Nearly nine months ago, Google Labs released Google Squared. Rather than displaying a list of correlating websites in the usual fashion, Google Squared combs the Web and attempts to display relevant information in tabular form, organizing that information according to item, image, description, and a number of item-specific headings. For example, a search for “roller coasters” returns the following square, with capacity, height, and speed as the additional fields:
Google Squared has particular value for product comparison searches - just search “iPod” or “digital camera” to see what I mean. Prices, capacity, and video playback values are all displayed side by side from across the Web. Due to this exceptional potential for product comparison, product websites should pay special attention to further developments in Google Squared.
Optimizing for Google Squared should be much like optimizing for regular Google queries. Attention to semantic layout would appear to be of paramount importance so Squared can easily discern the relevant information and categories to include for a user query. Content, as always, is king and should be treated with particular care. It is unclear as yet if or how inclusion in Google Base, Google’s structured online database, will impact ranking on Google Squared, though it certainly can’t hurt. Rich Snippets, a type of microformatting technology introduced by Google last May, could also play a role.
Google Squared is by no means perfect, reflecting its status as a Labs project. Included columns and rows are not always relevant, nor are they always populated. The displayed data itself is only as accurate as the source from which it is pulled. Sometimes, the results themselves are downright strange. Searching for “Persian cat” seemed to include intelligent data about every feline breed except Persians -- although “Persian kittens” was included some distance down the page, with descriptive data not about the breed, but about breeders and distributors of Persian kittens.
One important feature of Google Squared is its ability to accept and adapt instantly to user feedback. Rows or columns can be added and deleted dynamically, and a completed square can be saved for future viewing. The “Persian cat” query resulted in only one additional column, “eye color,” besides the three default, so I imagined that I had been searching for a comparative display of cat breeds and added “fur type” and “temperament.” Squared found relevant possible values for the majority of breeds it listed, though it required me to select the best choice for each before displaying it in my square. Despite requiring this further user interaction, Squared provided me with a way to compare cat breed data much more quickly than if I had compiled it myself.
Google is not terribly clear on exactly how Google Squared functions. Still, it is safe to say that Google still reads pages based on their semantics and SEO-friendly content. When adding my columns to the cat search, the values I was presented to choose from were essentially highly specified keyword search results, as though I had typed in something along the lines of “Burmese cat temperament” into a normal Google search. In fact, selecting “search for more values” opens a normal search results page with “Burmese Temperament” as the query.
Google is legendary for its long beta times, but the smart SEO will keep an eye on Google Squared long before it leaves the Labs. While its specialized, comparative nature makes it unlikely to replace traditional search even once perfected, Google Squared provides another window into the increasingly complex, ever growing Web.