The Google Wonder Wheel & Other Search Refinement Features Get Live Test

Google Blogoscoped spotted an interesting test at Google allowing searchers to refine their search results in various ways, including clicking through a “Wonder Wheel.” There’s nothing particularly game changing, but the test is interesting if only for demonstrating how Google will react when competitors suggest it is “behind” in the search space.

My separate post, How Google Shot Microsoft After It Took A Knife To A Gunfight, gets into the competitive aspect. Here, I’ll focus on what the new features offer, to those who have been randomly selected for the test. I’ll also explain how you can try them yourself, at the end.

For those with the features enabled, they’ll see a “Show Options” link at the top of the search results page:

Google Search Options Link

Select that link, and you get a new version of the search results page, this time with search refinement options along the left-hand side of the page. These are options that let you “refine” or “restrict” your results in various ways, such as by date.

Google Search Options

Restrict By Content Type

At the top of the list are options to restrict results to certain types of content, such as “recent” results, video results, material from online forums and online reviews.

We’ve known that Google has been classifying forum content for some time, having covered back in October how forum results were being flagged for certain types of searches. Before that, back in 2007, we covered how Google was spotted grouping results into categories such as “Comparison Shopping” and “Reviews.” But to date, there’s been no way to specifically indicate that you might want only forum results. I’d expect this option will eventually migrate to the advanced search page.

Here’s how it worked when I selected to view only reviews:

Show Reviews Example

You can see how the top results were altered (Apple’s own sites disappeared) and were replaced with reviews (only one of which was about Apple the computer company, as Apple does mean more than that).

Here’s how it looked for videos:

Show Videos Example

Images & Text

The date restriction options I didn’t explore, as these are already offered to anyone via Google Advanced Search. Below these options are the ability to see results with more text — IE longer descriptions — and to see thumbnail images.

Standard size descriptions looked like this:

Standard View Example

Choosing “More text” changed them to this:

Show More Text Example

Google, of course, just announced that it would be showing longer descriptions as part of its regular search results. Users can’t currently control when a description will go long, though using a longer query increases the odds. This new feature gives users direct control, and it’s something I’d also expect to migrate to the advanced search page or the Google Search Preferences page.

Another option allows you to see thumbnail images of a site next to each listing:

Show Images Example

There’s nothing groundbreaking to this. I’ve lost track of the number of major and minor search engines over the years that have tried thumbnail displays. Even Google’s tested them at various times. Despite seeming like a cool feature, they’ve never caught on. But for those who want them, the new test program suggests Google might move forward with a way to add them on a opt-in basis, in the future.

Wonder Wheel

It’s Wonder Wheel that will really catch the attention of many, despite the fact it’s not a particularly new idea or ultimately even that useful as a search refinement feature. But it looks cool. In my search for Apple, when I selected the Wonder Wheel option, I got this:

Wonder Wheel

The idea is that there are various “categories” or “topics” or “clusters” of search results that branch off from Apple, such as “apple iphone.” And when I clicked on that branch:

Wonder Wheel, Second Level

I was shown more areas that I could branch off into, such as “apple iphone verizon,” which brought up:

Wonder Wheel With Refined Results

See the results off to the right? They’re all about the iPhone as it relates to Verizon. Each time you branch out via the Wonder Wheel, the results change to reflect the new topic you’ve chosen.

As I said, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. Why Search Sucks & You Won’t Fix It The Way You Think from me back in 2006 covers some similar implementations by others over the years, such as AltaVista LiveTopics from back in 1997:

AltaVista LiveTopics

These types of interfaces have a cool “gee whiz” factor when they appear, and for certain queries they can be incredibly useful. But for the most part, they haven’t seemed to resonate with searchers over time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wonder Wheel makes it as a future option that any one at Google can use, but I doubt it will become part of a default view.

Timeline & Search Suggestions

After Wonder Wheel, Google offers two further refinement options: Timeline and Search Suggestions.

Timeline is still a Google Labs feature that shows tidbits of information graphed against a timeline for certain search results. Despite being in Labs, some people are seeing it out and in the wild. This began back in January, and anyone should be able to see this for searches on french revolution or american revolution. The actual timeline graph won’t show on those queries, but you’ll see “Timeline results” appearing as the last two listings.

Search suggestions places a huge number of suggestions at the top of the search results page:

Show Search Suggestions Example

Google recently announced that it has improved where it currently shows search suggestions, so that they appear more often for more queries and in more languages. In addition, rather than just showing them at the bottom of the page, it also now occasionally shows them at the top, as you can see in a search on engines. However, the test allows for showing more search suggestions than I’ve ever seen on the Google results page before.

Again, there’s nothing groundbreaking here. Search Suggestions On Steroids: Yahoo Search Assist covers the very sophisticated search suggestion system that Yahoo put into place back in 2007, and both Microsoft and Ask also offer suggestions.

See For Yourself

Want to play with these features? Google Blogoscoped has code that lets you opt-in to the experiment, and it has worked well for me and several other Search Engine Land editors. You can clear your cookies later to get back to “normal” Google. I don’t see any security issues in doing this, but you never know — so buyer beware, use at your own risk, no refunds, no returns.

Overall, I liked seeing all the offerings and hope many of them do make it to the advanced search or the search preferences pages. While they might not be groundbreaking or gamechangers, they are useful features for some, so should be made more widely available.

Related Topics: Channel: Consumer | Features: Analysis | Google: User Interface | Google: Web Search | Search Features: Query Refinement | Top News

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About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Jake-Matthews

    Danny,

    Great post – comprehensive and thoughful. Wonderwheel concept is interesting. As you mention, none of it seems be to “ground breaking” but nonetheless it’s great to see Google exploring new interfaces and presentations of results and data.

    Video is going to be extremely productive for Google and for marketers so I can see that being brought to fore in a big way, soon.

  • http://thenoisychannel.com/ Daniel Tunkelang

    As you point out, Google isn’t innovating here. I’d go further and say that they’re not even offering state of the art in their versions of these features–and I see their timidity as a sign that they are at best half-hearted about pursuing them. Kosmix strikes me as a much more serious exploratory search play.

    http://thenoisychannel.com/2009/03/25/taking-the-google-wonder-wheel-for-a-spin/

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