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May 8, 2013

Google Removes More Search Features

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By now the masses are likely done mourning the upcoming demise of Google Reader (slated to swim with the fishes this summer), but some are noticing key Google toolbar features disappearing like a gaggle of phantoms too.

As always, there’s a method to Google’s madness (namely, they say these features just weren’t used enough), but this could very well be a case of quantity trumping quality. SEO experts, business owners, and search influencers alike are frustrated with Google’s willingness to yank once-touted top features, with little to no warning or fanfare.

While these folks undoubtedly represent the minority in terms of sheer numbers, many rank as top experts and consultants tasked with ensuring Google’s results are of the highest caliber. Furthermore, it seems many of Google’s rolled out features go unnoticed because people simply do not know to where to look for new releases, or to even expect they may arrive. Google is playing a numbers game, while many experts wish they would consider quality and communication first; and ultimately, stop taking away functionality that has helped make the web a better place, albeit in small doses.

They Give, They Take Away

Google released a fancy new sidebar in 2009 that came loaded with a slew of advanced search options, including sentiment analysis snippets, longer snippets, timeline, recent results, dictionary auto-linking, SearchWiki, Wonder Wheel, and related searches. Sadly, many of these features are no longer available.

The Wonder Wheel, along with related searches, were both considered top-tier tools, even if only a select few heavily used them. The Wonder Wheel showcased search terms in a visual format to let analysts and business owners discover keywords related to those currently targeted. You’d simply type in a keyword phrase – say, “London attractions,” and a circle pattern would appear connecting “London” to other related keywords, like “Big Ben,” “Picadilly Circus,” and “British Royals.” Handy, no? One year later, the feature was removed, and a chorus of cries commenced, without recourse (thankfully, other tools like the ‘Contextual Targeting Tool’ (http://www.google.com/ads/innovations/ctt.html) picked up the slack.)

Now, the frustrated growls are expressing the loss of the related features tool. Related features enabled users to efficiently eyeball search results for queries similar to the one selected. For example, if you typed in “gifts for mom,” the tool might suggest terms like “Mother’s Day presents” as good alternatives.

For SEO experts, this tool was a goldmine. You could start with a broader term like “gift ideas”, and use related searches to drill down into similar yet more effective key phrases. Why did Google remove related searches? “We weren’t seeing enough usage of this filter to maintain it in the toolbar,” they wrote recently, “but we do display related searches at the bottom of the page when they seem relevant enough.” When they seem relevant enough? That’s not exactly reliable nor overly usable.

Is Google Disregarding Their Heaviest Users?

There is a lot of frustration around Google’s sudden related searches axe. In a recent Google+ thread, SEO expert AJ Kohn stated, “Okay, so is Google then saying that Reading Level and Verbatim are therefore used more than Related Searches was?” Kohn is referring to a couple newer and lesser used options, and rightfully wonders why a tool heralded by Google’s top influencers is gone, when some features that hardly anyone sees value in still remain. Kohn also brilliantly shined a light on why this may be a major misstep for Google. “Just like the decision to terminate Google Reader, Google doesn’t seem to understand they need to address influencers.”

SEO professionals don’t just use their skills to help clients reach top rankings in Google and other search engines, they actually help Google maintain credibility and high user satisfaction too.

Google’s algorithms are built to favor high-quality sites with comprehensive information and intuitive layouts. SEO professionals, at heart, help clients create user-friendly websites and content. Helping these integral web marketers do the very best they can should therefore be one of Google’s top priorities.

Creating tools like Wonder Wheel and related searches goes a long way to achieve this synergy, but taking them away without warning obviously does just the opposite. While there are some new features added in recent times (verbatim, dictionary, and visited pages, to name a few), the list of deleted tools is just as long, if not more so. And with each eradication, Google risks inhibiting the success of people dedicated to helping them succeed. To add salt to the wound, just last year related searches was heralded as a top new feature from Google. Many internet marketers followed suit by loyally using the tool – an experience that was unfortunately short-lived.

Going Forward

Because Google still has a massive search engine market share, their antics are unlikely to improve any time soon. Some remain hopeful, however, that top executives will start to rethink their propensity to add and remove features at will, based solely on popularity, and instead consider weighting the voices of their top influencers. Webmasters and SEO professionals will never outnumber average web users, but if they celebrate a given search tool, Google would be wise to keep it in the mix. Without the tools they need to test and create top-notch sites and keywords, Google results could go back to endless lists of gobbledygook.

Until then, enjoy the tools Google offers, but don’t get too attached.


Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.

25 Responses to “Google Removes More Search Features

    avatar Tom Hargrave says:

    I remember once when Yahoo was at the top of the dung hill, then Google ovetook Yahoo, then Google charged ahead leaving Yahoo looking like a second rate search engine. I manage quite a few web sites and one of the metrics I monitor is organic search sources. From what I see Bing is gaining ground fast. It seems that with recent changes Google is “hurrying-up” the process!!!

    Does it really matter? Whatever Google serves up on Page 1 is what people will swallow, no matter how it’s garnished. After basically obliterating 75% of the websites out on the internet in the past year – we don’t see what’s truly out there anymore.

    Like the junk mail weekly flyers whose ‘cover’ is just a full-page ad, there’s less and less of what we want at Google, and I search elsewhere these days.

    The REAL threat to Google is HOW LITTLE TIME we even spend on there anymore: Mere minutes at most searching — compared to the HOURS millions spend daily on FaceBook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.

    And the irony is – if I wasn’t a webmaster – I’d spend almost NO time on Google search. It may have been the Starting-Point / Launchpad of yesteryear for all of us for many years – but not anymore.

    There were lots of changes Google did recently, and there maybe more changes to come. One thing they are testing right now is the removal of URL in the search results. I’ve read a post at searchengineland about recently.

    avatar geoff Lord says:

    well if they remove the URL the whole purpose of the search engine becomes totally useless as far as I am concerned !!

    avatar jieshitean says:

    We can through their own tools achieve the result we want.

    avatar ZeroMile says:

    Google doing lots of changes, and all these makes SEO task more challenging. Nice post. Thank you.

    avatar Tony Casso says:

    “Power corrupts: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    Google is just sending disenfranchised “influencers” into the waiting arms of their competitors; namely Bing and Yahoo.

    That is why competition is a good thing, less one becomes smug and arrogant.

    Still, Google provides these tools for free. Beggars can’t be choosers. IMO.

    avatar geoff Lord says:

    The history of google’s constant changes is a mystery to me also. Why on earth dont they listen (read) what top level SEO guys are saying. As you say in your report, some of these experts are in fact trying to help improve google search results only to find out that the very people they are helping are more than happy to Kick them in Butt and not even explain what the reasons are. I have moved over to Bing tools to help with my SEO work as the tools they provide are excellent now.

    Geoff Lord

    avatar sfisher says:

    This is done to make more people pay for google adwords, pure and simple, as google doesn’t want people managing to get into top results for keywords. They want you to pay for the privilege of being on page 1. It is same reason they brought out the recent tool to all of a sudden deem certain backlinks poison to your site, even though, many of these so called poison sites are PR 5+ . Funny how having backlink from there is not good anymore isn’t it?

    avatar lamvt says:

    Thanks Tina and Sitepro for great informations
    Google changing, make more taks for SEO.

    avatar Michael Head says:

    Great post!! This is what happens when somebody corners the market!! They can do what the hell they like, and we all have to suck on it!!

    We are all to blame as we all go straight to Google when searching the web, I am guilty as charged on that too!!!

    So I am part of the problem too. Wow I must slap my own face later.!!!!!

    avatar Jack says:

    Google has a influence with the world search tool and they can impose rules! I am so sad to said that!

    Google Is always engaged in tweaking tactics. Now that it has captured the market share of its search engine, it can rule the world and also SEO techniques to kill the existing spamming system.Hope they reveal soon as what they are ultimately headed to.

    Google is making a lot of changes and updates every year. SEO experts will believe with me, its becoming a hard thing to do SEO and actually, to know whether you are in the right track of things. Nevertheless, we will not give up.

    I think the answer is that google is not run by top seo experts but by several influential psychedelic minds paired with investors. It benefits everyone when they make it hard for people to take advantage of their system of the refinement of ideas.

    avatar Harry says:

    I haven’t had the opportunity to use the wheel and its yanked out. Since I am new to seo, i believed this could have been useful.

    avatar Carthage says:

    Google is so big now that it can do as it pleases. In a sense, it needs to keep changing things because if we could work out how to do SEO perfectly, then who would buy google ads?

    avatar Dana Tan says:

    I posted in the SEOMoz Q & A Forum that I had noticed “Related Searches” disappearing on April 1, of this year [Am I blind or has Google finally shut down its Related Searches option?
    ] – At that time, other members of the forum were still seeing it as an option.

    Related Searches IS still available. They’ve just taken it out of the tool bar and made it automatically available. Try it. Go search for something, anything. Scroll all the way to the bottom of the search results page, and voila! You will see all 8 options for “Searches related to xxxxxxx”

    Apparetnly it was so popular Google deicded not to hide it in a toolbar and pulled out the suggestionsand are placing them right on the page.

    avatar Dana Tan says:

    Donna, I forgot to include a link to a screenshot illustrating where the Related Searched now “live.”

    http://i.imgur.com/yKhTH3h.jpg

    Hope that’s helpful to you and your readers!

    avatar Randy Fox says:

    Forget they shelter their money offshore and the liberal hypocrisy of not paying their fair share of taxes. Forget their petty little war with SEO companies. Google has developed into a gaggle of tech nerds who think they are superior because they know more about programs than average people. Mind you most probably can’t open a can of beans. Average people and small business are what made Google in the first place. Their immature war on SEO has made thousands of small businesses collateral damage. I hope Google goes the way of World Com.

    avatar DMA Portland says:

    Yikes! If they remove the url’s from the descriptions on the SERPS, sites could potentially lose their ‘authority.’ A blog about a product or service could potentially get clicked on more than an actual brand!

    It’s a shame Google has been removing such wonderful tools, and now we’ve heard about the removal of the URL in searches. These continual changes are hurting many SEO experts but we have to remember that SEO is ever-changing (similar to that of non-online marketing). As we move forward we all must adapt. It’s a bummer but we have to face facts… “Survival of the Fittest”.

    avatar Optimind says:

    Another changes again.. Phew! I wonder what’s next.

    I agree with Tony. It’s free. Take it or leave it. As a provider of free services you can bind any kind of terms and conditions of use, and so they do.

    This is exactly what would happen. The less mature guys would make a contest out of it for sport.

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