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Ten Factors Contributing to Poorer Google Results
Sunday, January 23, 2011
In my last post, we began our discussion about how Google search results are getting worse.  Some are even going so far to suggest that Google has lost their mojo.  Google's weakening search results is cause for concern for many site owners, many online marketers and most importantly for many searchers.  The decline of Google results can also be a good thing for other search engines such as Bing and more likely Blekko.  People are looking for relevancy, and it seems that Google is struggling with this lately.

So what has caused this shift towards poorer search results in Google?  Or is it just the perception of a small few?  For me as a person who works in Search and as a user, my experience is that Google results have definitely been getting worse.  But what is the reason for this?  Why have Google results changed so drastically over the past year?  I have identified ten factors that, in recent years, have contributed to the poorer results that we are seeing in Google.

Ten Factors Contributing to Poorer Google Results

Here are ten factors that we think have had a negative impact on Google search results in some manner.  Perhaps not consistently but in some shape or form these items may be contributing to the poorer results that we are seeing in Google as of late.
  1. Artificial link population - the whole buying links thing has been difficult for Google to address.  There are numerous examples of sites that have purchased links only to artificially inflate their link inventories and rise above to the prime real estate of the Google search results.  The whole link popularity thing has prevented some quality pages for placing where they should in the results making it difficult to access the "most relevant" content on a regular basis.  How many times have you seen a crappy blog rank higher than a quality resource in Google.  It continues to happen and while Google is working on preventing this noise from showing up, people are still manipulating their way to the top.  The fact is that artificially link populated sites and blogs are continuing to show up in prime search results.
  2. Algorithm Updates - Google's algorithms are not perfect.  Whenever a major algo update is released there are always innocent bystanders that are impacted.  Sometimes this can mean that a quality site is affected which in turn may be preventing searchers from accessing the quality resource.  Google's algorithms can impact a lot of  sites.  For whatever reason the impact is not just on spam sites.
  3. Google displaying multiple listings for a website for a single query - I actually don't have much of an issue with this providing that the site with the multiple listings is the most relevant based on the search query that I have used.  If this site has six pages that are the most relevant  for a given query then why shouldn't Google serve them up?  If the site offers a great how to video or a relevant news release than why shouldn't these result appear above all others?  The issue becomes when these multiple rankings for the same sight are placing higher than sites or pages that offer more relevant information.
  4. Universal Search - I like blended search results, really I do, but they have to be relevant.  Google sticking in a YouTube video just for sake of having a video in the search results can weaken the search results.  Not to mention that Google tends to display blended results from their own products (Google Maps, Youtube, Google News etc.) which may not always be the most relevant results.  At a 2007 conference, Google’s Marissa Mayer commented:
        “[When] we roll[ed] out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair right, we do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first… That has actually been our policy, since then, because of Finance. So for Google Maps again, it’s the first link.”
  5. Google Instant - Google's "predictive search" tries to anticipate what I am looking for as I begin typing my search query?  C'mon are you for real?  Try a search with Google Instant on, type various letters of the alphabet.  Are you seeing what you are looking for with Google's Instant aka search suggest results.  For me, this is one of the lamest efforts that I have seen from Google in quite some time.
  6. YouTube results appearing over other video aggregator results - see item #4.
  7. Google going public - Google has to report to shareholders and investors.  They need to have impressive financials.  For Google, the road to impressive financials means more ad revenue from Ad Sense and more importantly Google AdWords.  Where do you think that they are going to put their focus?  Organic Search results or paid advertisements in their results pages?
  8. Favoritism - this is just a theory, but it appears that Google plays favorites with certain types of sites.  How often do you see directory results appear atop the search result for a given query even though that may just be the most relevant result for a given query?  While Google says that the amount of paid spend that a company does with Google has no impact on their placement within the organic results, I simply cannot believe this.  Yahoo said the same thing but based on past clients that I worked with the amount of paid spend did in fact have some impact on where these sites placed in the organic results.  I am not saying that it is this bad in Google, but there is no doubt that there is some favoritism going on.  Don't believe me see point #9.
  9. Google gives preference to big brands - Google's relationship with large brands is interesting.  Emphasis on the big brands (whom most likely have the largest AdWords budgets?) has been something that Google continues to downplay.  However reports suggest that large companies may get as much as 90 percent of the links on the first page of Google search results.  Google has shown in the past that they favor brands and this continues as we perform searches in Google in 2011.  Searchers do not benefit from this strong focus on big brands and shopping related search results.  Again it comes back to relevancy.  A large brand is not always the result that I need depending on my search query.
  10. Long-tail debacle - a lot of smaller brands and sites found a way to gain a presence in Google's search results via long-tail optimization.  That is optimizing for longer phrases consisting of five or more words or for questions.  Google then rolls out a few updates including their "MayDay" update where sites that were placing for long-tail saw a lot of their rankings vanish, only to be replaced by questionable search results or more big brand results or... well you get the point.  
There is no question that Google's results have become questionable.  The relevancy is just not there as much as it used to be (at least in my perception).  For me, it comes down to Google displaying the most relevant result for a given query.  This might not always be the page that has the most links or even the largest number of quality links.  This might not always be the video that has the most comments.  This might not always be the big brand that we are accustomed to seeing.  Google had hundreds of factors in their algorithms.  They need every single one to help determine relevancy, but the fact is relevancy is in the eye of the beholder and Google needs to realize that there are other avenues to acquire information, search is but one channel.  Google's core business is still search.  They need to provide the best search results that they can otherwise people will visit other online destinations (see Facebook, Twitter, Blekko, Bing, ASK etc) and the love affair with Google may just begin to end.  Google I need you to be better.  I like you, but you need to provide value to me and recently that value has been diminishing.

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posted by Jody @ 8:14 PM  
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