In Defense Of Google

Maybe you’ve seen the recent back and forth discussions about Google’s search quality from the A-list. It has created enough buzz Google even responded. Perhaps you are wondering why everyone seems so upset?

Or maybe you have no clue what I’m talking about and have been enjoying a high quality search experience, ignoring the early adopter pontification.

Either way, the truth is most people think search engines do a good job.

A survey reported by Search Engine Land shows this nicely – 89% of users are satisfied with their search results (and a big 0% say poor):

So early adopters aside, the general population thinks search engines do pretty well. I would tend to agree even if there are some edge cases of spam leaking through. I find the results of Google to be very high quality – and in cases I can’t find what I want with a regular search, I’ve got the important operators memorized anyway. That’s why it’s funny to me when tech savvy people complain about lack of quality in Google. If you know how to search you can definitely find what you need.

With that in mind, I wanted to weigh in my opinion about some of the conversations about search going on around the web lately:

Search is not a simple problem to solve

An ever-expanding mix of content, sites and services sprout up daily. All trying to compete with the existing ones. Concurrently, all of them are working to develop content and create signal to their sites that will help show quality ahead of others. All of this while existing sites continue to market themselves to improve both search and social performance. Search engines have been working hard to keep up and maintain relevancy and quality despite the changing landscape of the web. It’s not an easy problem to solve and if you consider how good most of the results are even without using advanced queries I’d say the major engines all do well.

If you go looking for imperfection of course you’re going to find it

Web search is not a problem that is 100% perfectly solved. It may never be. That’s because the one constant of the web is change. In content, in relevant quality signals and how we use it. And that’s OK – dealing with indexing near-infinite amounts of content you will always be able to find a search which isn’t perfect if you look hard enough. Thus is the nature of searching for information. I think a lot of the complaining lately is from users who expect everything to be perfect. We’re trending to a web that’s getting even better at predicating what we want however that’s just not a reality yet. But it’s so good considering how nascent the technology is in the bigger picture that we should all be amazed. Literally frozen in amazement. I think aside from those complaining because they feel slighted by Google, it is a case of everything is amazing and nobody’s happy.

Complaints about monopoly are absurd

Our government does some pretty obnoxious things such as allowing businesses to influence them with monetary contributions, rallying against the wrong things to “protect the children” simply to generate public approval (but not actually accomplish anything) and other items which are pretty frustrating, but sadly not out of the norm. So the fact that Google now has to go to Washington to lobby against search engine regulation isn’t a surprise, but is equally as ridiculous. Google is not a monopoly. It’s popular because it’s good. Don’t like it? Use Bing. Or Blekko. Or Duck Duck Go. Or Yahoo. The point is Google is most certainly not the only web search option and it is consumer preference to use them.

Search is still a disruptive business

Web search is hardly new, but it is still a very disruptive business. And so naturally a lot of people don’t like Google. Some media entities see search as a double edge sword – it sends them traffic, but they think Google “takes” advertising revenue from them. I use “take” in quotes because while some media see it as taking, I take a different perspective: that media does not need to be saved from search. They need to evolve how they monetize and build community. The opportunity is there and pivoting their approach could actually make Google their largest ally instead of something to be feared. And yet it’s easier to cling to the past and fight progress. Hard to feel sympathy for anyone who is being disrupted by technology though because that’s sort of how innovation works. Evolve or don’t, but to rally against it makes you look like you can’t compete.

Social does not kill search – they work together

While some people like to think social is “killing SEO” they are being shortsighted: search is a core function of the web and is not going away. My main focus at LEWIS PR is social, not search. But I view the web holistically and for clients we ensure that anything happening in social is helping their search visibility. Social media pros who don’t also understand search need to learn SEO as they are falling short of their craft. Besides, putting social before search is like putting the cart before the horse. The order here matters. Think about it – even if you succeed wildly in social if your main site isn’t optimized you just built a whole lot of signal that didn’t even help you rank or gain traffic. Your competitors will still be found ahead of you by those with an immediate need for their product or service. Social builds community and branding, but organic search produces the cleanest, most relevant traffic.

I think at the end of the day all the ranting about Google falls under one of the following buckets:

  • Someone has a product that competes, and thus wants to try to position Google as evil or less relevant.
  • An SEO is upset that Google is going a direction they don’t like or want.
  • A blogger or reporter writes something negative or anti-Google because it’s good for pageviews and links (and ultimately more traffic from Google – talk about biting the hand that feeds them!).
  • Media are upset Google is making ad revenue by indexing their content (yet sending them free traffic – instead of complaining they should take advantage of this to build community and ultimately more revenue).
  • A tech geek found a SERP they didn’t like and wants to use it as an example the sky is falling (while a majority of people are finding their searches valuable).

Meanwhile, I remain a fan and supporter of Google – their products are strong, and much of the complaining is either undue or has ulterior motives behind it.