The latest tweak to Google’s search results which lets us browse, save, and delete results from similar searches we’ve made before is the next step in the company’s journey toward making the SERPs even more intuitive, tailored, and useful.
Access to our respective search histories is not a new Google feature. Each of us can – if we have a Google account – simply click Settings > History, and from there browse, search for, or delete any past searches we want to.
The launch of Google’s new activity cards on January 9th appears to be building on the principle of giving the user more control.
So what functionality do they offer? And what are their implications for transparency, SEO and how we move around online?
What are Google activity cards?
For certain searches, we will begin seeing a small card marked “Your related activity” at the very top of the SERPs. We can expand this card to show results we have clicked on when making similar searches in the past.
The spiel from Google is that this is particularly useful for long running tasks:
“Whether it’s meal planning for a new food regimen, researching new stretching routines for post-gym recovery or picking up a new hobby. You might come back to Search to find information on the same topic, hoping to retrace your steps or discover new, related ideas.”
Bringing bookmarking/pinning functionality to search
There is more to activity cards than merely offering another set of results to peruse.
In a couple of clicks users can save searches to collections. This gives another layer of organization where users can view and scroll through a digital pinboard of relevant past searches they have made.
It is also just as simple to delete any unwanted results from the card too.
We have known for a long time that certain search results appear because we have clicked through to that page in the past.
Activity cards make things more transparent, even for the most casual Google user.
It is now far more clear to visualize what in a set of SERPs is appearing there because of our own behavior rather than the strength/popularity of the content according to other users.
Implications for SEO and user journeys
It’s a little too early to see any definite implications these cards will have for search engine optimization and how much they will change our journeys as users.
Bear in mind that at this stage the cards are only appearing for selected searches. Specifically, the cards appear on so-called long running tasks where Google deems them relevant.
That said, for results that do include activity cards, those cards can be seen to occupy the most important part of the SERP. They appear right at the top of the page, even above sponsored listings.
This might frustrate digital marketers if we see sponsored and organic listings in the main SERP receive less traffic.
It also might make life a little more difficult for newer sites if Google’s users – for certain searches, at least – already have a well-clicked plethora of personally trusted domains.
Additionally, those who are skeptical about the risk of digital echo chambers may also view such personalized results as a problem rather than a solution.
Broadly a positive move
While it remains to be seen whether activity cards make any drastic changes to search and our habits, I think they are a positive move in terms of transparency and control for the user.
We found many key takeaways from the recent appearance of Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai at Congress in December.
One of the main ones, though, was realizing just how difficult a task Google has in assuring everyday search users that they can trust the search results.
Google spend a lot of energy helping users believe that the results they receive appear due to metrics such as whether content is fresh, popular, or has been visited by the user before – rather than by favoritism or bias on the part of the company itself.
These clearly-labelled activity cards might promote greater awareness of just why users receive the results that they do.
Similarly, there is also something to be said for introducing casual users to be more hands-on with taking ownership of their search activity.
Users still need to click through to Settings to view/delete searches from all their history. However, seeing how easy it is (just a couple of clicks) to browse and delete results in the activity card may promote other ways users can find things they’ve searched for in the past. It can also help users remove things they want to get rid of.
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