Google Web Search Goes Completely AJAX

Yes, I know… Google has been offering AJAX driven results through the API and other services for ages, but now they have rolled that out to the main Google Search. It appears to be only on Google US (I tried manually switching to Google UK, and it redirected me from the AjAX version to a static HTML page), but that of course could change in the future.

I noticed this as soon as I started searching for stuff today, from almost the first query I typed in. When I looked at the url, instead of seeing the normal /search?= at the beginning:

Normal Google search url

I found myself looking at this:

Google AJAX search url

You can see that the query string, the portion of the url that sends parameters such as what keywords you are looking for and how many results per page you want to see to the server, has been removed, and that Google has replaced it with a hash tag, the part or the url that is normally only read by the browser itself (everything after the pound or number sign, shift-3 on the keyboard: “#”). This was what first clued me in to the fact that they had changed over, as this is a common visual way to indicate a “page change” to the user, letting them know that they have gone from one page to another in AJAX (which can perform the changes with no url change at all), and allows the Back and Forward buttons to still trigger AJAX calls.

I verified that this is indeed what is happening by performing a search, viewing the source of that search, and then looking inside that source for some text that I knew was on the page. For example, if you perform a search for [bad neighborhood]:

Google AJAX search for [bad neighborhood]

and then view the source, and search for [Search Engine Optimization] (which is clearly on the page):

Google AJAX search for [bad neighborhood] highlighted phrase

you can see that it’s nowhere to be found:

Google AJAX source, on page text is not there

So, what does that mean for us as searchers? To be honest I’m not sure of the full impact of this yet. I do know that AJAX can use more memory than pages generated by flat HTML, especially in Internet Explorer, so some older machines with fewer resources (such as those that might be prevalent in struggling businesses during economy strapped times) will possibly have performance issues. Also, certain Greasemonkey scripts will break with this change, like the handy Number Google Results, the script that allows you to insert sequential numbering into Google results, so you know where a site ranks at a glance without having to count.

As Google does with so many of it’s roll outs, there is no way to turn this feature off, either… so if it does affect you, tough. Google apparently doesn’t care. For now you can manually change the url by hand, but that is of course a pain in the keister. If anyone else finds other issues with this new change, or ways that it impacts us as searchers (or as seo’s, for that matter), please chime in.

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56 thoughts on “Google Web Search Goes Completely AJAX

  1. Interesting catch, I am guessing that this is being tried out via several different data centers, because I still get the classic .com/search, even though I am in the US.

  2. I just checked, and it looks like for now anyways Internet Explorer users are being redirected to the non-AJAX results pages, even if you try and go directly to the AJAX ones. Same with Google UK, like I mentioned. Which browser are you using? John Mueller mentioned that this may of course just be another test, and not something they will keep. With all of the hype lately about their AJAX API’s though, I’m guessing this is something that they want to do in the long run.

    As to Aaron’s rank checker, for now it is still working. I don’t know about any of the others yet. Of course, if they switch completely over to AJAX this could change.

  3. I checked using Firefox, Firefox with IE tab, and Chrome. Via all three I didn’t get the AJAX. Of course, I’ve seen “bucket” tests on things like Search Wiki that were indicators of things to come, but also had “bucket” tests that just went away.
    While I don’t think that just yet its something to be concerned about, it is something that gives us a peek into the current thinking over at Google. Certainly, if they’re rolling out random tests like to various data centers, they’re going to gather info and analyze it for a while before we’d see a change like that…

  4. Also not seeing it. I’m always searching unpersonalized, but went back to the regular ole’ crappy search results to see it and couldn’t. Using Firefox. Didn’t try different data centers, because I had to squash a rep management issue on Twitter about me and porn…

  5. And for those who don’t know, when Rhea says she was squashing porn rumors, she means this:

    Rhea porn squashing

    Rhea, if you click on the search link in the post, which goes directly to the AJAX results, does it redirect you back to regular search?

  6. Not seeing it on IE6, IE7, FF, Chrome, or Safari (figured I’d check). I’ll have my sales guys at the office check. They are always on a different DC then I am here at the house.

  7. @Luke – no clue what you mean, I see the same thing with all flavors of safe search and with it off completely.

    It looks like it might be a geographical issue, combined with browser. I do not see it in IE6, FF1.5, Safari, or Chrome, but I do see it on FF 3.0.5. However, when I sent the link using the same dc that I am hitting to Rhea, her FF 3.0.5 redirected. Donna sees it too though, by default, so I know it’s not just me. I don’t know what the magic combo is, however.

  8. It may simply be a matter of Google sending tests out in such a way that we can’t predict who gets it when, but for a machine, it’s very logical. And since it looks like they are just testing at the moment, maybe it’ll go away like so many of G’s tests do. Or maybe not. We’ll see… πŸ™‚

  9. Seem to be throwing everything bar the kitchen sink out at the results at the moment. Have tried it on three browsers from here with little success, as Michael says it may be confined to certain geo-sets at present

    In terms of impact, my first thoughts would be that scraping pages is immediately going to be difficult (results pages that is), so that could potentially throw the cat amongst the pigeons for those automating rank checks (although that is said without looking at code πŸ™‚

  10. I haven’t been able to reproduce the results here from OZ.

    I hope it doesn’t affect the way all of the great SEO tools work.

    Only time will tell I guess.

  11. The Netherlands is quite popular with these kind of tests, small but highly active online population. Google usually tests things first here (oh privileged me πŸ™‚ ).

    The fact that you’re seeing it in th US now is probably a sign of a bigger test which makes it more likely that this is something serious.

    I’ve actually just spotted another one funny: Google with only 8 results per query. Think that’s just a glitch, though…

  12. You could wait few days before posting this, I think it is only you and other few people are seeing this, the other thing with Google doing that none of the tracking software will work anymore “I think Google needs that at least for Analytics”

  13. Google is clearly looking for ways to open up search and their index, and ajax is one technology that will make this work. A more transparent and democratic approach to internet search is in the works.

  14. @Ulco re: 8 results per query… you forgot to count the 2 Youtube results in there. πŸ™‚ Those count in the number of results that they show, even when side by side like that.

  15. I’d be surprised if Google would radically change its search algo overnight, and limit it to some data centres, so maybe it is just experimenting with more efficient methods of displaying search results. Maybe it is a sign of something big, but then again, maybe it means nothing. Anything spotted on Google’s blogspot blog yet?

  16. I really don’t understand why google would do this, other than to purposely affect rank checking devices or to force companies to use Google Analytics to track their keywords –

    oh, in case you are affected already and have to check your ranking manually (ack!), here’s a link to a css user style sheet that will auto number your results without using javascript. http://seodenver.com/2008/09/30/seo-stylesheet/

  17. I wonder if this is why on some of my sites the “direct traffic” reported in Google Anlaytics has gone up by 300-500%. This strangeness started on Jan 27th (with absolutely NO changes on my part) on some, but not all sites. My UK and FR sites were affected, but not IT or DE. These all use country TLD’s and get the majority of their traffic from the corresponding country.

  18. Good catch. I’ll have to do some research on this change. It definitely seems like there is some interesting possibilities with the change.

  19. this had very serious negative implications for a range of services including competing analytics apps. Google responded that it was only a test. luckily things are back to normal now. let’s see for how long.

  20. Austin, it was only in certain browser versions and from certain parts of the country. Firefox updated their browser to a newer version so it is appearing in the logs much less often. Plus they may have cut way back on testing it due to all the attention it generated.

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