How Google & Bing SERPs Shifted During the Mexico Earthquake

by Dana Lookadoo on March 21, 2012

The magnitude 7.4 earthquake in Oaxaca, Mexico on March 20, 2012 rattled nerves, toppled homes, and shifted the landscape of the search engine results in Google and Bing. The screenshots below show how the Mexico earthquake was felt throughout the SERPs – from real-time search to news.

SERPS After the Earthquake

Web and News SERPs were compared. All times for the screenshots below are Pacific time. Note that the earthquake hit at 11:03 am PDT/12:03 CST local time.

Web Results – 14 Minutes After the Quake

Where are current SERPs for “Mexico earthquake” in Google? The most relevant result was a PPC ad by Bing.

Google Web SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 11:17 on 3/20/12

Google Web SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 11:17 am on 3/20/12

Bing displayed a result that was 6 minutes old – a tweet an aggregation site that was already indexed.

Bing Web SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 11:17 on 3/20/12

Bing Web SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 11:17 am on 3/20/12

Bing video? It was outdated, at this point.

News Results – 16 Minutes

Google News SERPs still did not show any results about the Mexico earthquake.

Google News SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 11:19 am on 3/20/12

Google News SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 11:19 am on 3/20/12

Bing news results had 2 stories via the Associated Press and the original tweet. Notice that “Public Updates” began to show on the right. Real-time search kicked in as live tweets streamed.

Bing News SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 11:19 am on 3/20/12

Bing News SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 11:19 am on 3/20/12

Web & News – 17 Minutes

Google’s news and/or freshness algorithms kicked in 17 minutes after the earthquake as shown. One box results for News displayed, and these were the same top 3 SERPs in the News section (no need for another screenshot).

Take a closer look below the news, and what do we see? Google+ real-time SERPs, could it be?

Google Web SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 11:21 am on 3/20/12

Google Web SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 11:21 am on 3/20/12

Bing News results began filling out. Those videos still weren’t fresh, however.

Bing Web SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 11:22 am on 3/20/12

Bing Web SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 11:22 am on 3/20/12

Changing SERP Landscape

The most notable changes in the  SERPs during the following hour were:

  • Updated news results in Google & Bing, along with more images and current video
  • Continued real-time updates from Twitter in Bing
  • Google+ results in, you guessed it, Google
  • Larger images in Bing News

SERPs – 2:04 after the Quake

Google News showed 1 YouTube video and a couple related images. Bing continued to advertise, enticing searchers to visit Bing.com for “Top News & Pics.”

Google News SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 1:07 pm on 3/20/12

Google News SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 1:07 pm on 3/20/12

Bing displayed a significantly larger image than the normal size as part of its News results inside the Web SERPs. All of the videos were now current – 45 minutes to 1 hour old.

Bing Web SERPs: "mexico earthquake" at 1:07 pm on 3/20/12

Bing Web SERPs: "Mexico earthquake" at 1:07 pm on 3/20/12

Fresh & Real-Time Results During Crisis

It’s during such catastrophes that many people miss Google’s real-time search. If your head tilts, and you still think to yourself “what is real time search?”, think of it like this:

What happens when an earthquake or tornado wipe out towns or a plane lands in the Hudson River?

People start talking about it on Twitter, Facebook, and in social media – in REAL TIME. Searchers want access, to be able to search, near real time, to find out the latest.

Social Firehose

When Google launched Google+ in July of 2011, guess what license they failed to renew? They no longer paid for an API to the Twitter firehose. This means that all those real-time conversations no longer showed up in the SERPs. (OK, this means the spam didn’t either.)

Bing, however, embraced Twitter and Facebook and created social search. As we’ve seen, they also buy AdWords in Google, so we can still get near real-time relevant results!

Google obviously hedged their bets that people would share on Google+. It’s the closest to “real time” that Google gets. And if you want to be visible in the SERPs during such a crisis, guess where you should post?

For which search engine would you vote for the freshest results during a crisis? If based upon the Mexico earthquake, Bing gets my vote!

 

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