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Is Google trying to provide quality SERPs?

How motivated is G to provide the best results

     
10:06 pm on Apr 23, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I've been following the NoFollow topics over the past week or so and am quite surpised at how wide the opinions range on the topic (and how vehement everyone can be in defending their opinions). This has brought back a question that's been nagging at me for months that I can't begin to answer. Thought I'd throw it out there:

How committed it Google to providing the best, most relevant SERPS it possibly can?

Here's a little background on how I started asking myself this question. I spend a lot of time and money on AdWords. Many months ago, a colleague told me that AdWords was in for a bunch of trouble because the relevance and quality of ads was so poor (this was the height of MFA sites). He said that Google users were subconsciously training themselves to avoid AdWords ads and focus on organic results. Seemed to make a bit of sense, and his opinion was validated when Google expanded its AdWords quality component.

As I see it, it has worked. AdWords ads are much better than they were 6 months ago, and my CTRs and conversions have improved as well.

What I haven't seen is a corresponding improvement to the quality of organic results. I believe it must be harder for Google on the organic side, but I'm also beginning to wonder about their motivation. Are they really TRYING to rank the most relevant sites on the net?

I have always had a lot of faith in Google, but it starts to waiver when I see them doing other questionable things to increase revenue (changing AdWords background color to be less discernable from organic listing, prodding publishers to make their AdSense less discernable from content).

Could Google intentionally be creating SERPs that are just good enough to bring users back for their next search, but not as good or as relevant as AdWords?

9:34 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>I can't imagine Matt, Adam or Brian accepting to manipulate the organic serps just to satisfy the folks at AdWords/AdSense teams.

How well do you know these 3 people?

They would not be the ones manupulating the data anyway. They are the ones liasing with the webmasters.

These are the ones that are looking at the big spammers and manually editing them out of the SERPS.

These are the ones who allow MFA sites to dominate many search terms. Come Christmas, they will be the ones making sure the big stores are at the top.

These are the ones that tell you to get links and then punish you for those links.

These are the ones that keep very quite when big changes affect many websites rankings and then come in at the tail end and say nothing has changed.

These are the ones that give absolutely nothing away but at the same time make it seem like they have divulged the secret to success.

Yes... How well do you know these people?

9:35 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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EFV, I want to know your take on this. Assuming that everything else is equal, will Google favor an informational site more than an e-commerce site? Is there some part of their algorithm that consider whether the page is selling something?

sure, especially if the page belongs to information-type site.
why?
because, usually this type of sites have adsense around content and google makes money everywhere (adsense in SERPs + Adwords).

just have a look at EFV's informative site. it had google ads last time i was there.

cheers,

9:45 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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simonmc

Can you give 3 good reasons for lets say Matt Cutts to manipulate the organic serps just to satify the AdWords/AdSense Teams?

Please don't include that Matt might be doing that for money :-)

9:57 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I just think old habits die hard.

If you want to protect your site against hacking, it used to be the case you employ the best hacker you can find......

So if you employ the best spammers you can find to protect the search index.....

...they sell there services elsewhere on the quiet, manipulate results to lett off certain sites and basically screw your SE.

just an opinion ;)

10:02 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I can't imagine Matt, Adam or Brian accepting to manipulate the organic serps just to satisfy the folks at AdWords/AdSense teams.

But what if they didn't know? I'd suggest Google has grown so large and the algorithm so complex it's highly likely the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing.

The quality vs. revenue decision is not Matt, Adam and Brian's call to make anyway. That's Google's board of directors decision.

10:07 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Can you give 3 good reasons for lets say Matt Cutts to manipulate the organic serps just to satify the AdWords/AdSense Teams?

1. Larry
2. Sergey
3. Eric

10:10 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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rekitty

The quality vs. revenue decision is not Matt, Adam and Brian's call to make anyway. That's Google's board of directors decision.

However, do you think that any member of Google board would dare to ask Google Search Quality Team to maipulate the organic serps as a way to boost Adwords revenues?

10:12 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>Can you give 3 good reasons for lets say Matt Cutts to manipulate the organic serps just to satify the AdWords/AdSense Teams?

Because I don't know Matt personally I can't comment on what he would or wouldn't do to the SERPS. Hell, I don't even know EXACTLY what he actually physically does at Google. What buttons he gets to push and what he doesn't.

Can Matt or any of his close colleagues do anything themselves apart from report to the correct people?

Three people in a multi billion dollar company will unlikely wield too much power. I would doubt even Sergy and Brin have that much say anymore either.

10:15 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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If the organic results (zero income) are great, why click on the ads (95% of income)?

Why not, if I'm a potential customer for the product or service that's being advertised?

Let's say I'm searching Google for advice on nosehair grooming because I'm worried that my nose is beginning to look like a porcupine. Next to the list of search results for nosehair grooming are AdWords for nosehair trimmers, scissors, nasal-grooming services that will come to my home, etc. I see an ad that says "Brazilian Nostril Waxing" and think "Aha! My problems are solved."

I'm happy, because I've found a solution.

The advertiser is happy, because he or she has found a customer.

Google is happy, because it made money on the click.

The only person who isn't happy is the e-commerce vendor who misunderstands the mission of Google Search and hasn't learned that advertising has value online just as it does offline.

10:19 pm on Apr 26, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I have to say I see no manipulation to satisfy adwords at all. I do feel there is a manipulation of results though and it appears to be in my opinion through selective blocking of links and selective penalisation. And google by the way .gov sites current links beeing touted for sale in uk to buy "trust". I told them to F#*$! OFF.
6:18 am on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Reseller, yes I do think the Google board of directors would choose to degrade search quality to increase revenue.

Let's take a look at Google's "Ten things Google has found to be true" as it's amazing to see how different Google is today then when they defined their corporate philosophy:
[google.com...]

I was glad to find biasing search results is directly against Google corporate philosophy in item 6.

Unfortunately times have changed. Google is clearly breaking so many other "truths" that I have a hard time believing they take this document seriously anymore.

Here are a few examples of Google being untruthful to their ten truths:

1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

. . .few are able to resist the temptation to make small sacrifices to increase shareholder value. Google has steadfastly refused to make any change that does not offer a benefit to the users who come to the site


How does adding a third sponsored listing at the top of the search results help the user? How about changing the background color to light yellow so it's more difficult to discern sponsored from organic listings?

2. It's best to do one thing really, really well.
Google does search...

That's hilarious. What doesn't Google do these days?

3. Fast is better than slow.

Google search is not as speedy as is was before all the feature bloat.

you may have never seen an ad on Google. That's because Google does not allow ads to be displayed on our results pages unless they're relevant to the results page on which they're shown. So, only certain searches produce sponsored links above or to the right of the results

Ebay has an ad up for every word in the dictionary. Hurry... ebay is selling "Yellow" and "Purple" for less.

Google has also proven that advertising can be effective without being flashy

Um, DoubleClick? Flashing banner ads by Goooooogle.

So, how can we really take this seriously:

We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results.

Looks like the "10 truths" aren't quite as truthful as they once were.

1:17 pm on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Reseller, yes I do think the Google board of directors would choose to degrade search quality to increase revenue.

I'm curious to know how you think they'd be able to put that into practice. Have you ever worked in (or with) a large organization where the main asset consists of brilliant creative types? According to everything I've read, Google's search team is made up of computer engineers, mathematicians, researchers in various fields who have been recruited from leading universities, etc.

Somehow I find it difficult to believe that, say, a computer scientist who's already a millionaire and can get a job anywhere would let his or her work and career be corrupted by some Wharton MBA in a thousand-dollar suit. Ever heard the phrase "herding cats"?

Getting back to the topic of "Is Google trying to provide quality SERPs?", I think it's important to recognize that different people have different ideas of what search quality is. The guy who sells St. Christopher medals is likely to think Google's SERPs have deteriorated when his home page no longer comes up #1 for "St. Christopher," but that doesn't mean Google isn't trying to provide quality search results--or that the people on its search team are corrupt.

5:27 pm on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Thanks EFV for replying to the first part of rekitty post. I wouldn't have said it better ;-)

rekitty

Your post is based on your own assumptions. Fair enough.

However personal assumptions wouldn't change the fact that Google is still the leader search engine when it comes to:

- search quality

- speed of returning serps

- focus on its users

- Google has several specialized teams and each team is very good at doing one thing very well.

But I do understand when most of us are expecting of Google more than what we expect of other search engines. I see that as a healthy sign to keep the pressure on Googlers to keep up the good work ;-)

6:24 pm on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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The four April 2007 patents [webmasterworld.com] make it pretty clear that Google tries to identify information pages as opposed to point-of-sale pages -- and then works with specific query terms to understand what mix of results such users respond to best in each case.

I don't see that Google gives some kind of blanket preference to any one "type" of site - their approach is much more granular than that. But they do give query-specific preferences, based on the user-experience data they collect.

Their criteria for freshness have become quite complex, too - freshness of backlinks is in the recipe as well as the document's inception date and rate of singificant change. The whole technical definition of freshness now sounds more like an iterative calculation such as PageRank, instead of a simple scoring.

These areas both sound like evidence of their ongoing commitment to quality search results.

6:25 pm on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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you ever worked in (or with) a large organization where the main asset consists of brilliant creative types?

Not sure about how big it was, but I have.
And when I said "do it" they did it for the greater good.

Which means they translated it as follows:

- if we can grab more of a market share today, we'll have more of a say in where the Internet should develop. And we like that, for we are elite geek snobs taking pride in what we do. ( So was I, minus the snob part so there wasn't really a conflict there. )

- if we make more of a revenue we'll have more resources to build our own software, toy with ideas ( at other companies: do research on video / image / sound / theme / whatever recognition, pattern analysis )... we'll have more time and money to invent and innovate.

- if we push it just a bit further today, we'll have twice as much playtime tomorrow.

... that's how they were.

If balanced out right, one could save face towards his or her own self esteem when it came to making a long term decision that was not in sync with their generic ideals. No one ever said that "this is too much I can't take it". Took a lot of effort to balance things out but it worked like a charm.

And while I agree with the theory behind what you say, Google is not a university. And wasn't founded to provide users with good search results with money as a byproduct, that's the fairy tale PR that makes most of us mad at them, not that they're a business.

It was probably more like this:

"Hey I have an idea."
"Let's work it out."
"Once it's ready, let's ... " *snip*

... go to Sequoia Capital.

*snip*
"Perhaps they share our vision on quality SERPs."

...

Let's skip on idealism, and look at it from a realistic perspective.

The idea is interesting, and has been around for some time ( the AdSense conspiracy theory ), but even if implemented ( Google serving not so great sites intentionally ) the mix is by far in favor of quality. They'd lose in the long run if there was a noticable trend of low quality SERPs.

Too many quality sites have disappeared from the Index because of their strict filters. They know if they don't work it out soon enough, slowly but steadily, other SEs will take their place.

They don't own the Internet.

So I think it's in their utmost interest to provide good quality SERPs. If they can, that is. Should those four new patents replace the need of the very strict relevancy calculations and penalties, sites that once trhived and with a good reason, might do so once again. It's a race now.

And remember the opposite of this theory is on the table as well. For the "rich get richer" idea of the SERPs slowly becoming a TrustRank directory with the well known names would make Google lose money all the same. A supermarket selling nothing but COKE because that's the most popular drink may pretty soon close its doors.

Now if you said is Google biased towards informational/community websites... THAT would be much more interesting.

[edit] Which while I was typing is what Tedster just said.[/edit]

[edited by: Miamacs at 6:26 pm (utc) on April 27, 2007]

6:50 pm on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Now if you said is Google biased towards informational/community websites... THAT would be much more interesting.

[edit] Which while I was typing is what Tedster just said.[/edit]

Tedster suggested that "Google tries to identify information pages as opposed to point-of-sale pages -- and then works with specific query terms to understand what mix of results such users respond to best in each case." That would make a lot of sense, because Google obviously has masses of data available, including such basic information as how quickly a user returns to the search page after clicking on a given result or type of result.

Does that mean Google is biased toward "information" pages? Maybe; maybe not. I suspect that certain biases are built into the algorithm, not that there's anything wrong with that. Mind you, that doesn't mean such biases can't be exploited. I can think of one for-profit Wiki that ranks better than it should for topics where it has very little content, probably because it started out as a plain-vanilla, open-source Wiki and honors the Creative Commons license. That probably doesn't matter a great deal in the larger scheme of things, though, if Wikis on the whole are delivering content that, according to Google's data, is being read (or at least isn't being rejected immediately) by users.

11:56 pm on Apr 27, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I'm curious to know how you think they'd be able to put that into practice. Have you ever worked in (or with) a large organization where the main asset consists of brilliant creative types? According to everything I've read, Google's search team is made up of computer engineers, mathematicians, researchers in various fields who have been recruited from leading universities, etc.

Yep, I've been off "herding cats" today. I'm a computer scientist myself. I spent the first decade of my career doing research and the last decade managing engineers and building systems, so yes I know the exact profile of a Google engineer.

I bet Google is taking the approach of simultaneously working on conflicting goals (quality & revenue) and instrumenting the system to adjust the parameters for each goal.

Here's what it looks like Google is doing to me:

1. Build the best search engine in the world, period.

2. Build the best revenue generating machine ever created (even where it conflicts with #1).

3. Build knobs and levers to adjust the many parameters that balance search quality and revenue.

4. Decide quarterly on where to set the knobs and levers based on the competitive environment and other business considerations. Basically decide if you want to grow market share by increasing quality or grow revenue by increasing monitization.

The reality is most the engineers won't really see the big picture of quality vs. revenue as they are working on their piece of the code. They also won't know where the lever will be set in the end, so their piece could either improve or hurt the quality of the results.

Here's a great example: the number of sponsored listings at the top of the page. The the "number of sponsored listings at the top lever" can be set to show between, say, zero and six sponsored listings (on average) at the top of the page. If set to zero it improves the user experience and Google makes less money. if set to six it hurts the user experience and Google makes more money. An engineer builds the lever, then management makes the decision where to set it. I'll try to follow up with more examples when I get a chance...

12:52 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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They don't own the Internet.

They do however own their own search platform.

Which I think everyone forgets, is completely free to use and 'exploit'.

If you think you can do better you are free to compete.

(No, I don't work for Google!)

1:23 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Ok we work with current algo. As long as there is a fair playing field I have no problem with anything google do. Whilst penalisation was done global through algo it was fair. If a human element has been allowed into it that would be wrong. The idea of trusted sites is just ridiculous to me. There ain't a site on the net you can't buy or spam a link from.............
1:27 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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> Here's a great example: the number of sponsored listings at the top of the page.

Awhile back I noticed Google putting their Froogle links above the search results. I commented here at WebmasterWorld in the AdSense forum about it and observed that if you had three "Sponsored Links" then three Froogle links, then the search terms, that the most search items that would be visible on a 15" monitor above the fold would be one! As it is now, even without the Froogle listings - the "Sponsored Links" typically outnumber the searches 11-8 on my 20" monitor above the fold, and 11-10 if I scroll.

1:31 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Maybe I am naive, maybe I should just turn to the dark side. Buy links off .gov sites and .edu sites and .sch like others do.
1:56 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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>>How motivated is G to provide the best results

I'd use the word "extremely." Look at how desperately Microsoft is trying to mimic that success and how difficult itís been for them to produce quality SERPs. I saw a show a while back where even Bill Gates said they under-estimated the importance of Search.

2:06 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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As it is now, even without the Froogle listings - the "Sponsored Links" typically outnumber the searches 11-8 on my 20" monitor above the fold, and 11-10 if I scroll.

I thought we were talking about Google's search results, not the ratio of ads to organic results. In any case, the ratio of ads to organic results varies with the search string. Search on "doughnuts," for example, and you'll get just one ad. Search on "[major city] hotels," and you'll get more. But there's no evidence to suggest that the ads are influencing the organic results--and "what if" or "how do we know they aren't" scenarios don't count as evidence. :-)

Just as important, the ads are clearly identified as "Sponsored Links," which isn't to say that every user is bright enough to understand the difference. (Some people are clueless, period. My site has a number of cruise reviews, and I regularly get e-mails from readers--some of them experienced officers and crew--who apparently think I'm CEO of a cruise line.)

2:11 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Microsoft entered better than expected results and vista doing well. The new relaxed attitude from msn winning people over. Google have now set themselves up as the new microsoft with disastorous pr and aggressive and threatening growth.

[edited by: Keniki at 2:14 am (utc) on April 28, 2007]

2:26 am on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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> But there's no evidence to suggest that the ads are influencing the organic results

I agree - I don't think Google is doing that and believe that they are a great company overall. I was just merely pointing out the ratio of ads and Froogle links to search in regards to screen real-estate and that (at least in my niches), there are more ads displayed - and in better page position - than searches.

1:24 pm on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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The recent supplemental mess is a specific example of Google choosing revenue over quality in organic results, IMO.

Google used to be a great long-tail search engine. No longer. They have sent a huge majority of pages (60,70,80%?) of the web into their supplemental index where they have no hope of ranking. Users can no longer count on Google consistently returning good results for obscure queries.

How does this improve revenue? Most small time webmasters have little hope of getting organic traffic, even for obscure queries, so the are giving up and buying adwords. Our hypothetical dentist, for example, used to be able to put up an article about "Fluoridated water and tooth decay in Podunk Nebraska" and get that to rank easily. No longer.

This is really bad for Google users. Here's a real life example I gave back in a supplemental thread. I bet you have experienced something similar:

A friend of mine was extremely frustrated when she couldn't find a page a second time for a query: "STATENAME fingerprint card supply hours" It gave her the exact page she was looking for with the hours of operation as the number one result the first time she tried. Google was magic!

Two weeks later she needed another card after her prints for her bar application were smudged. The page was nowhere to be found and she was very frustrated. I did a bit of investigation and the result she was looking for was on page 3 and had gone supplemental. Yahoo and MSN couldn't find it either, but it was a step back for Google.

For the good of all of us, I hope Yahoo, MSN and Ask see their opportunity here. This scenario will cause a searcher to try another engine and that engine has opportunity to shine over Google.

6:27 pm on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Google used to be a great long-tail search engine. No longer.

... I was just thinking about this today.
It's kind of sad.

Although I'm not sure if Supplemental Results weren't invented to ease the load on the infrastructure. If they could, I think they would want to return all kinds of spot-on results for obscure searches, but their current algo - the one that came with supplemental results - and their current equipment wouldn't be able to handle the boom of information efficiently. They should start thinking about this though, for it's a real letdown. They'd have the money to upgrade and all...

But if they let the supplementals be crawled at the same rate, and/or wouldn't drop half of them, these datacenters would soon collapse if you ask me. Just imagine how much more data they have to collect, sort, refresh, rank and store to be able to provide proper long tail results.

I wish they would but the net is a hundred times bigger than let's say, five years ago.

... they'd need to have a bot that can decide on-spot whether a page is of use ( even if it's PR 0 ) or not, and index it accordingly. Until then, these will ALL drop out, and other pages with similar content or the words scattered all around will appear.

What they're doing right now is serving the lowest possible quality that is absolutely necessary to keep them no. 1. This decision isn't reflected in all of the SERPs. On highly competitive two, three, four word phrases they'd serve the very same results with or without supplementals. But for less competitive queries this isn't doing much good.

...

EFV, I didn't mean the're biased towards informational ( they might be though ) I said, it might be interesting to discuss. We could have a party counting fake travel blogs, technical Wikis, entire networks of informational sites built only to suck up links and support home, but hey. I'm not saying Google did this on intention.

People just like to link to non-profit, non-commercial, informational sites better.

7:01 pm on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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In the past week I've seen evidence of a good size return to the regular index and out of the supplemental - even for sites that made no changes. The migration is not yet as large as the major dump into supplemental that we saw recently, but it does look to me like there's movement in the reverse direction now.
7:05 pm on Apr 28, 2007 (gmt 0)

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How does this improve revenue? Most small time webmasters have little hope of getting organic traffic, even for obscure queries, so the are giving up and buying adwords.

Most small-time Webmasters are buying AdWords? That seems pretty unlikely, given the fact that sites which aren't engaged in e-commerce, affiliate sales, or click arbitrage haven't much hope of generating an ROI with AdWords.

Our hypothetical dentist, for example, used to be able to put up an article about "Fluoridated water and tooth decay in Podunk Nebraska" and get that to rank easily. No longer.

OK, so your hypothetical dentist finds it harder to get organic traffic from Google by publishing a keyword-driven fluff article on his Web site. That may be bad news for the dentist, but it doesn't mean Google's SERPs have deteriorated. If anything, it probably means the SERPs have improved, and that users are being directed to more authoritative sites for the topic in question.

4:36 pm on Apr 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Most small-time Webmasters are buying AdWords? That seems pretty unlikely, given the fact that sites which aren't engaged in e-commerce, affiliate sales, or click arbitrage haven't much hope of generating an ROI with AdWords.

Wow, EFV, that's way out of touch with reality. Believe it or not there is an off-line economy and it's very much driven by search marketing. Google is the new yellow pages. I see DOZENS of Adwords ads for every local small town keyword combo I search: dentists, doctors, plumbers, realtors, locksmiths, landscaping and even pet sitters. These are all small-time webmasters buying AdWords.

OK, so your hypothetical dentist finds it harder to get organic traffic from Google by publishing a keyword-driven fluff article on his Web site.

Google putting this page into the supplemental index has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the content on the page. Millions of high-quality documents have been tagged supplemental, while low-quality documents remain in the main index and out rank them in the search results.

There is a broad general consensus that Google's scorched supplemental earth is a very bad thing for the quality of their search results. Thus, thankfully, it seems Google decided to move the supplemental lever back in the other direction as Tedster indicated.

There are still, however, an enormous number of high-quality, relevant pages not ranking because Google choose to banish them to the supplemental index. Why would they do that if quality was "job one"?

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