It’s ironic in a way that Google is now literally begging people to block bad search results. The official Google blog officially published today “Hide Sites to Find More of What You Want“. All I can say is “wow”.
Now when you visit a web site in Google, the next time you go back to the search results page beside the “cached’ link will be a “block all results” link for that listing. If you make a mistake blocking listings, you can manage your blocked sites in your google account. They actually act like this is a “feature”.
Remembery McCarthy-ism back in the 50’s, when the US government asked citizens to turn in fellow citizens that they thought were communists? It was a literal witch hunt, with thousands of people accused of doing things that had no part of. People actually bought into the mob mentality of “turning people in” at that time. Is this the same, or is this different?
This is less than a month after the Google Chrome Spam Extension was released (right after the JCPenney paid link debacle). AND just weeks ago, the largest update to Google’s search index since they first came online, the “Farmer” update changed more than 11% of results for the entire index worldwide.
Google has been humming along nicely now for more than a decade. Thanks to AdWords (and Adsense) Google is a billion dollar money machine. Search results = money. Valuable keyword searches have the top sponsored ad spots auctioned daily for incredible amounts of money on the first and second page of results. Organic results are just as valuable, and people spend large amounts of time and money to get first page rankings, because (once again) search results = money. If this weren’t the case, JCPenney wouldn’t have hired an SEO company to get them ranked for so many keywords just in time for the holiday buying season. It turns out in recent weeks, Overstock.com has been found to have been doing the exact same thing quietly over time.
Is it fair to blame JCPenney and Overstock for what they did? Are they the same as a spam site? Really, what JCPenney and Overstock did was wrong because they attempted to “game the search results” by building links in unethical ways, and buy outright paying for links to their pages. Ok, so google doesn’t like you to buy links. But in this latest update to squash low value “content farms” Google’s focus is to remove sites with little or no original content. I understand that problem completely, and their need to fix it. But asking users to police the results is (if you ask me) a bit of a witch hunt.
When Google did the Farmer update they had about a week’s worth of data from the Chrome spam extension. The spam extension allowed people to “block” sites they didn’t want to see in search results, the same as the new link next to “cache” in search results pages. Google says that they didn’t use any of the spam extension data at all, but when they compared (the 11% of results they were changing) to what users were actually blocking – it was about the same.
I was just explaining to a colleage the other day – the issue with this new “block” feature for me is two-fold. First of all, search visitors are (for the most part) not tech-savvy at all. The majority of people won’t even know that this new feature exists anyway. But those that do might “uber-react” to it.
Let me ask you – what is spam? What is a spam web page or web site? What is web spam?
Is an Amazon.com product page spam?
If I copy an Amazon.com product page (without adding anything to it) – is that spam?
Is a shopping comparison site spam?
Is a blogger post that reviews a product spam?
What if that blogger has a great 1,000 word review, but links to the product with affiliate links – is that spam?
Is wikipedia never spam because they have no ads and they’re human edited?
Are Yahoo Answers and eHow almost always spam pages?
If Craigslist added relevant eBay auctions to all free posts – would that be spam?
Most people would agree that if you get a web site that lists every zip code, every phone number, every street address, every email address, every domain name, every whois lookup – ok, that’s almost always spam. Sites that just aggregate other people’s RSS feeds (scraper sites), almost always spam. But some people feel that any page that uses an affiliate link is automatically spam (which is nuts). There may have been a time when blogging was “righteous”, but it takes time and money to blog – and if you’re giving others knowledge and expertise online (about anything), monetizing that content IS NOT WRONG. If fact, in Google’s webmaster quality guidelines they say using affiliate is ok “as long as your pages have original content”.
I watch what people look for, seach for, and click on. I see that it’s hard for them to discern between original content, good reviews, and spam. Most people can barely keep from clicking on spam emails that have bargains that seem too good to be true. I think that Google asking us to be “web inspectors” and help police the search results is ironic, futile, and just wrong.
Remember back in 1998 when Google started, the reason you were willing to ditch the other 30 search engines online was becuase “Google had the best results”? Remember when google was “cool” and their mantra “don’t be evil” was kind of like thumbing your nose at Microsoft and other big software companies a little? Now Microsoft is smaller than Google, and Google is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. They can say “don’t be evil” all they want, but now they are a billion dollar cash cow that can’t seem to fix their own search results (without asking YOU to help). Just like Google completely slaughtered all search engines online over a decade – they are now SO big that even they could fall by someone inventing something “that much better”.
I think it’s ironic that Google is asking us to help them make search results better, like the Google index is public park or something, and we’re all on a community project to “help keep our Google clean”. Until Google starts giving out stimulus checks for all the cash they’re printing every day, everyone’s gonna keep complaining about bad results – and asking what they’re going to do to fix them. Honestly, is it that hard to filter the results better? Instead of having a few dozen people working on the problem – shouldn’t you have a team of a few HUNDRED? Offer a bounty, hired 1,000 interns, get some (more) genius coders – DO SOMETHING!
Come on Google – you can do better than this. If you don’t, somebody is gonna eat your lunch (and soon). Facebook is already bigger than you, and you didn’t seem to see that coming either, did you?