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Are search engines getting their whole interface wrong?

Are search engines getting their whole interface wrong?

Part of the reason why there’s always been such a drive to be the first result on the first page of Google is because of the way the search engine displays results.

In list format, your eyes are naturally drawn to the first item on the list. To look beyond the first couple of results and any info boxes, you have to physically scroll down the screen. This means that while two rival companies might both be on the first page of Google’s results for a search term, the one in first place on the page is in a much more enviable position than the one in fifth or sixth.

Google has changed in all kinds of ways since its birth in 1998, but although its search results are a lot more visual now, one factor it has never altered is the list-style search results displayed in descending order of how relevant and important the search engine deems them to be. Yahoo did the same before it, and search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo have stuck to it too.

Last month, a new search engine, You.com, entered the fray in beta mode, and the most striking aspect that sets it apart from the others is the way it shows you the results of your search query.

You.com displays results in a tiled format, meaning desktop users are presented with six options that instantly fill their screen, or more if they zoom out of the browser by holding Ctrl and scrolling their mouse. It’s still probably best to be the top-left corner result as we read from left to right and from top to bottom, but the top-centre result has more prominence on the screen, and all six options are easy to see without the user having to do anything.

My instant reaction was that I didn’t like it, but then I wondered whether this was just because I was so conditioned to the way Google and other search engines do it. This boxy interface is hardly a new concept on the internet, mimicking the way you look at an Instagram user’s gallery of images, and the home page of browsers like Mozilla Firefox that try to direct you towards interesting news stories. Plus, doesn’t it make sense to present the user with several good options and allow them to choose their preference, rather than make such a song and dance about the “top” result?

The weakness in this argument though is that I’m only talking about desktops here. Most internet use today comes from mobile devices, and if I do the same search on my phone, I get this:

That’s not so good. In fact, it’s even more weighted in favour of the “top” result than Google as I have to scroll to the right to see any others.

Personally, I’m also finding You.com to be a little slow on both desktop and mobile. Maybe that’s just a teething problem during its beta phase, but it all adds up to a search engine I’m unlikely to be in a hurry to use again.

Still, it’s an interesting idea and a reminder that just because something has always been done one way, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best way. Perhaps a time will come where websites gain more rewards for simply being within a bunch of results for a search query and site owners have to think of ways to tempt users to make theirs the one they choose – perhaps with an enticing meta description.

For help with your rankings and online presence, get in touch with the Engage Web team.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray

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