Google searches are changing. For some time now the search engine’s team has been talking about ways it might enrich the search experience and it has now begun to do so. Attentive users may already have noticed small gray tags appearing beside site URLs in search results; clicking on these opens pop up windows containing information about the site. If you're wondering what this means for site owners, keep reading.
First of all, it is worth noting that the tags do not appear alongside all links – only with those that Google sees as particularly significant. Much of the information in them is drawn from Wikipedia, so this may help to provide a picture of what significant means; it is also a good reason for every business to make sure it has a Wikipedia page. Simply having a tag adds to the apparent importance of a site and may help it to make a stronger impression on searchers once they have gotten used to the new system.
The downside of the tags is that they broaden the amount of information available to the user when what a business wants is a narrow field of information focused on its URL. Users clicking on the tag might easily be distracted and end up visiting the source of the information – such as the Wikipedia page about the business – or bringing up a Google search for the owner of the business; even if this directs them to the same company, it will probably lead them to an about page rather than a customer landing page.
At this stage it is hard to guess how much this new facility will be used. It is difficult to see it taking off on mobile, where small screen size makes clutter a nuisance and most users prefer to have only the information they really need. Because it is so discreet, many users will probably not notice it even on a full-size screen, but even a small amount of use will give Google useful feedback on which of its features users find appealing. This can then be fed back into its wider development strategy.
Beneath the surface of the new tags is Google’s Knowledge Graph – the same system that provides information in a box on the right-hand side of the screen in some searches – and it is this system that Google hopes to put to use more widely to create semantic searches that make life easier for users.