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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?

5:44 pm on Apr 29, 2007 (gmt 0)

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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.

I'm not disputing that; indeed, that's how the publishing business is supposed to work: Publishers like Google build editorial content that attracts readers, and marketers (which may range from Wally's Widgets to Orbitz) piggyback on that editorial content with ads that are designed to reach targeted audiences.

In Google's case, the editorial content consists of search results, and the quality of the SERPs is what attracts and retains both users and advertisers. It would be stupid for Google to knowingly sabotage the quality of its editorial product, because that would leave a door open for competitors to steal its audience (and, ultimately, its advertisers).

If Dr. Dan's dental page ends up in the supplemental index for unknown reasons, that doesn't mean Google is trying to lower the quality of the search results. It merely means that something isn't working right, and/or Dr. Dan's dental page isn't as good as Dr. Dan thinks it is. The world isn't perfect, and neither are search engines, dentists, and owners of Web sites.

12:55 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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@EFV: It's nitpicking, but strictly speaking one can hardly defend the proposition that Googles SERPS are editorial content. It is automatically gathered content ranked by some computer program, not an editor. Also, the fact that it's not editorial content protects Google against claims that they have responsability for anything illegal that might appear in same SERPS.

Back on topic. In my view, Google (as a company, not just the SE department) only has an interest in keeping the SERPS as good as necessary so that their audience does not shift to the competition. They really don't need to be the best, only to deliver 80% of the needs 80% of the time (or so)

1:41 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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@EFV: It's nitpicking, but strictly speaking one can hardly defend the proposition that Googles SERPS are editorial content. It is automatically gathered content ranked by some computer program, not an editor.

"Editorial content" doesn't have to be assembled by a human editor. Think of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL's stockmarket listings, the weather statistics in your local newspaper, or a directory like BOOKS IN PRINT. A human editor may have set parameters for what's included or not (and how it's presented), but the process of gathering and presenting the content can be automated by a search engine, newspaper, directory, etc.

For what it's worth, a federal court has ruled that Google's rankings are "opinion" that is entitled to protection under the First Amendment of the U.S. constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and the press.

Back on topic. In my view, Google (as a company, not just the SE department) only has an interest in keeping the SERPS as good as necessary so that their audience does not shift to the competition. They really don't need to be the best, only to deliver 80% of the needs 80% of the time (or so)

SERPs will never be perfect, any more than a poll, a weather forecast, or economic and census data will be perfect. But that doesn't mean the people who run Google Search aren't trying to deliver the best results that they can. Somehow I find it difficult to believe that Google's search engineers have put an 80% cap on search quality (based on whatever metrics they may be using to determine quality). And I find it even harder to believe that someone like Matt Cutts or GoogleGuy (who may or may not be one and the same) is "tweaking dials" to maintain a targeted level of AdWords sales, as some unhappy WW members might like to believe.

1:53 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Publishers like Google build editorial content that attracts readers,...

That's stretching things way too far; it's like comparing the New York Times with Yellow Pages. Google's content in no way compares to 'editorial'; it's a directory.

Visitors don't 'read' Google, they use it as it was intended - as a directory to look up a list of likely URLs. Whether they actually find what they're looking for is debatable these days.

2:13 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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that doesn't mean the people who run Google Search aren't trying

No doubt they try to do their very best. However, I was specifically referring to Google, Inc (GOOG) the company (as a whole) and not the search department.

Google Inc, the company, will not be financially better off by having "the best" results than they will be by having results that are "simply good enough". The difference in income between those two states is not significant. It will, however, cost them a significant lot of extra money going from "good enough" to "as good as it can possibly get"

So making SERPS "the best" isn't financially as sound an idea as making SERPS "just good enough" - at some point the extra expense for improving the SERPS will far outweigh the extra income the company can get from it.

[edited by: claus at 2:17 pm (utc) on May 8, 2007]

2:17 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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That's stretching things way too far; it's like comparing the New York Times with Yellow Pages. Google's content in no way compares to 'editorial'; it's a directory.

See my previous post and the federal judge's ruling in the Searchking v. Google case.

In any case, this thread isn't about whether Google's SERPs are or aren't editorial content; it's about whether Google is "trying to provide quality SERPs." So far, no one has presented convincing evidence that Google is intentionally screwing up its SERPs. (Claiming that Google is cheating because word1-word22.com has lost its #1 ranking to Wikipedia for "word1-word2" doesn't count.)

[edited by: tedster at 4:31 pm (utc) on May 8, 2007]
[edit reason] make the example domain generic [/edit]

3:09 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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No one is really debating that they are intentionally making them worse. The case is why would Google spend more money to make them better when people will purchase adwords if they cant rank where they want. Making them better will not create more of a user base. They already have it. There goal as a public company is to increase shareholder wealth. They will do this be retaining there current user base at the same time increasing adword revenue. My 2 cents.
3:33 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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No one is really debating that they are intentionally making them worse.

The OP did suggest that they were crippling the quality of their SERPs; whether that's "intentionally making them worse" or simply not making them better depends on whether you see the glass as being half empty or half full.

The case is why would Google spend more money to make them better when people will purchase adwords if they cant rank where they want.

Why? Because Google Search is in the business of delivering eyeballs to advertisers, both with its Google-branded results and the results that it delivers on partner sites. And while Google has the #1 market share for search in many countries, there's no reason to believe that it doesn't want its market share to continue growing.

Also, there are two problems with the argument that "people will purchase AdWords if they can't rank where they want":

1) The business that drops in the rankings may greater incentive to buy AdWords, but the business that moves up to take its place will have less incentive to buy AdWords.

2) Owners of many Web sites won't--and don't--buy AdWords if they can't rank where they want. (Case in point: I don't rank where I'd like to be for some searches, but I don't buy AdWords for those keyphrases.)

Fact is, only 10 people are going to be on page 1 of the SERPs for any given keyphrase, just as only a handful of people are going to make it to the finals of "American Idol" or the Miss America Pageant. That's just life.

9:50 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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From a strictly financial position, Google would be best suited by having SERPS that:

1. Are of high enough quality to generate a market-leading reputation

and

2. Are diluted enough that users find even more relevance in the AdWords links

I'm backing off of my position that Google is actively degrading search results. However, Google is far too large and profitable to think that there isn't someone on the board lobbying this philosophy. It has to at least come up on occasion.

EFV

"I don't rank where I'd like to be for some searches, but I don't buy AdWords for those keyphrases.)"

Why not? If you could profit off of the traffic, would you buy AdWords then?

10:23 pm on May 8, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Why not? If you could profit off of the traffic, would you buy AdWords then?

I run an editorial travel site, and the only way I could profit from AdWords would be to drive traffic to "money pages" (such as pages with affiliate links). That isn't my business model: I'd much rather drive traffic to "money pages" and advertisers from my editorial pages.

For searches that can yield both commercial and non-commercial results, Google seems to favor information and manufacturer pages these days. That's obviously good for Google, and it's in keeping with the mission statement that Google was using long before it became an advertising powerhouse. It's also good for e-commerce businesses that understand the value of advertising to targeted audiences.

1:28 pm on May 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I'm backing off of my position that Google is actively degrading search results.

So it does look to me as well.

Yahoo and MSN are not able to compete with showing better results and some of the keywords i watch present so much crap on top since ages.

With $1 billion prof each 3 months they could easily afford some real quality control if they jut would want to.

Certainly they also earn more with adsense clicks from their own site compared to sharing them with quality publishers.

1:50 pm on May 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Claus,

I couldnt have out it better myself!

"So making SERPS "the best" isn't financially as sound an idea as making SERPS "just good enough" - at some point the extra expense for improving the SERPS will far outweigh the extra income the company can get from it."

What a number of webmasters overlook here is that since the introduction of this additional filtering since end of September 2006 (ready for the following quarters earnings) google profits have increased significantly.

A tweak even further with the quality dial and more users push for clicking on adwords as they cant find what they want in the natural serps. First quarter of 2007 sees google profits rise by 68 odd percent on the previous period.

So to conclude - by producing mediocre / boarderline poor serps due to the quality sites missing and a higher volume of dross sites now ranking that are of little use to the end user, results in an increase in profits.

This is not about search quality - its about satisfying shareholders!

I cant see any change in googles view on this until one other search engine starts taking some of googles market share and that is not likely.

On the plus side however, with any luck they will tweak the dial that little bit extra to see how much more juice they can get out of the lemon and in doing so will end up with a totally unusable search facility (They are currently on the line) and users will switch. I for one have already changed my search engine usage to Yahoo - it delivers me what im looking for, whilst google doesnt any longer!

2:20 pm on May 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

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Yahoo is even worse in communication, exploitation of Search results and all them flashy ads I see on my gf yahoo mail. OMG.. Gmail is genius .. None of the 3 major players is really what you want. Best is equal powershare. But well that's not gonna happen..
4:09 pm on May 9, 2007 (gmt 0)

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I would agree,

From a webmasters perspective a nice equal share of the search market from a number of different search engines would be fantastic.

However, back on reality we have to put up with a google dominated market which in the UK controls about 80% of all search requests made!

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