Google and Search Tweaks

February 25, 2011

Chatter blizzard! There is a flurry of commentary about Google’s change to cope with outfits that generate content to attract traffic, get a high Google ranking, and deliver information to users! You can read the Google explanation in “Finding More High-Quality Sites in Search” and learn about the tweaks. I found this passage interesting:

We can’t make a major improvement without affecting rankings for many sites. It has to be that some sites will go up and some will go down. Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that’s exactly what this change does.

Google faces increasing scrutiny for its display of content from some European Web sites. In fact, one of the companies affected has filed an anti trust complain against Google. You can read about the 1PlusV matter and the legal information site EJustice at this link (at least for a while. News has a tendency to disappear these days.)



Why did I find this passage interesting?

Well, it seems that when Google makes a fix, some sites go up or down in the results list. Interesting because as I understand the 1PlusV issue, the site arbitrarily disappeared and then reappeared. On one hand, human intervention doesn’t work very well. And, if 1PlusV is correct, human intervention does work pretty well.

Which is it? Algorithm that adapts or a human or two doing their thing independently or as the fingers of a committee.

I don’t know. My interest in how Google indexed Web sites diminished when I realized that Google results were deteriorating over the last few years. Now my queries are fairly specialized, and most of the information I need appears in third party sources. Google’s index, for me, is useful, but it is now just another click on a series of services I must use to locate information.

A good example is trying to locate information about a specific US government program. The line up of services I had to use to locate the specific item of information I sought included:

I also enlisted the help of two specialists. One in Israel and one here in the United States. As you can see, Google’s two services made up about one tenth of my bibliographic research.


First, Google’s Web index appears larger to me, but it seems to me that it returns hits that are distorted by either search engine optimization tricks such as auto-generated pages. These are mostly useless to me as are links to sites that contain incorrect information and Web pages for which the link is dead and the content no longer in the Google cache.

In my experience, this happens frequently when running queries for certain government agencies such as Health and Human Services or the documents for a US Congressional hearing. Your mileage may differ because the topics for which I want information are far from popular.

Second, I need coverage that does not arbitrarily stop after following links a couple of levels deep. Some services like Exalead do a better job of digging into the guts of large sites, particularly for certain European sources.

Third, the Blekko folks are going a pretty good job of keeping the older information easily identifiable. This date tagging is important to me, and I appreciate either seeing an explicit date or have a link to a page that displays a creation date.

Fourth, no index is comprehensive. Free Web search engines do not explain what goes in and what goes out, when, and why. Quite a bit of looseness in the system, right? So in order to get recall, I use multiple sources. Then we rely on some of our own tools and manual inspection in order to get the precision we require.

Google and Bing, in my experience, are focusing on the mass market. With that business interest comes a desire to get advertisers who want to reach the Lady Gaga crowd. The SEO folks, who are exposed to Google at various “how to get traffic” conferences, have an incentive to try to game Google and Bing for their own purposes. It used to be with metatags. Now it is with content objects. The intent of the SEO and content farms is to get traffic. My goal is to get the information I need. As a result, I am not into SEO or the Google interests that caters to the SEO crowd.

Until the Web search systems set forth an editorial policy and take steps to identify those gaming the system, the results in Google, Bing, and other ad-centric, free systems will necessarily turn a blind eye to my research needs.

How different is my view of Google from what it was in the period from 1998 to 2005? Very different. Once a search vendor gets in the habit of getting money from advertisers, it is quite difficult to get out of that feather bed.

Bottomline: Google, Bing, and other free engines can do what they want. Most users don’t know good information from bad information. There is no peer pressure. There is no regulation. There is literally no payoff in doing what scholars and researchers have done for centuries; that is, providing a filter on crappy content.

I have gone back to more traditional research methods because I no longer am able to locate exactly what I want with a few mouse clicks.

No problem for me. The risk is that unsuspecting users may be making decisions based on information that is in some way not verifiable by the user, has no provenance, and lacks consistent editorial controls. In the present ad-driven environment, the incentive to pursue content excellence is disappearing like moisture on the grass when the sun beats down.

What is consistent are those ads? That focus tells me how to conduct research.

Stephen E Arnold, February 25, 2011

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4 Responses to “Google and Search Tweaks”

  1. Tweets that mention Google and Search Tweaks : Beyond Search -- on February 25th, 2011 9:49 am

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stephen E Arnold, EdDale. EdDale said: Nice overview of the weakness of web search for research. […]

  2. BangoZango on February 25th, 2011 1:59 pm

    OK that makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Wow.

  3. Google and Search Tweaks (Stephen E. Arnold/Beyond Search) | Activities for older people on February 25th, 2011 2:01 pm

    […] E. Arnold / Beyond Search:Google and Search Tweaks  —  Chatter blizzard!  There is a flurry of commentary […]

  4. Google and Search Tweaks (Stephen E. Arnold/Beyond Search) | Car Stereo System Packages on February 25th, 2011 2:40 pm

    […] E. Arnold / Beyond Search:Google and Search Tweaks  —  Chatter blizzard!  There is a flurry of commentary […]

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