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Google is not omnipotent.
Slate Article - Digging for Googleholes
Hawkgirl

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 2:32 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

There's a little article in yesterday's Slate [slate.msn.com] on Google. The author's purpose is to point out that Google isn't the perfect search tool; and, in fact, you can easily find results that aren't what you're looking for.

I'm not sure that the article's premise is very well supported, though. For example:
Search for "flowers," and more than 90 percent of the top results are online florists. If you're doing research on tulips ... [snipped for length] you have to wade through a sea of florists to find what you're looking for.

Well, if you search for tulips instead of flowers which one might assume you'd search for given that that's the research you're doing, the #3 result today is a very handy resource from a reliable source - not an online store at all.

The author doesn't fault Google for the search results he finds, either.
You can't really hold Google responsible for these blind spots. Each of them is just a reflection of the way the Web has been organized by the millions who have contributed to its structure.

Chicken-egg? Egg-chicken?

Does the author really think that a million online florists pop up for a search on "flowers" because of random human organization? Interesting, and perhaps Joe Public still thinks that this is the case, too.

But, even though the support of the thesis in this article is a little shaky, one of the conclusions is a pretty common sense one:
We're wrong to think of Google as a pure reference source. It's closer to a collectively authored op-ed page—filled with bias, polemics, and a skewed sense of proportion—than an encyclopedia.

 

skipfactor

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 2:53 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

If you're searching for something that can be sold online, Google's top results skew very heavily toward stores, and away from general information. Search for "flowers," and more than 90 percent of the top results are online florists. If you're doing research on tulips, or want to learn gardening tips, or basically want to know anything about flowers that doesn't involve purchasing them online, you have to wade through a sea of florists to find what you're looking for.

It's just the difference in having or caring about a marketing budget or not. And what dork doing research on tulip phenotypes is going to do a one-word Google search for "flowers" or "tulips"?

The only serious one-word search I've done in years was Brett's ego surfing contest (who ranks highest for their first name in G). ;)

Those who are still doing one-word searches deserve a face full of commercials, and most of those optimizing on one word deserve their crappy conversion rates.

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 3:03 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have a lot of respect for Slate's journalistic accomplishments, but this article was moronic. Complaining about the results of one-word searches like "apple" is ridiculous, and pointing out that Google doesn't index inaccessible material is just plain dumb.

I think that one COULD find some examples of Google blind spots, but this article hardly exposes them.

Hawkgirl

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 3:03 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

> Those who are still doing one-word searches deserve a face full of commercials

That's my mother you're talking about!

;)

Seriously, though, if Mr. Internet Author is doing one-word searches, doesn't it follow that a lot of regular users are, too?

That leaves us underserved as a group of webmasters ("crappy conversion rates") and users underserved because they don't find what they need without putting on the waders.

Unless of course, this author's message is heard loud and clear by my Mom and other users like her: Google isn't perfect. Don't expect it to be. You'll need your waders, but you'll eventually find something close to what you need.

dragonlady7

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 3:12 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I didn't know what SEO was until about March. So I think I can still remember what it used to be like to search.
I fully expected that if I typed in a single word that happened to be something you could by, most of what I'd get would be things for sale. Intuitive. Most people are trying to make money somehow. Some might disagree that those who search on a single word deserve a facefull of commercials-- such people might decide that the Internet is just ads, and not use it to its potential. But to that I'd say that I was smart enough to figure out on my own that if I wanted to learn about tulip phenotypes I should type in tulip phenotypes, not flowers. My approach simply became to type in my whole question, minus what I later learned were stop-words anyway. Chances were good with Google that I'd come up with something I wanted. So if someone's not smart enough to figure that out, then they're probably used to things like a facefull of commercials, and it's unlikely they'd ever figure out how to use the Net to its full potential anyway. They're better off in other avenues friendlier to the intuition-challeneged.
I'd say that much of the general populace doesn't know about SEO, and some that do think they invented it. (Hey... Google returns its results based on what's on your page. I wonder what my page shows up in Google under? Hey, what if I change what it says on my page?)
So they certainly don't think of all the time and money that goes into making sure your page shows up top for that kind of widgets. Which is as it should be-- if they're aware of it, it's not very good SEO. (Hm. He said "blue widgets" in every single sentence. I guess that's why he showed up top when I searched for "blue widgets". Crazy.)

I do still do a one-word search now and then just to see what's out there, so that I can figure out what to refine my search towards.
I don't have any trouble in figuring out what kind of information Google's best at giving me. The kinds there are the most of on the Net, of course. Not so hard to grasp.
I don't know what we used to do before there was Google. I've tried reading an encyclopedia and I got nothing out of it. Didn't help that it was 30 years out of date...

I don't even show up in the SERPs for my own first name. :/ First and last doesn't get me either, nor does it in quotes. I have to add in the name of the city I used to live to find anything at all. That's what you get for having an old-fashioned name in this era of online geneaologists!

dragonlady7

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 3:15 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

>That's my mother you're talking about!

Mine too. And she *has* found other avenues-- call me up and ask me to find it for her. :)

rogerd

WebmasterWorld Administrator rogerd us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 3:49 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Hawkgirl, I'd think that Mr. Internet Author would know better even if our moms don't. :) Certainly, many users do one-word searches on terms with many meanings, but until we create a psychic search engine, I don't know how one can fault the inevitably random or irrelevant results. The searcher who heard Steve Jobs makes great computers and wants to learn more might be delighted with the Google SERPs for "apple".

I often wonder what someone is thinking when they search for "home" or "computer"... Google's algo is actually not bad for this, as its link text/popularity approach tends to yield what many other people were thinking of when they linked to a site. Still, exceptionally vague searches seem to fall into the "user error" category.

rfgdxm1

WebmasterWorld Senior Member rfgdxm1 us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 3:49 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

>Seriously, though, if Mr. Internet Author is doing one-word searches, doesn't it follow that a lot of regular users are, too?

I can assure you from my logs many people do. My guess has been that many start with the shortest possible searches, and if those are inadequate they try more complex ones. IOW, the start with "flowers", and then if that doesn't work try "grow flowers", etc.

bwelford

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 4:09 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I just tried "flowers" on www.alltheweb.com and got similar results as for Google.

However at the bottom, I got the following additional links:
Clusters:
wire services, flowers, shopping (26)
silk, flowers, shopping (10)
fresh cut, flowers, shopping (6)
directories, flowers, shopping (5)
virtual presents, e-cards, internet (4)
business & economy, westmont, localities (3)
illinois, u.s., flowers (3)
more clusters »

There are several other SE's that do a similar job. Perhaps if more mums knew about these others, then they could start using these.

Of course, the best of all worlds would be if Google with its 3 billion + web pages told us about clusters too. Probably that's too much to hope for.

Barry Welford

skipfactor

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 4:23 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

You are so right bwelford. Not once did he mention trying his silly searches on other search engines. Terrible, worthless piece, shame on you Mr. Internet Author; you get an "F" in Compare & Contrast 101.

mil2k

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 4:33 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Of course, the best of all worlds would be if Google with its 3 billion + web pages told us about clusters too.

I think sometime in the future they might be forced to. :)
It would be logical to show the clusters. Lots of Exiting new engines are showing it.

grifter

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 4:50 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

We're wrong to think of Google as a pure reference source. It's closer to a collectively authored op-ed page—filled with bias, polemics, and a skewed sense of proportion—than an encyclopedia.

We're also wrong to thing of Slate as independent source of editorial, uninfluenced by Redmond.

grifter

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 4:52 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

If that's an example of clustering, I'd rather not have it and have a cleaner/faster page. Looks like a compilation of the results on pages 2+ that I'm not going to hang around for, as I would have added a word or two to my search.

AthlonInside

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 5:07 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Nice Reading.

I remember when I search for WINE of the Linux, it brings me wine that we like to drink. :)

It is a googlehole, but an acceptable hole.

miles

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 5:14 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

In regards to Slate. In all the reading I have done on their articles they are poop. Very one sided and not very informative.

dragonlady7

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 5:17 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

>many start with the shortest possible searches, and if those are inadequate they try more complex ones

Which is a perfectly acceptable method of searching, one I use myself, and one I did actually manage to teach to my mother. She's not so hopeless as I make her sound. Actually my dad is the one who knows very little about computers, and he's been making great progress now that he's retired and has time to "fool with the darn things". Amazing how many parts you can find for old Jeeps on Google! The '67 Jeepster may yet run again! He never knew this Internet thing was so darn handy.
So one-word searches are probably not all clueless newbies, and I can't think of anyone dumb or unsavvy enough to not know how to go about refining a search like that.
Which is why Google is successful because if you do that, you're much more likely to end up with your questions answered. And it's a fairly transparent process; you can more easily understand the biases of your answer's source if you see its contexts, in the other results on the SERP.

I have had some fun lately seeing if I can ask a question in such a way that Google's SERP delivers the answer within the site titles and snippets provided. I love that. Especially when it works. I haven't had it work on other search engines but then, I haven't really tried it. :D

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 5:24 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

what dork doing research on tulip phenotypes is going to do a one-word Google search for "flowers" or "tulips"?

I'll tell you who's going to do a one-word Google search for "flowers" or "tulips":

1) The fifth-grade kid who wants to learn something about flowers or tulips for a school report.

2) The beginning gardener who's trying to decide between tulips and roses, or who wants to know more about tulips before going down to the local nursery and buying bulbs.

3) Anyone who has a general interest in flowers or tulips.

If they wanted to buy from a florist, they wouldn't be searching on "flowers" or "tulips"--they'd be searching on "florists" or "flower shops."

Fact is, Google wasn't conceived as a Yellow Pages business directory--its stated mission is to organize the Web's information, and I don't think its founders had e-commerce and affiliate sites in mind when they wrote The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine. If a search for "flowers" or "tulips" is dominated by listings of florists, that's not a good thing by Google's standards. On the contrary: It's a problem, and it's one Google needs to fix.

Why is it a problem?

First, because it makes Google less useful to the average searcher. If the top two or three pages of Google's SERPs for a given phrase are dominated by commercial listings, the person who wants information about tulips, Paris travel, or widgets won't be satisfied with the search results. That's bad for the user, and it's bad for Google.

Second, because it's a direct assault on Google's business model, which is based on providing an editorial product (information listings) that are supported by advertising (AdWords). If an e-commerce or affiliate site can get top positions on Google's SERPs for free, why should it buy AdWords? And if the user who *is* thinking of buying something can find a slew of commercial listings without even scrolling to page 2 or 3 of the SERPs, why should the user bother to look at the AdWords?

I really think the days of free e-commerce and affiliate-page listings (or at least free high-ranking e-commerce and affiliate-page listings) are numbered. Google has too much to lose by letting SEOs and Web marketers control its publishing agenda.

bolitto

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 5:56 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I think for example that some use their domain name = nickname to promote their site in public forums which obviously leads traffic to that site and therefore it is a kind of manipulation of Google.

Right?

tschild

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 5:57 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)


I'll tell you who's going to do a one-word Google search for "flowers" or "tulips":

1) The fifth-grade kid who wants to learn something about flowers or tulips for a school report.

2) The beginning gardener who's trying to decide between tulips and roses, or who wants to know more about tulips before going down to the local nursery and buying bulbs.

3) Anyone who has a general interest in flowers or tulips.

I tend to agree. There are problems on the content provider side and on the user side associated with that:

- on the content provider side: A lot of authors of nonprofit informational sites don't think much about making their site search engine friendly, let alone optimizing it to be found by the sort of search query that persons wanting that particular sort of information are wont to type in. Someone who writes an informative page on tulips may well not use the word "tulips" on the page (e.g. only use "tulip" or head the page with a graphic containing the word "tulips".) Canny commercial webmasters won't commit that error.

- on the user side: this kind of question on a broad subject field is best explored via a directory not a full-text search engine. In fact Google itself has got a very nice results page on tulip information suited just for the three searchers mentioned in the above quote - the category page Home/Gardens/Plants/Bulbs/Tulips in the Google Directory (Google's copy of the ODP). It's a pity Web users mostly aren't aware about this kind of resource; probably most of them aren't even aware of the different concepts of searching in a full-text search engine and in a directory, let alone of which resource is better suited to which sort of search (directory for general information on a topic that a lot of sites cater for; full-text search engines for a more obscure piece of information that might be contained on just one web page).

BTW Google itself helps users willing to use a directory - the SERP for "apples" and "tulips" prominently display a category page link. Something that the Slate article's author neglects to mention, along with the fact that someone who wants to search newspapers's sites and who is in posssession of an actual brain will use Google News rather that the Google search engine.

rfgdxm1

WebmasterWorld Senior Member rfgdxm1 us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 6:30 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

>on the user side: this kind of question on a broad subject field is best explored via a directory not a full-text search engine. In fact Google itself has got a very nice results page on tulip information suited just for the three searchers mentioned in the above quote - the category page Home/Gardens/Plants/Bulbs/Tulips in the Google Directory (Google's copy of the ODP). It's a pity Web users mostly aren't aware about this kind of resource; probably most of them aren't even aware of the different concepts of searching in a full-text search engine and in a directory, let alone of which resource is better suited to which sort of search (directory for general information on a topic that a lot of sites cater for; full-text search engines for a more obscure piece of information that might be contained on just one web page).

Perhaps someone should try to persuade Google to link to informative articles, which would appear on the site, about the best ways to search. Such as when it is best to go to the directory, and when not.

grnidone



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 6:38 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

My guess has been that many start with the shortest possible searches, and if those are inadequate they try more complex ones.

If they don't get frustrated first. What about the person who tries to find 'windows' for their house using the term 'windows'? 'Windows' is a very logical term to look up for that sort of thing...isn't it?

Personally, I like Teoma's way of dealing with this sort of thing by prompting the searcher to clairify the search: "Did you mean ___"?

msgraph

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 6:50 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

This is just further support that Google better jump on the clustering/suggested terms bandwagon before users start becoming aware of the other options out there. Especially with all the trash talking going on with the big 3 on who will rule the day.

Yahoo does it, although it is quite primitive.

MSN does it.

Eh Google?

Chndru

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 6:51 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

maybe the day of horizontal search engines are gone. google apparently seeks to cut its fat off the general index and to categorize into froogle, blog, news etc..so that i wont be suprised when someday all commerical pages will be choped off the general index and replaced into froogle, to turn google into an info search.

europeforvisitors



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 6:52 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Bolitto, you appear to be trying to change the subject, but I may as well take this opportunity to educate you on several points:

1) Domain names. By definition, a domain name includes the "tld," such as .com or .net or .co.uk. (In other words, "Google.com" is a domain name, but "Google" is not.)

2) How Google works. Traffic does not influence PageRank or rankings on SERPs.

3) How Web businesses work. Unless a site relies on CPM ads for revenue, unqualified traffic is likely to be an expense rather than a source of income. On a site like mine, for example, visits from travelers (not Webmasters or SEOs) is what provides revenue in the form of ad clickthroughs and affiliate sales. So please stay away unless you're planning a vacation. :-)

4) How Webmaster World works. In the member profile, there's a place for a link to the member's site. So there's no need for members to "promote their sites in public" by roundabout means--the simplest way is to include one's URL in the member profile, which is available to anyone with a single click.

And now, let's get back to the topic of this discussion, if we may: the Slate article, the accuracy of the points the author makes, and whether the problems reported by the author (if they are problems) will lead to changes at Google that could have an impact on Webmaster World's members.

Kirby

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 7:03 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

I tend to agree, Chndru, as I think people view Google in at least one of 3 basic ways:

Reference desk - seach for location of info
Encyclopedia - catalogue of all info
Yellow pages - (most webmasters fit in here)

bolitto

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 7:17 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

europeforvisitors thanks sharing your knowledge on how to correctly promote your domain on a public forum.

very much appreciated. your thoughts and expertise on search engines are very creative too, thanks.

sincerely,
bolitto.com
(fictitious domain of course)

grnidone



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 7:23 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google started out as a search site for geeks. The people who started using the site were familiar with the internet, so the interface was made very 'no frills'.

Now that more of the general population is using google, it appears they may need to change their interface to appeal to surfers who are not so familiar with the internet.

So when someone like Hawkgirl's mother or my father use the search to look for 'flowers' when they want to find 'tulips' they are prompted for more information.

Even something like Amazon's 'Consumers who purchased _____ also purchased these items' and shows a list.

'Other googlers also searched on _____, _____, and _____.'

AAnnAArchy

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 7:25 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

europeforvisitors <<If they wanted to buy from a florist, they wouldn't be searching on "flowers" or "tulips"--they'd be searching on "florists" or "flower shops.">>

I'm an experienced internet user and if I want to buy tulips, I'm first going to search for "tulips". I don't want generic flowers, I want tulips. If I want flowers, I'm going to search for "flowers", not florists.

I think people generally type in the first word that comes to mind when they're shopping. If I want to buy chocolate, I'm going to type in "chocolate" and see what comes up. If I'm not happy with those results, I'll narrow it down.

choster

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 7:27 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

The integration of Google's search results with its ODP listings could be tightened up a bit-- searching on "windows" gives you the category Computers/Software/Operating_Systems/Realtime/Windows CE but not Computers/Software/Operating_Systems/Windows , much less Business/Construction_and_Maintenance/Materials_and_Supplies/Doors_and_Windows or Home/Home_Improvement/Windows_and_Doors .

Chndru

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 15348 posted 7:32 pm on Jul 17, 2003 (gmt 0)

Now, I like that choster.

This 44 message thread spans 2 pages: 44 ( [1] 2 > >
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