28 Sep 2010, Posted by admin in Google, 12 Comments
For the last few weeks Google, in the UK at least, has appeared to have been shuffling the listings around for very high volume, very generic terms. Queries like ‘car insurance’ have seen massive fluctuations, often several times a day.
It’s very difficult to say with any certainty what’s happening here, but the big shuffles remind me a lot of the Vince update from last year – the theory I had for that was that (amongst other things) Google was shuffling the listings around to check how well each result performs when put in a different position. Does Site A get more clicks than Site B when in position #1? Or #5? Does Site B have fewer people returning to the SERP shortly after clicking on it? (Visitors returning to the SERP soon after clicking the link could be a sign that the result didn’t help them for that query).
Either way, it looks like the shuffling we saw after Vince has just become more aggressive, with wilder and more frequent fluctuations.
While it’s never a normal SERP at the best of times, the results for ‘car insurance’ are a good example of the shuffling results, with changes happening several times a day. I often find the lower positions of page 1 to be quite interesting, as I have a theory that Google often tries to keep the top positions a bit more stable so that the user experience isn’t too disjointed.
I asked on Twitter recently to find what search listings people were seeing in positions 8, 9 & 10 of for ‘car insurance’ and found that there were at least 3 different SERPs that people were seeing – just for those bottom 3 positions. Asking Twitter the same question the next day showed, again, 3 variants of the SERP – all different from the day before. (Everyone that helped me out on Twitter – thanks very much).
This implies that Google, if they’re testing things like click-through rates and satisfaction rates, are likely to be testing several variants of SERPs across different data centres, presumably to help shorten the time it takes for them to find the perfect 10 results to answer the user’s query.
I’m still in the process of testing this in a bit more detail, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. If you’ve noticed any SERPs that have started to shuffle massively (I’m adopting the name serpquake from now on), particularly in the last few weeks or so, it’d be great if you could leave a comment.
Flickr image from Ralphunden.