Despite Google, Bing and Yahoo all clamouring to integrate posts from Twitter and Facebook into their search engine page results (SERPS), new research suggests the inclusion of real-time data is causing confusion among consumers.
A study by digital marketing agency OneUpWeb found that while real-time results may provide an additional opportunity for website optimisation, it does not necessarily guarantee a good click-through rate (CTR).
OneUpWeb’s eye-tracking study found that only 55 per cent of the 44 participants were able to "easily find" the real-time results.
And the majority of those involved in the study either did not like or were indifferent to the real-time results.
Further, most participants clicked on the first link that interested them – proving that relevance is key to website optimisation no matter where a result is sourced from.
As well as calling into doubt some of the hype that has been built up around real-time data, the study also poses the question: Are Google’s SERPS becoming too cluttered?
Patricio Robles, writing for the eConsultancy blog, points out that it would be premature to write off real-time search while the market is still young.
However, he notes that the integration of real-time data has changed Google’s results pages from the clean simplicity for which they were once so popular.
While Mr Robles says Google’s SERPs by no means represent the most extreme example of clutter seen on the web, he adds that the site has definitely become slightly ‘messy’.
"Google’s SERPs are still very much usable," states Mr Robles. "On the other hand, trying to surface news items, tweets, images, videos, etc all on a single page is really, really difficult to do without creating some clutter."
What is more, the change has not gone unnoticed among Google’s competitors.
Microsoft this week launched a television advertising campaign mocking the "information overload" that accompanies Google’s SERPS.
The $2 billion (£1.32bn) campaign series uses the strapline "Bing and decide", with Microsoft marketing itself as the so-called "decision engine".
"People feel overawed by the internet and what they turn up when they are searching," said Ashley Highfield, managing director and vice-president of consumer and online at Microsoft UK.
He added that he believed Bing met a "real desire" from both consumers and advertisers.