08/05/24 5 Minute Read

5 minute read

Is Google Search getting worse?

We’ve now been in business for more than 20 years here at 21Digital, which means that we’re old enough to remember the days of the “ten blue links”. In the early days of Google, when you searched for something, you’d be faced with a Search Engine Results page of ten results (the ten blue links), and that was all there was to it. Make the same search today though, and it’s a vastly different world – in the intervening two decades or so, Google has implemented a whole host of additional features and search functions.

Now though, there are rumblings about the declining quality of Google’s search results,begging the question – even with all these new additions, is Google Search better than it used to be?

What’s changed since the days of the “ten blue links”?

The ten blue links specifically dates back to the turn of the millennium, just under 25 years ago. (Time certainly marches mercilessly on, doesn’t it?) At the time, Search Engine Optimisation as a concept was still in its infancy, and Pay-Per-Click marketing actually launched that year (2000).

Compare the SERPs from then to the ones you’ll see today, and there’s a very clear (and quite startling) contrast. Today, whenever you put a query into Google, you’ll see a huge variety of additional features, including:

  • People Also Ask: Offers additional questions related to your query, providing quick access to relevant information and expanding the search scope.
  • Sponsored Links (PPC): Paid advertisements which are displayed prominently on the SERP (above the organic results), targeting specific keywords and user queries through pay-per-click advertising.
  • Shopping Links: Directs you to product listings and shopping platforms, facilitating online shopping directly from the search results.
  • Rich Snippets: Enhances search results with additional information like star ratings, reviews, and pricing, providing you with more context about each web page’s content before you click.
  • Local Pack: Displays a map and local business listings relevant to location-based searches, including key information such as a company’s name, address, ratings, and contact details.
  • Knowledge Panel: Provides quick facts and information about various topics, entities, and people, appearing on the right side of the SERP (if you’re on desktop) or at the top (if you’re on mobile).
  • Related Searches: Offers additional queries related to the user’s search, helping you explore similar topics or further refine your search.
  • Image Searches: Helps you to find images related to their search query, providing visual content directly within the search results.
  • Video Searches: Provides video content related to your query, enabling you to find and watch videos directly from the SERP.
  • Social Posts Carousel: Displays a carousel of social media posts relevant to your query, allowing you to explore social content directly within the search results.
  • Answer Boxes: Presents concise answers extracted from web pages at the top of the SERP, offering quick answers to any queries without requiring you to click on a search result.
  • FAQs: Displays frequently asked questions related to your query, providing immediate answers and addressing common inquiries directly within the search results.

That’s just a sample of the most common ones you’re likely to find on an average search. There are also a lot more additional features, and different ones will show up on different types of search – products, locations, events, answers to questions etc.

Google Update - March 2024
Google Update - March 2024

Why have all those changes been made?

Google’s rationale for all these tweaks and additions has always been presented as one overarching aim: to enhance the user experience. On the face of it, these changes do often do just that. However, it’s not quite that simple – there’s also quite a few instances in which all these additions to the SERPs do exactly the opposite.

In other words, they may actually diminish the user experience by making the organic results (those ten blue links) harder to find in a slew of multi-media ads, related queries, imagery and prompts to search again. When it comes to design, there’s a very thin line between functional and overwhelming.

It’s also worth noting that there’s been a notable rise in reporting about the decline in quality of Google Search – and not just in the industry press, but in the mainstream news too. Now, obviously people have been saying this since time immemorial, but a new study seems to give significant credence to that idea. The prevailing theory at the moment is that Google is sacrificing organic search quality in order to drive ad clicks.

The onset of AI content isn’t helping either, and it’s possible that Google is concentrating so much on bringing AI into its SERPs to compete with ChatGPT and Bing that it’s letting its core business slip away.

Are all these changes positive then?

Well, it depends on who you ask! Most people think of Google as first and foremost a search engine, used to find information that answers their specific queries. That was certainly its modus operandi when it first started out, over 25 years ago. Over the intervening decades though, Google has branched out considerably (and some would say too much). Today it’s a digital shop window, email platform, cloud storage platform, just to name a few. Even briefly a gaming platform and social network (the ill-fated Google Stadia and Google+, respectively) – all in addition to its core function as a search engine.

So, all that brings us to our main question…

What do you think?

Do you feel Google has gotten more or less useful as it’s progressively added more features? Do you mind whether you’re clicking on an advertisement or an organic search result, as long as it still takes you to where you need to be? Are all these extra features just a distraction, or do they help?

We’d love to hear from you – we’ve set up a survey here where you can share your thoughts. (We’re not collecting or storing any personal details – all answers will be anonymous.)

Whatever you think of Google Search, if you’re looking for the best ways to bump your business up to the top of organic results, you’re in exactly the right place. Here at 21Digital, we now have more than 20 years of web development experience, so you can trust us to know exactly what it takes to implement an effective SEO Campaign. We are a multi award-winning agency specialising in lead generation and ecommerce, providing digital marketing services including web design, web development, SEO, Google Ads, digital consultancy, social media marketing and email marketing.


Give us a call on 01254 660 560, or email us on hello@21digital.agency and let’s talk!

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