Google is introducing an updated Search experience to help users find information that’s most helpful to them thanks to two new features: personalised search results via ‘followed’ topics and ‘notes’, which is a way to view other people’s first-hand insights about their search results.
The move could be interpreted through the lens of increased competition from platforms like TikTok and Instagram, as well as the popularity of visiting Reddit to crowdsource answers to their questions. Google has to do something to win back its slice of the search pie, and this could be one of its methods.
The follow feature
The new follow option is designed to help users keep up to date with searches or topics they care about.
“Let’s say you’re training for your first half marathon, and you’ve come to Search looking for tips on getting in better running shape. Tap the “Follow” button in search results and you’ll automatically see articles and videos about marathon training on Discover, the homepage of the Google app.”
Users can turn notifications on for real-time updates when Google thinks it’s discovered new and interesting content for you to browse. Google will also look to show the most helpful and reliable information when you follow a topic.
“This new capability is rolling out on the Google app and Chrome and Safari on mobile in English in the U.S. over the coming weeks.”
Additionally, Google is making it easier to find and visit frequently browsed sites. Its upgraded systems will recognised when you search for and visit the same web pages, and will start to bring it to the top of your search results page.
With the update, users can tell Google what they want to see in Search, so Google will deliver them more of that content. Google stands to gain from this as it will be able to collect first-party data about users and their interests, which is highly relevant to advertisers.
Notes and how it works
Notes is currently available in Search Labs and is designed to give people a way to share tips and advice about web content. Designed to provide searches with more firsthand information, the notes option will give users in America and India the ability to add a note to almost any web page. The idea is to provide other users with firsthand experience and insight as Google begins the Reddit-ification of SERPs.
The most relevant and helpful results will surface at the top of the notes feed – and unlike the text-based Reddit – these notes can be colourful and visually engaging. Notes could feature stickers or images, for example.
“With Notes, we’re exploring giving people a new way to share tips and advice about web content, right on Search — helping people answer their most specialized questions, and discover what’s most useful for them on the web.”
“We’ve seen in our research that people want peer validation and like to see what others are saying about a given web page. Notes gives people a helpful layer of human insights on each Search result, working hand in hand with existing content on the web and making it more useful.”
Notes won’t be available on some websites – such as where reliable information is important or websites that are a result of sensitive queries, and all notes will go through a classification system. All notes must also meet Community Guidelines.
Follow and notes impacts
The follow button could make Google search less of a random discovery engine and more targeted towards web pages that users already know and like. That could negatively affect businesses attempting to boost their organic search traffic and lead to less discovery on Google.
That makes sense when you consider that Google has been frequently called out for letting SEO-optimised content reduce the quality of search engine results. Recently, outlets such as The Verge, The Atlantic and Stratechery have all complained about the SEO industry.
Whether or not this decision from Google is designed to lessen the relevance of SEO content, it could still mean declining visits and organic discovery for businesses – who may have to increase ad spending as a result.