COVID-19 coverage that started only as a simple alert panel on SERP has now turned out to be a very prolific set of information. This is not only an easy to access data source available on Google, but this is something that would be coming to SERP permanently.
The unique characteristics of COVID-19 SERP
Google shows many queries related to COVID-19 which is unique in two ways:
The amount of raw data available on the page
There is an absurd amount of data available on Google SERPs. It shows a breakdown of COVID-19 cases in your area as an accent to a global map of the pandemic’s spread. Of course, it also provides you with a link to click ahead to see a full breakdown of COVID-19 data available in SERP. It’s just a testimony that how hard Google could push the data in front of its users if it wanted to. Doing so would be both awesome and a bit frightening too at the same time.
The left-hand menu functionality
While the right side of this COVID 19 contains the information & knowledge, the left side features special functionality. Google is providing a sticky menu that serves to delve into different aspects related to this pandemic. When you click on a specific option available in the menu, it gives you an entire SERP defining the aspect of COVID-19.
The COVID-19 functionality solves some of the biggest problems of Google
Personalization is a tricky matter. There’s a lot to balance when trying to highly target a specific user. That’s true for us as marketers and for Google as well. Google has faced issues about personalization for a long time. The main example of this has been the controversy which Google has faced with personalization within the search results leading to a filter bubble.
At the same time, personalization puts Google on a collision course with another one of its “search result aspirations”-diversity. To target its users effectively, Google is catering to multiple intents with a diverse set of results. Hyper-personalization and a strong diversification of the search results are obviously at heads with each other. You simply can’t have both. There is not enough space on the SERP to show an effective amount of diversity with strongly targeting a user with 10 results only.
So, what process will Google adopt to solve this? This is done by the functionality available at the left side of SERP for COVID-19 queries.
The personalization problem is solved with user Input
The biggest white elephant when we discuss the personalization within the search results is not the filter bubble nor is it the diversity vs personalization. Rather, the personalization is itself a problem and solving this problem is never possible without the user input.
No matter how smart Google gets and how great it becomes after providing its user personalized results, Google will never be able to identify what a user is in its specific moment. The only way Google can do this is by putting the user in control of SERP.
For example, you searched on Google for estate planning. There is a lot you could mean by this query. You can look for the information related to the financial end or you want some information about tax information? If it’s the latter in which state, you are living in as every state has the different state laws.
Google can also look at your past behaviour and search history and suggest with you lawyers in your state to help you navigate the legalities of the estate. It may be also that the user wants some financial information despite the previous searches.
Now imagine, if you had a SERP with a sticky menu at the left of the page that allows you to see a SERP related to ethical lawyers, financial services, etc. With user input, Google can offer you a full set of results that matches my exact intent.
Not every user has the same intent so that one can open tabs for results that hit on multiple intents without having to run multiple queries. Simply, Google has implanted for COVID 19 results that bring a new level of user input in the SERP.
More space prevents personalization trainwrecks
Like the COVID-19 SERP, you can see that how having a sticky menu helps to prevent a collision between personalization and result diversity. This menu functionality allows its users to breakdown the query by intent. It lets Google target the user on the initial SERP without having a diverse set of results. The sticky menu allows Google to engage in a topic-based segmentation.
Nothing pops filter bubble-like sticky side menus
Last, but not least, a side menu that gives Google the opportunity it needs to avoid any sort of filter bubble criticism. In such a scenario, Google would not have to worry about the results on the SERP further confirming a user’s biases. The side menu allows going full-on personalization. All Google would need to do is supplement the extreme level of personalization with a broader set of content that would be accessed via the side menu.
The SERP is now antiquated in many ways. The entire construct is one that was designated for a different era of digital content consumption. As Google gets better at understanding what’s out there and gets better at serving what it now understands it is going to need creative solutions to head-off some serious problems.
No one can predict the future. But it’s hard to imagine that Google designed a new format for the SERP and is not thinking about its implications. Whether it be the format and functionality Google is using for its COVID-19 SERPs or its something that allows some sort of user’s input only.