Image by Ben Oswest via Flickr
Today’s column from MediaPost’s Sarch Insider
At MediaPost’s Search Insider Summit
last week in Park City, Utah, some attendees were frustrated over the
economy, and most people were frustrated by the lack of snow. Yet the
biggest source of frustration seemed to be Google.
It came up
during a panel early on Friday specifically about Google. It also came
up in the “What’s Next” panel that I moderated. And when I facilitated
a roundtable on e-commerce following my panel, the participants were most talkative when they started kvetching about Google.
wasn’t the kvetching I sometimes hear during search marketing events.
There wasn’t the talk about challenges with Google’s Quality Score or
pages suddenly dropping out of its index. The complaints were mostly
from marketers responding like consumers. Below I’ll share a number of
these complaints, largely from the roundtable. You can share your
thoughts or add new gripes in the comments.
I’m not doing
this to beat up on Google; the stock market’s done that enough lately,
forcing Google to consider whether it swaps out its Naked juices for
Tropicana. During my panel, SearchIgnite President Roger Barnette noted
that Google’s stock woes may make it even more aggressive in developing
products that appeal to both consumers and marketers, so Google could
emerge as an even fiercer competitor. Meanwhile, last I checked,
Google’s market share has only been increasing.
Still, these frustrations shed light on some of the challenges search
engines face as they try to innovate while delivering on their core
‘Badder’ Than Michael Jackson
roundtable participant was tired of Google’s results pages changing too
frequently. The same search on consecutive days can often lead to
different result rankings, making it harder for the consumer to
efficiently scan results.
Another participant offered a vivid
analogy. She said Google’s search engine results are like Michael
Jackson’s nose. In the beginning, with “Bad,” Jackson looked good, but
he kept changing it so much that it became hideous.
of the changes people were complaining about stemmed from Google’s
routine algorithm tweaking, but much of the variability is caused by
its personalized search results. If you’re logged in, Google customizes
your natural results based on how you search and click.
feature found little love at my table. Some people were concerned that
they’re only seeing a narrow subset of results deemed to be relevant,
while they’re missing on what the masses are exposed to. There was also
the sense of loss over a shared experience, where everyone at the table
might see different results (or differently ordered results) for the
same query. I addressed that in a previous column
when Google rolled out search personalization, noting that the top 25
results for a given query could be ordered 12 trillion different ways
on the first page of listings.
Then there’s Google SearchWiki,
where users can bump up or bump down search results for a query to
manually order the ranking. I asked my panel their thoughts on this and
heard crickets chirping, not because the panelists were unfamiliar with
it, but because no one thought SearchWiki would make much of an impact.
I’m inclined to agree; this is a tool designed for early adopters who
crave advanced customization, and it deserves to stay in Google Labs.
I’m not a big fan of any engine that makes me work too hard to rank my
search results (I noted that point in my summer column on Yahoo SearchMonkey, though Yahoo has since remedied my earlier gripes).
Habit for Humanity
buzzword of the show that kept coming up was “the Google habit”; we’ll
see where it ranks in fellow columnist Aaron Goldman’s forthcoming show
recap. The roundtable participants discussed ways that they’ve tried to
break the habit. One agency strategist described how she set
Microsoft’s Live Search as her default engine and will give it a shot,
but she still isn’t getting rid of her Google Toolbar.
everyone suffered from the addiction. One participant said she uses
different engines for different kinds of searches. This sums up the
range of angst over Google. Either it’s so good that people become
complacent and don’t bother going anywhere else, o r it’s not good
enough so people need to bounce around.
I asked the table if
anyone thought any search engine, even a niche site for specific kinds
of searches, was better than Google. Emphatically, they all said no.
One decried, “Search doesn’t work. It’s a terrible experience.”
Google really gotten worse, or is it a sign that Google and the other
engines keep raising our expectations? I wonder if Google’s like Barack
Obama, setting expectations so high that they can’t possibly be met
(and, yes, that’s now two comparisons between Google and a public
figure with a mixed racial identity).
In the short term,
Google’s market share of search volume and advertising budgets
indicates it has little to worry about. But as it moves forward, it
will need to keep executing in ways that set our expectations higher,
even if Google can’t possibly meet them.