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It’s no surprise that Google is constantly testing and tweaking all of its products, but especially its search results pages. Recently, Google Engineer Ben Gomes blogged about some of the really minor changes that can make big differences in response rates. For example, adding a bit more white space below the Google bar that sits atop a search results page makes the first search result pop more, which can either be good or bad, depending on whether you want to draw attention only to the top result, or want the visitor to scan the entire page. Similarly, Google ran an experiment relating to the response rate difference to two plus signs, one of which was a bit thicker than the other. Surprisingly enough, it made a huge difference.
What’s the take-away for Internet marketers? When you’re designing and re-designing your web pages, small tweaks can make a huge difference in response rate. It pays to be methodical, and to make one change at a time (so you won’t confound your experimentation results).
Ben also mentioned another experiment that Google is running – one that allows users to comment upon search results and move them around on the results page. He doesn’t elaborate on the theory behind the experiment, and says, “We’re just curious to see how it will be used.” That raised a bit of a red flag for us, though. Think about it. What would happen if users – instead of algorithms – got to decide which search results were the most relevant? Would it lead to “gaming” the system – either by blackhats who want to raise their search results or by competitors who could diss your site? It’s highly doubtful that Google will become the search equivalent of a social bookmark, but it’s certainly food for thought.