This year’s Winter Olympic Games, which started last Friday, provided us with a unique opportunity in that we were able to track the event and see how it affected rankings in Google. Typically, when news breaks it’s not easily predicted, which therefore makes it difficult to track and measure the changes that take place within SERPs. However, with the Olympic Games, we were able to see the event coming, and prepare for it, taking screenshots and analyzing how a SERP page develops along with developing stories.
Screenshots were taken of the Google SERP for the term "Olympics" on three occasions – 1 week before the games: Friday, Feb. 5; the day the games started: Friday, Feb. 12; and this morning: five days since they began. By looking at these SERP results over time, we are able to see a number of changes that take place within Google as the algorithms understand that the search term requires recent and relevant information.
A Week Before the Games
By analyzing the SERP taken a week before the games began we can see that Google is treating this search query as it would almost any other. Although it realizes that news entries are important, because no doubt blogs and papers were starting to build up the event, these entries rank third on the page, only just above the fold.
Other pages listed on the SERP seem to be rather static results with listings from the actual Olympic homepage, NBC, Team USA, ESPN and Wikipedia. Notice, there are no Google real time search results showing up in my browser.
Opening day was marked by the sad news of the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, which no doubt affected the results Google was returning, but there are still a number of elements that would likely have been the same regardless of this sad event.
The first point to note is that Google now understands that users searching this term are interested in the Winter Games and provides information at the very top of the page regarding their start date. Google then places News at the very top of the results, understanding that those searching for this phrase are likely interested in reading about recent posts, most likely a result of a high number of news articles about the opening ceremony which took place later that night.
The same two listings remain in positions 1 and 2, although interestingly NBC leap frogged the actual Olympics homepages. However, the biggest change to the SERP is that it now includes Real Time search results as Google realizes that it is being increasingly discussed within social media.
Another addition to the SERP is the Google trends information inserted at the very bottom of the page for ‘Olympic luge video.’ Although this is a result of the accident on the luge track and not of the beginning of the Olympic Games, it is still interesting to see how Google monitors and inserts this information onto the first page within minutes of the event.
Today, five days after the beginning of the games, Google has clearly understood that the Olympics are a hot topic that requires as much up to date information as possible. The useful information at the very top of the SERP remains, but is now replaced with the medals table, once again followed by News, and Real Time results staying in its same position.
Dissecting the results further, there has also been a lot of movement in the remaining seven listed on the first page. Standard items such as Wikipedia and ESPN remain, but are now joined by new items, including pages with videos and pictures and the luge accident – presumably gaining a large amount of links over the past five days boosting them onto page one.
So what can be learned from the changes in the SERP pages returned by Google? Mainly it is interesting to just see how Google reacts to news events and realizes over time what is important and changes results pages accordingly to provide as much recent information as possible.
It is also interesting to see the changes to the more static pages in the SERP and how popular pages that didn’t exist five days prior can break into the main listings, not via News or Real time, but in organic listings. It will be interesting to see how Google reacts after the Olympics are over and how or when the pages return to a state similar to how they were before the games began.