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Google Search Results are Getting Worse: We Need a Better Google
Friday, January 21, 2011
Google organic search results are getting worse.  I have been waiting to write this post for quite some time now.  In fact maybe even a year or two.  The timing just might be right for this post, especially as Google is stepping up their efforts to defend their search results.  As I began writing this post, Matt Cutts from Google is on the official Google blog suggesting that Google's search quality is the best it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness, and comprehensiveness. Whoa, whoa whoa, wait just a minute.  The best it has ever been?  Matt goes on to suggest:
January brought a spate of stories about Google’s search quality. Reading through some of these recent articles, you might ask whether our search quality has gotten worse. The short answer is that according to the evaluation metrics that we’ve refined over more than a decade, Google’s search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness.
Well Matt, consider this post another that will be critical of Google search results. When I was at Enquiro, over the years I had written posts questioning the quality and relevancy of search results.  Not just with Google but with all search engines.  As a user of Search, like many of you, I have been using search from the "get-go".  It started with some of those now old and defunct search engines, moved to Yahoo and them to ASK Jeeves.  In fact it is no secret of my love for ASK and some of their search innovations over the years.  ASK just could not "become mainstream".  Part of the reason for that was due to the relevancy (or lack-there-of) of their results.  Then probably around 1999 or so I moved over to Google.  They had a simple interface, an ever growing index and what seemed at the time as being able to provide more relevant results to my queries.  This was great especially as I was the type of searcher who used a lot of long-tail queries as I was looking for specific information.  So for the next few years I was jumping around from Google to Yahoo to ASK to MSN.  The reason for this was that I simply wanted the most relevant results and the different engines provided me with a different experience and with different results.  During this time Google appeared to be working on providing the most relevant results so they become my search engine of choice as I entered my professional career in online marketing and organic search. 

Then in late 2003 something happened that made me take even more note of Google and their power to "dominate" the Web or more specifically Web Search.  In November, Google launched what was dubbed the "Florida Update."  Overnight, search results that appeared for years in Google were gone, site owners, webmasters and SEOs were in a panic.  I remember thinking that with a few algorithm tweaks, Google was able to dramatically alter their search results.  I wondered how often this happened and what the immediate future would hold for the search results? One simple Google algorithm update and the Internet was turned upside down.

Enter 2010.  I would call 2010 the year of the "Google Swirl" where we saw infrastructure changes, algorithm changes and SERP changes more than ever before.  Google has been working hard on updating their search index, but it almost seems like there has been too much change in too short of a span.  For me it was like Google was in reaction-mode to emerging technologies such as Facebook, Twitter and real-time search results.  The winds of change are blowing which is no more evidenced with yesterday's announcement that Larry Page will be replacing Eric Schmidt as Google's Chief Executive Officer.  Today rumors of friction between Eric Schmidt and the Google founders has started to surface.

We Need a Better Google

For me, personally and professionally Google has started to slide. I am finding that based on my experience the Google search results are getting continually worse.  I won't get into any examples here, but over the past nine to twelve months, the search results that I am getting back from  Google are just not what I need or what I was expecting to find.  Sometimes the search results have been down right confusing.  The quality and relevance of the search results has diminished.  It appears that I am not the only one who has noticed this.  Jill Whalen had a great post on some of her recent experiences with Google results.  In a recent post Jill commented:
Which brings us back to today's sucky Google results.

It was done gradually over many years, but Google now provides organic search results that often look relevant on the surface, but either lead to made-for-AdSense content pages or somewhat sketchy companies who are great at article spinning and comment spamming.

Jill goes on to add:
Since their poor results are being talked about with more fervor outside of the search marketing industry, it's possible that they have indeed crossed the line. Numerous mainstream publications and highly regarded bloggers have taken notice and written about the putrid results. While Google is used to negative press, the current wave of stories hits them at their core -- or at least what most people believe to be their core -- their search results.
Relevancy (and spam for that matter) with regards to search results may be in the eye of the beholder, but people are taking notice.  A post from Aaron Wall over at SEObook suggests that Google just may be nearing their breaking point.   He suggests that
When Google's head spam fighter is doing public relations AND the Washington Post covers his lobbying you know Google is nearing a breaking point.
Perhaps this is the reason for the slight damage control that Matt Cutts is having to do.  Something is rotten in the state of Denmark, uh I mean Google.  Whatever the issues are, we need Google to be better.  They have set a high standard for their search results and while there are more pages and blogs and tweets and news stories to index than ever before, Google needs to do a better job with their search results.  As Yahoo is no longer a true search engine (as their results are provided by Bing), and while Bing has made some small improvements, people still need a trusted resource to find the information that they are looking for.  While that may not always be a search engine, Google has the technology and the resources to make it happen. 

Google for your next update how about code naming it the "Felicitous Update" or the "Idoneus Update" which is latin for proper, worthy, fitting, deserving, capable.  Because at the end of the day isn't that what search results are all about?  Let's get back to focusing on displaying relevant search results.  Your ad revenues will continue to come, but your users may not.

In my next post I will look at some of the different ways that Google search results have become watered down over recent years.

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posted by Jody @ Friday, January 21, 2011  
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Home: Kelowna, BC, Canada
About Me: SEO guy by day, family man 24/7.
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