Google Testing Vertical White Space In SERPs

So what?

This is an extension of the tests Google seem to be doing with the number of search results that I spotted over the weekend.

Here we have 2 search listings.

The first listing is the new one with 20 positions that I seem to be part of a test group for using

The Second listing is the one I get for and is what I regard as “normal” – 10 listings and what I have historically had for white space.

You will need to open each image in a new browser tab so you can easily switch between them.

The search results are different anyway, as one is UK and the other US… so different sites appear in different places.

What you really need to look at is the amount of white space.

serp-more-white-spaceold serp

I set the fold line at 570 based upon this research of Clicktale data

In the same study of page scrolling, fold locations of viewed screens were captured, based on screen resolution and browser used. It’s a sad, sad thing, but the single highest concentration of fold location (at around 600 pixels) for users accounted for less than 10% of the distribution. This pixel-height corresponds with a screen resolution of 1024×768. Browser applications take away varying amounts of vertical real estate for their interfaces (toolbars, address fields, etc). Each browser has a slightly different size, so not all visitors running a resolution of 1024×768 will have a fold that appears in the same spot. In the ClickTale study, the three highest fold locations were 570, 590 and 600 pixels—apparently from different browsers running on 1024×768 screens. But the overall distribution of fold locations for the entire study was so varied that even these three sizes together only account for less than 26% of visits. What does all this mean? If you pick one pixel location on which to base the location of the fold when designing your screens, the best-case scenario is that you’ll get the fold line exactly right for only 10% of your visitors.

I chose an ego search because I knew there weren’t any ads immediately above the listings.

What difference does a couple of extra lines of white space make?

1. Readability

It makes the top results a lot more distinct thus might concentrate clicks to the top listings even more, or maybe result in more advert clicks.

2. Less Above Fold

It will tend to push listings down a little – for smaller resolution screens that might mean very little, as you are likely to only have 4 listings above the fold anyway.
For a larger resolution screen, say one that you could previously see all 10 listings, you might only see 8 listings now.

They are also doing some funny things with AJAX that are messing up the use of the Google Global plugin – sometimes when I refine a search it isn’t causing a change in the URL bar, thus when I try to switch location using Google Global I get the previous search term.


There is speculation that Google will announce something regarding this tomorrow 8th September 2010 (more on Techmeme)

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  1. says

    Google really are screwing around with the SERPs a lot this year, aren’t they?! In the last 6 months there have been more changes to the design (major changes) than I have seen in the past 2 years since I’ve been learning SEO.

    One thing with your screenshots, the one with more whitespace (which looks visually more readable, btw) has one extra result displayed, so that’s messing around with your “below the fold” problem. If the results were the same, it’d more likely be that the images were about halfway up the fold line.

    • says

      I know the search wasn’t identical – sometimes it can be very hard these days to get a search that

      a) Doesn’t have advertising above the results
      b) has the same or similar results in universal search
      c) the results have the same length of description

      I opted for the arrows to give a visual representation of the increased gap, irrespective of the content.