Google has redesigned the way search results on mobile devices are presented, making website branding more overt. The company says this will help users to better understand where information is coming from with the name of the website and its icon appearing at the top of the results.
Which sounds good until you check the fine print and understand that this is a move towards having branded ads and online shopping made more prominent in search results.
The announcement about the mobile search update says that when you search for a product or service and Google has a “useful ad to show” you’ll see a bolded ad label next to the web address. While that’s useful at one level, it also means we’ll start seeing different information in the search results.
For example, going on Google’s visuals for the change – I can’t see the changes yet when I search on my smartphone – instead of seeing the URL for a site you’ll see its name. While I’m sure Google will take steps to ensure people don’t fudge names in order to dupe people into clicking on the wrong site, being able to see the actual address for a site is a good way of verifying whether you’re heading to the right destination.
It’s possible someone launching a phishing attack could brand a fake website in such a way as to draw in victims and expose them to drive-by downloads. So, we’ll be relying on Google to protect us from such scams.
Google also said the change allows it to add more action buttons to search results. So, when you search for movie tickets they’ll be able to include a “Buy it now” button and, presumably, skim a little on the transaction – and perhaps even a little more if you use Google Pay.
I’m old enough to remember when Google first appeared and completely revolutionised the way online search worked and looked. Back then, the focus was on fast results with no clutter.
But as the company’s commercial imperatives have changed, we’ve ended up with prioritised results, ads and now website branding. I’ve stopped using Google as my primary search engine so the change won’t have a massive effect on me. But with Google far and away the world’s most used search engine, people will be exposed to more branding that will deliver revenue for the tech giant.