The In-Depth Article Experiment Continues

Google’s test kitchens seem to be warming up with fresh experimentation on in-depth articles. With just a handful of examples in the last few days, we have noticed a couple of variations on how Google is serving them up on the search engine results page.

A quick refresher – in-depth articles were introduced less than a year ago, in August 2013, as three articles grouped at the bottom of the search engine results page under the header “In-depth articles,” such as seen below.

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Back in February, we described how Google was playing with moving this box up the page. The box itself remained unchanged, but in some cases, some of the search results appeared below the in-depth articles, making them no longer the bottommost search results. This is still happening sporadically.

In March, the experiment seemed to take a turn with the presence or absence of the In-depth articles themselves, as many search terms lost the articles they’d had.

Now, we have found two new variations. In both versions, the in-depth articles box has been promoted to a noticeably higher result position and given a new appearance that basically makes it a fraternal twin to the News box.

The only difference between the variations is what the box itself is called. In one, it’s called “In-depth articles for [term]” (and don’t think it escaped our notice that the search term – here IBM, in the next example Verizon Communications – has been made all lowercase. Google getting sloppy?)

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In the other, the box takes on even greater resemblance to the News box, in being called simply “Articles.”

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As an aside, what’s interesting about this second variation is that with the Articles box looking so similar to the News box, Google may need to figure out how to differentiate the two.

But isn’t Google always experimenting? What’s the big deal? We think the difference in the box title, subtle as it may be, is a hint at what’s going on. Parking a certain type of search results at the bottom of the search page and calling them “In-depth articles” is clunky. Their placement tells the searcher – who more than likely has limited time and wants quick useful information – that these articles are not top importance and their title hints they’re long and time consuming to read.

Moving them up the page promotes their importance and suggested relevance, while taking away the “In-depth” part of the title may remove a barrier to click.

Whether or not this is the rationale for these experimental possibilities, the fact that they are being experimented with sends a clear message that Google believes these in-depth articles are important and aren’t letting them go. That means they’re still a force to be reckoned with, especially for those who care about their online reputation.