The other day over at BoostCTR, Ryan Healy wrote about a change to Google's search results format that's been bugging me:

If you look closely, you'll notice that the URL is now appearing under the title instead of underneath the body copy.

...

Is the title even more important than before "” because the URL "cuts off" the body copy and leaves it floating at the bottom? Does it make the URL more important? Or does it favor brands with more well-known URLs?

My guesses:

  • Yes, it makes page titles more important, because I suspect it will reduce readership of the excerpt from your page content.
  • I doubt it will make URLs much more important. It could just as easily make them less important by making us "URL blind" the way we've become "banner blind". Since we'll have to get better at ignoring the URLs in order to quickly scan past them to the body content, we'll notice them even less than we used to.
  • Because of the above, I doubt it will favor brands with well-known URLs.

In a way, I suppose placing the URL immediately under the title makes sense. But only aesthetically. It groups the colored, single-line parts of each listing together, rather than separating them with body text. And if there are any +1s listed for a particular search result, they'll stand out more, since they've become the lone colored content after the body content.

But from a usability standpoint, I think it's backwards. When I read a search result, the sequence I want to go through is:

  1. Read the title. If it's relevant to what I was searching for...
  2. Read the body content. If it's relevant to what I was searching for...
  3. Maybe check the URL to get a sense of whether I think the site is credible, and make sure it's not one that I've had a bad experience with before. And then...
  4. Click through to the page.

Some people might prefer for step 3 to come before step 2. I don't. Here's why. Steps 1 and 2 are the same type of evaluation -- I can do them both while in exactly the same mental mode.

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Injecting a different type of evaluation between makes the process disjointed. I either have to scan the search results page out of order, or jump back and forth between mental modes very quickly.

If I were carefully reading each word, it might not be as big a deal. But when I'm scanning search results, I'm moving at top speed. Putting the URL between the title and content breaks things down into too small of chunks.

I'm hoping that Google is testing this change before making it permanent, and that the test will fail whatever criteria they're measuring it against.

How does this apply to your writing?

If you build webpages (or write blog posts, or create ads...), think about how you're chunking your content. It'll be easier to consume if it flows from point A to point B rather than breaking he continuity by jumping back and forth all the time.

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That's not to say that you shouldn't ever make jumps. For example, some literature and movies start from near the end, and then go back to "X weeks earlier", fill in the story, and then give the conclusion. This helps the audience create a frame of reference in which to make sense of the main bulk of the story.

Sometimes, even more jumping around works best. For example, you may want to introduce your main point, tell a story to illustrate it, tie it in to the main point, tell another story, tie that one in, etc.

Good jumps help your audience see the big picture more clearly. Bad jumps fracture your message and make it harder to see.