Google is always making improvements and testing out new things. Sometimes, before rolling out a major change, they apply the change to just a few test markets or a few users. They keep watch over how their changes are being received by the test users and make decisions based on those observations. This is a good way to test out new features and layouts before committing to them. Recently, I was one of these test users.
For about two weeks, the layout of my Google search results page was different, and in my opinion, it was an improvement. As you can see in the screenshots, there is now a sidebar giving the user more options to filter the search being performed. This is similar to the “Show Options” feature currently available under the search bar, but this new sidebar has much fewer options and lacks the Wonder Wheel, which is a feature that many SEOs and PPC managers have been using to expand their keyword research.
The feature I like best is that it’s now possible to change your location using an option right under the search bar. As any SEO knows, Google Maps results, and sometimes organic results, are geo-targeted based on the location that your IP address is associated with. So, if I search for “florist” I will get local results for florists in my area, but if I want to find florists in Denver, I could just change my location using this option instead of changing my search phrase to “florists in Denver.” This is especially useful to me because I do a lot of location-specific SEO. My clients are located all over the country. So, in the past, it was difficult for me to find out what they were seeing in the local results when they performed searches for their targeted keywords, but now I can easily check their Maps rankings by simply changing my location directly on the SERP.
You’ll notice that due to the left sidebar, the organic search results are now much closer to the paid results. I wonder how this affects clickthrough rates for both the organic and the paid results. Surely, the proximity will cause users to notice the paid results more, especially less experienced or web-savvy users. I would think that this would cause CTR for the ads to increase slightly, with CTR on the organic results would decrease.
This new layout lasted a couple weeks for me and eventually went back to the old layout. Even though I was sharing an IP with some other computers, mine was the only one showing the test layout, so this makes me wonder about how Google determines who gets chosen as a test user and who does not, and how they differentiate users working under the same IP.
I would be glad to see this new layout adopted permanently in the future, though I don’t like that some features, like the Wonder Wheel, will apparently be lost.