Followers of this blog know that we have been eyeing for months the phenomenon of in-depth articles and their potential impact on reputations of companies and individuals online. First, their appearance last August, then their tentative migration up the results page from their original placement at bottom and now their wild disappearing and reappearing act.
Through the beginning of this year, things were pretty steady with about 10% of the companies in the Fortune 500 showing results that included in-depth articles. Just at the end of February, however, the fluctuations began, with nearly 20 companies losing their in-depth articles one day, and then some bouncing around.
At the lowest point, nearing mid-March, only 20 companies had in-depth articles, a dropoff of 64% from the 56 that began February!
For now, it looks like Google’s in-depth article experiment is still in progress and it remains unclear where this moving target will land. And while we cannot claim to be in Google’s head to explain what’s going on, we can hazard a guess.
On the theory that Google’s aim is to make search results ever more useful for searchers, we have to wonder how useful these in-depth articles have been. Unlike news results, which can change daily, reflecting changes in the world, or profiles and background pieces (e.g. Wikipedia) useful for reference, we suggest that in-depth articles – lengthy and often with a slant – may not be seeing repeat visits. Moreover, their length makes them time consuming to read, making it difficult for the average searcher to get in, get the gist, and get on to something else.
For all the companies with unfavorable in-depth articles, a shift away from them would be a good turn. Ultimately, though, whether this experimentation means in-depth articles are approaching their sunset – or if something else is on the horizon – is anyone’s guess. Meanwhile, we will continue to monitor the course of Google’s current labwork.