Mar 23, 2015 • Jessica Jones
Recently Google has begun displaying basic information about common health related questions right on the search results page. Ask Google “what are the symptoms of frostbite” and you’ll see an example - basic information about symptoms, treatments and statistics will show up without you ever having to leave google.com.
<figcaption id="caption-attachment-3195" class="wp-caption-text">Next time you ask Google a health question you may get the answer you need without ever leaving Google.</figcaption></figure>
The information is provided by reputable sources such as the Mayo Clinic, and of course Google is quick to let you know that it isn’t meant as medical advice. If you need more than a basic overview you’ll need to dig deeper and visit one or more of the sites listed in your actual search results, but if you just need to know how to tell if you have frostbite and how it is treated, Google is there for you.
This feature may not yet have been rolled out for every market, but if you Google “mortgage calculator” there’s a good chance that you’ll see a basic but functional mortgage calculator widget right there at the top of the search results. Why visit another site for a basic tool when Google provides it for you?
Similarly, if you Google “weather” it’s likely that you’ll see an interactive weather widget for your location pulled straight from weather.com. Are many people likely to check the weather this way rather than just going to weather.com? Hard to say - if you’re already in the habit of checking your favorite weather site regularly you might not change that pattern. If my browser is set to open Google automatically in a new tab, however, typing “weather” into the search is pretty quick and convenient. I’m sure Google has run the numbers extensively on these new offerings and expects them to be utilized.
Is Google trying to become the internet? How many functions, tools, widgets and wikis are they going to make redundant with the built in displays of information that, in some cases, make the pages that show up within the search results completely unnecessary?
These developments may not be of any concern to you, but they’re definitely worth noting, especially if you’ve ever used a tool or functional widget as a method of getting users onto your site. Some businesses like to provide these kinds of tools on their site, and in some cases they can be a real value add for users, but it’s always important to make certain that the widget or tool doesn’t seem obtrusive or gimmicky, and that it fits in well with your typical users’s reason for visiting your site - a weather widget on a site that has nothing to do with local outdoor activities, for example, could easily end up seeming out of place.
Also keep in mind that tools and widgets, while some can be useful to users that are already on your site looking for information, are not likely to bring new users to your site. If you’re a real estate agent, having a mortgage calculator on your site might be handy for your users, but it’s unlikely to be the reason that they find or come to your site - they’ll come to your site because they’ve searched for an agent in their area that offers the services that they’re looking for. This was the case before Google started offering their own mortgage calculator; Google’s new offering just makes it even more clear.
You need to rely on your business’s offerings and your page’s original content to draw people to your site, not on a tool that’s no different from tools offered on many other sites in your industry. If your site doesn’t fill a specific need for your intended audience - and one that isn’t already being filled more conveniently by someone else - your site won’t reach its full potential, and throwing a stock widget on the site isn’t a shortcut that’s going to give you much ground.
Unless Google literally takes over the world (and I’m not discounting that as an eventual possibility …) they aren’t going to replace what your business actually offers (well, unless you’re trying to build a search engine) - so make sure that your website’s focus is on your unique offerings and you’ll have no reason to worry if search engine results start displaying commonly found information that pertains to your industry.