year. Businesses swooned and Google made $1.837 billion by the end of 2004.
Another added bonus of a few more years under their belt? Less spammy results! Google worked hard to ensure that their results were the most accurate and less likely to cause users headaches post-clicking. The infamous PageRank was introduced in 2000 which helped users understand what pages Google thought were most popular and trustworthy. Unfortunately, PageRank also backfired the SEO community.
Google SERPs 2004-2010
I’m not sure about you, but there’s not much I miss about the 2010 SERPs results.
Can you say clutter?
However, during this time period, we did get access to Google Suggest in 2007; the search tool that was said to shave seconds off a user’s search time, and give us all insight into the hilarious searches of our peers.
Google basically said “see ya” to their Feeling Lucky button that essentially let users bypass those exhausting ads and go straight to the website of the first search result.
The button still exists today, but around the 2009-2010 mark, with the combination of Google Instant (also gone) and Google Suggest, the button was virtually unused. Only 1% of users actually used this button, but even that percentage was said to cost Google quite a bit of money.
In 2010, Advanced Search was still a part of the regular search function and other search tools were on the left-hand side. This allowed users to tap into a more specific search query.
Unlike today’s results, the SERPs design was much more vertical; notice how the sitelinks under the primary domain are vertically aligned rather than today’s horizontally aligned sitelinks.
While this change may seem self-explanatory, a more horizontal approach means a) more search results per page and b) more detailed search results. These purely user-driven decisions are the majority of decisions that Google has made to their SERPs pages.
Another major change to the SERPs during this time? Instant previews. Instant previews allowed users to see a result for a query before typing the entire phrase: saving users time since 1998.
Also, the phrase, “Just Google it” had been grammatically correct since 2006.
Google SERPs 2010-2014
Two words: Knowledge Graph. The Knowledge Graph and corresponding Carousel were launched in 2013 and truly transformed the world of Search (okay that’s a pretty tremendous statement, but I’m going to stick with it). With the knowledge graph also came Universal Search; now all the results were tossed in together instead of separately (video on top of image on top of domain).
Ads were limited between 3-4 above the fold with more at the bottom of the page. Local listings were apart of the natural landscape of the search results (although fewer were shown), All Results were placed, yet again, at the top of the results pages, and then visuals busted on the scene.
Users are visual creatures. Seeing an image with text helps us make connections to what we are seeing and searching for. By creating a more visual, rather than purely textual, landscape, users had a better experience finding what they needed through Search.
In 2014, Google had successfully become our third, digital arm. We were using Google not only to search but to create ads, email, track our website’s analytics and search for crawl errors.
Naturally, the SERPs were a reflection of each individual’s personal connection with the tech giant. Results were more personalized based on search history and the search tool became an extension of your results page.
Authorship was alive and well…and now it’s dead so…moving along!
But one of the most important transitions for 2014? Mobile. Not only did Google start stressing the importance of a mobile-friendly site (followed by the highly anticipated Mobilegeddon in 2015), the aesthetic of their entire page changed between 2010 and 2014 to reflect a cleaner surface, fit for tinier screens.
And let’s not forget Voice Search. As a growing number of users adopted smartphones and began searching through mobile, the ability to quickly ask a question hands-free became more and more of a necessity. So in 2013, we looked to our tech friends and eventually said, “Ok Google.”
Ah, everything you ever wanted to know about a subject leads you right to Google’s SERPs pages. With Answer Boxes to recent Tweets and new stories, there’s oftentimes no reason to leave Google’s SERPs page. Curious as to the scientific name for a rabbit? Google knows! Or, at least, Google can pull that information and present it to you without you having to go digging too far (and in case you were wondering, it’s Oryctolagus cuniculus).
Product Graphs have started to appear on the scene, giving users a breakdown of a product before even visiting the site. Images and videos often appear “above the fold.” The “snack pack” version of local listings gives a user everything they might need to know about contacting a local business before even clicking on their website link. Even with longer meta titles & descriptions unfolding before our weary, SEO eyes, organic results appear to be pushed down…down…down the page.
It’s almost as if Google doesn’t want users finding us at all…just kidding that’s just a crazy conspiracy theory (do you hear the Twilight Zone theme song playing, or is that just me?).
Other major changes? No more side ads! This in and of itself is something to celebrate, until the next SERPs change. And, of course, we can’t forget the new and improved logo: smooth lines and no feet.
Google has made a lot of changes over the years, and according to the evidence above, won’t stop anytime soon. Having to balance user experience with revenue-driving tools can be difficult.