Google dials back Google+ integration with search results
Searches will no longer show author photos or number in their ‘Circles’ – which Google says will create better experience and little effect, but leaves experts doubtful.
Courtesy of The Guardian
Google is dialling back integration between web search results and visibility on Google+, its social network.
John Mueller, a webmaster trends analyst at the firm, announced Wednesday evening that a re-haul of the search results would see less information pulled in from Google+. Currently, if a result is authored by someone on the social network, the search engine shows the writer’s face, name, and how many “circles” they are in on Google+.
“We’ve been doing lots of work to clean up the visual design of our search results,” Mueller wrote in a post on Google+, “in particular creating a better mobile experience and a more consistent design across devices.
“As a part of this, we’re simplifying the way authorship is shown in mobile and desktop search results, removing the profile photo and circle count. (Our experiments indicate that click-through behaviour on this new less-cluttered design is similar to the previous one.)”
For many publishers, the authorship features are a key reason to be on Google+ in the first place. By highlighting a particular result with an image and an author’s name, the features are thought to boost the number of clicks. While Mueller says that removing the image leaves searchers acting in a “similar” fashion, Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Land says he “highly doubts that”.
Kristine Schachinger of Search Engine Watch commented on Mueller’s post that she had intentionally removed her picture three times from its G+ profile, which in turn lost it from search results: “Each time the drop was approximately 25%. Since I have one million impressions and 110k CTR [click-through rate] on average every threemonths, I think my tests show there is a significant drop.
“Also your assertion it does not change CTR would violate all other usability and eye-tracking studies that show that an image in search increases CTR,” she added.
Authors still have an incentive to be on Google+, with the byline field staying in place, but by taking out the count of how many circles a given writer is in, the company takes away the incentive for people to artificially inflate their authorship importance just by having lots of Google+ friends.
It remains difficult to get a grasp of exactly how popular a social network Google+ is in its own right. Its obligatory integration with a number of other Google services, particularly YouTube and Hangouts, which replaces the texting app on newer Android smartphones, makes the raw statistics look good. The service boasts over a billion registered users, and almost 350m monthly active users – both statistics putting it around midway between Facebook and Twitter in size.
But statistics on how many of those users have an actively maintained profile page on Google+, or visit the site itself as opposed to use services which integrate with it, are harder to come by. The service was barely mentioned on stage at Google’s I/O keynote, where the company lays out its plans for the next year to developers from around the world.