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The Strange Outage of Google In-Depth Search Results

SEO GazelleOur ThoughtsThe Strange Outage of Google In-Depth Search Results
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For more than two weeks, Internet searchers who rely on Google for quality results to their queries missed out on the longer and more comprehensive content provided by In-Depth articles.

The absence of In-Depth articles from search queries was noticed by search engine analysts and search engine optimization (SEO) professionals, but it is unclear whether Google users and online researchers were aware of this outage.

It seems as if the disappearance of In-Depth articles started on April 9th and lasted until April 26th. For 17 days, In-Depth articles were not displayed on their usual spot, which is usually right in the middle of the search engine results page (SERP).

Since Google did not officially acknowledge the outage, the precise reason as to why this SERP feature went missing is still unknown. It may have gone down for testing purposes, or perhaps a change in the search algorithm may have been buggy. Nonetheless, the reporting of the temporary outage ignited the curiosity of many people who may not have been aware of the In-Depth feature and its effect on the SERP and overall SEO.

Understanding In-Depth Articles

In 2013, Google announced a new feature to provide Internet searchers with in-depth, quality answers to questions on broad topics. For example, a high school student is doing some research on the topic of censorship as part of a Social Studies assignment. If she uses “censorship” as her chosen query on the Google search bar, she will get back the usual dictionary definition followed by a Wikipedia entry along with high-level results, an “In the News” section, plus and “In-Depth” section.

Google search engineers estimate that 10 percent of online searchers are looking for In-Depth results, which means that they are in search of thoughtful content published on trustworthy outlets such as The New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, etc.

In the beginning, the In-Depth search block was very similar to the In the News block, which means that the article title stood out, an inline image was taken from the content, and the the logo icon of the publication was included.

A year before the In-Depth outage was reported, Google removed the title and the image from the SERP when displaying these featured results. The explanation given was a desire to streamline the overall look of the SERP.

The Importance of In-Depth Search Results

The In-Depth feature is perhaps more familiar to publishers who work on Google News. Certain plugins for content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress allow publishers to apply a standout tag, which Google may interpret as being an original, breaking story or an outstanding work of journalism.

Google News publishers are limited to submitting about seven standout tags per week. The Google News algorithm reportedly looks at this tag and will consider assigning an In-Depth tag that will push the story to the top of the SERP.

Evergreen or non-news content that is assigned In-Depth status does not have a CMS plugin for this purpose, and it is not clear how Google makes this determination. For example, why would a well-written review of a Chinese-American restaurant published on The Wall Street Journal be featured as an In-Depth article as opposed to a San Francisco Chronicle essay about the history of Chinese restaurants in the United States?

As with anything related to the Google search algorithm, there are no easy answers to the question above. However, it is interesting to note that Google is slowly doing away with the visual cues that point to In-Depth articles in the SERP.

Perhaps a time will come when the Google algorithm is smart enough to spot quality content that it can push to the top of the SERP? It’s hard to tell; however, content producers should be aware that Google is certainly rewarding certain works of outstanding creation, and it appears that it will continue to do so.

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