Update: Google has confirmed that this is a ranking/UI change. See statement below.
Is it a test? Is it a bug? Is it a permanent change to Google’s search results? No one knows, and Google hasn’t answered our questions about it yet. What’s “it”? As Malcolm Coles describes in a blog post today, Google is allowing a single domain — from a well-known brand — to dominate the first page of search results on some brand-related searches.
Consider this screenshot below of a search for apple ipod:
(click for larger version)
The first seven of 10 organic/natural results come from apple.com. There are some shopping and news results mixed in, and other sites have the 8-10 spots. But to rank a single domain in so many results on a single page is unprecedented. The same thing appears to be happening on other brand-related searches like espn nfl and even search engine land articles. It doesn’t happen on other brand searches like “ford trucks,” “hanes t-shirts,” or “microsoft software.”
Ironically, just a couple weeks ago, Google’s Peter Norvig specifically talked about the need for variety in search results:
We haven’t figured out any way to get around majority rules, so we want to show the most popular result first, but then after that, for the second one, you don’t want something that’s almost the same as the first. You prefer some diversity, so there’s where minority views start coming in.
So, what’s going on here?
We’ve asked Google for a statement about these brand-dominated search results, but they haven’t replied at this point.
In the meantime, Bill Slawski has written a post today that refers to a Google patent about “How a Search Engine Might Assume a Query Implies a Site Search.” Bill explains it thusly:
The process in that patent may mean that if Google recognizes when a search query involves a particular entity, and if the entity can be associated with a specific web site, it might show multiple results for that site.
That seems to describe exactly what’s happening in these search results. If so, Google might argue that variety in search results isn’t as necessary when users perform brand-related searches.
We’ll update this post if/when we learn more from Google.
Postscript: A Google spokesperson has confirmed that the search results discussed above are part of a ranking/user interface change related to domain-based intent:
“We periodically reassess our ranking and UI choices, and today we made a change to allow a larger number of pages from the same site to appear for a given query. This happens for searches that indicate a strong user interest in a particular domain.”
Postscript #2 by Barry Schwartz: Google not only confirmed it but wrote about this in more detail.