Google Makes It Official: Answers Not Just Links

Google tweaked its annual securities filing to reflect changes in its search results, notably its move to provide users with answers, in addition to links.

“We used to show just ten blue links in our results,” Google wrote in the preamble to the filing, submitted Monday. “You had to click through to different websites to get your answers, which took time. Now we are increasingly able to provide direct answers — even if you’re speaking your question using Voice Search — which makes it quicker, easier and more natural to find what you’re looking for.”

The filing ratified a trend the Journal documented last August. The move away from providing only links has affected virtually every facet of Google’s search service in recent years, including information panels that offer up basic facts about people, places and things, and ad hoc tools like a new mortgage calculator.

The changes are also having a big impact on how Google makes its money. Ads in response to product searches now look like product listings on Amazon. For hotel searches, the ads are price quotes for the room you want to book, similar to what you see on Expedia .

For car insurance, Google now provides price quotes in the U.K., and is contemplating a similar move in the U.S.

Big advertisers in other words, are no longer just buying simple keyword text ads that are the foundation of Google’s huge advertising business.

The change is not without controversy. Providing more direct answers to questions, instead of links to other sites, has frustrated some companies that depend of Google for traffic. Some like Yelp have been outspoken critics with the European Commission, arguing that Google is favoring its own databases of information instead of more relevant content available from rivals.

For Google, the change is in part an imperative due to the proliferation of smartphones, where screens are smaller, users often want facts and where it may be easier to speak, rather than type, a search query. Google also faces competitive pressure on phones, where users can bypass search and tap apps like Amazon’s for product searches, Yelp’s for local results, or Priceline’s for flights and hotels.