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Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank!

January 19, 2011
By

Most of the time when I have a bit of a rant in the newsletter or elsewhere it's because I've seen or heard things that bug me or are just plain wrong. Writing about it gets it off my chest and that's usually the end of it. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case with the Dear Google rant I had back in Sept.Photo Credit: Saucy Salad

It's not out of my system in the least.

In fact, the feelings I had in that "letter" are growing stronger every day. Most often I notice it when I analyze why certain pages show up highly in Google. It enrages me when I see many pages in the top 10 results that appear to have gotten there through anchor text comment spam. So I think to myself, "Write about it, you'll feel better." Then I remember that I already did write about it and I still don't feel better.

So I tweet snarky comments to Matt Cutts, as well as leave them on Sphinn , but it only makes me feel worse for being mean to Matt, who is a nice guy.

Then I remember what I wrote many years ago in issue 038 of the High Rankings Advisor:
"If Google goes public in 2003...we will see it start to suck by 2004. By 'suck,' I mean 'become like all the other engines.'"
I was wrong, in that it took a whole lot longer than one year to really start sucking, but suck it does.

We did see this coming.

Interestingly enough, the sucky results were foreshadowed toward the end of 2003 with what was dubbed the "Florida Google Update"  and the one soon after in January 2004 dubbed "Austin" by WebmasterWorld (we called it "Gladys" at the High Rankings Forum).

Those major algorithm changes by Google created chaos in the search marketing world because Google stopped showing many perfectly good websites for certain search queries, substituting them for what seemed to be much lower-quality sites such as online directory pages. (Causing an unfortunate boom in the crappy directory market.)

What struck me the most about the new search results at the time was that they were heavily biased toward informational pages, rather than commercial ones. Searches for products would yield product review pages or directories of sites that sold those products, but rarely company websites where one could purchase the products directly.

Why go all informational?

Because Google doesn't make money off of their organic search results.

My theory was that if Google could make the main search results "just relevant enough," but not quite provide what the searcher was looking for, the searcher would be more likely to click the sponsored results (ads) that are highly relevant and have exactly what the searcher wants. The searcher is happy, and Google makes money.

Still, back in 2003–2004, the new "informational" type results were not what the average searcher was used to, forcing Google to ratchet down the algorithm to provide more of a mix of informational and commercial sites. But I always felt that we had been given a glimpse of Google's future algorithm.

Which brings us back to today's sucky Google results.

It was done gradually over many years, but Google now provides organic search results that often look relevant on the surface, but either lead to made-for-AdSense content pages or somewhat sketchy companies who are great at article spinning and comment spamming.

Matt Cutts even admitted at a recent conference that Google web spam resources had been moved away from his team.  While I doubt Matt himself was happy about this, those whose bright idea it was are likely laughing all the way to the bank.

But have they gone too far?

Since their poor results are being talked about with more fervor outside of the search marketing industry, it's possible that they have indeed crossed the line. Numerous mainstream publications and highly regarded bloggers have taken notice and written about the putrid results. While Google is used to negative press, the current wave of stories hits them at their core -- or at least what most people believe to be their core -- their search results.

Even though today Google is technically just an advertising platform that happens to offer Internet search, they built their reputation on providing superior results. Because fixing what's broken in the current algorithm can't be very difficult for the brilliant minds that work at Google (Hint: ignore all anchor text links in blog comments, for one thing), we can only assume that they don't want to fix them -- at least not yet.

Most likely the fixes will only be forthcoming if and when they start to lose searchers and/or people stop clicking on the ads. Which doesn't seem to be happening. According to a Media Post article this week on U.S. paid search budgets (which was quoting from the "Efficient Frontier Q4 2010 U.S. Digital Marketing Performance Report"), paid clicks on Google rose 8% year-on-year.

What's an SEO to do?

None of this bodes very well for SEOs. (Which also suits Google just fine.) It seems that as an SEO, your choice is to help ruin the Internet by performing spammy SEO for your clients -- or to heavily invest in Google AdWords -- which of course plays right into Google's hands. [sigh]

I can't bring myself to do anything spammy, so the best I can do is keep preaching best SEO practices, with the caveat that the spammers are likely to win at the moment. But that's obviously not a great business model!

So…anyone in need of a highly jaded, formerly naïve person who knows exactly how search engines *should* work? ;)

2012 Addition:Things got much better soon after this rant of mine with the introduction of the first Panda algorithm in March of 2011. I like to think this post had at least a tiny bit to do with it! - Jill

 
Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings and an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalenJill Whalen

If you learned from this article, be sure to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so you can be the first to receive similar articles in the future!
 
 
Post Comment

 Michael Robinson said:
Hi Jill,
Excellent rant and analysis of how Google prioritizes search results.

I have a much better understanding of it now. Thanks.

My informational pages, which do carry Google ads, do very well, while pages that cover my products do poorly.

So I think the only thing to do is to create more informational pages and put in some text links to my products, and hope that people will click on those links. Unfortunately the yield from that is much less than the yield from being in the top 5 search results. Maybe by a factor of 100x.

But your rant has given me a much more clear picture of how Google works.
 Christine Wade said:
I agree that resorting to spammy tactics will not be beneficial in the long run...might get you quick satisfaction, but eventually it's got to bite you in the backside! I just shared your article with the real estate community on my real estate virtual assistant blog over on Active Rain.
 Anonymous said:
what other search engine options do user have? Where can I learn to search in an effective manor for relevant content? Sometimes I try Google scholar. SOmetimes I switch to Bing. Sometimes I fish further down in Google results. I agree, Google results such more and more and I have to fish deeper and deeper down pages to get real content.
 Harriett Lublin said:
Hi Jill - great rant, and you are right on!! Where can we write to Google to add our complaints, and to support your analysis. I've been complaining about their artificially high and annoying ranking of directory sites for years (I used to work for one of them!) It is not a relevant search result, and it is really misleading and annoying to rank those sites highly!
As a "searcher" I find it very frustrating to get so many directories ranked highly in the SERP's, where I just have to "search" again, and as an SEO with a legitimate site, it aggravates me to no end! Don't they realize that the directories are just making money on Google's coattails by up-charging companies to be listed higher in their respective directories? You would think Google would realize they are just taking money away from themselves by not only allowing that, but actually promoting it!!
Now I'm ranting! Thanks for your great work and insights!
 Dave said:
This is an interesting post. I'd like to see some examples of what you're talking about since though I know spam is out there and does get ranked, I'm not exactly sure that it's a huge problem. For example, I just came to your site by searching for "high rankings" since I didn't remember your exact domain and I had already deleted the email... the very first result that I got was your site. In fact it took me more time to find the exact article on your site (though I probably could have found that using Google too, but instead I just went through the menus till I found the archive of newsletters) than it did for me to find your actual site. I'd say that's pretty impressive. In fact, I'd say about 9 times out of 10 Google gives me exactly what I'm looking for. Now perhaps I'm the rare exception in that I know what keywords to enter to get what I'm really looking for.

Anyways, I don't necessarily disagree with you, just that I'd like to see more examples of what you're talking about. No matter what Google does, some people are going to "game the system" and get away with it.
 Chris said:
Jill,
I understand your frustration with Google, however, like you said "they are an advertising platform that happens to offer Internet search", and with that understanding you should realize that it is all about the $$$$ and asking them to make less $$$$ probably doesn't help. You could always use Bing the decision engine... lol
 Jill Whalen said:
@Dave, I should certainly hope that Google would get the names of company type searches right!

That's not the type of search I'm talking about though.

And I as I mentioned, the results are typically "just good enough" so unless you really dig in and start to look at how and why certain pages are ranking over others, you might not even notice that the results are not the best they could be.

@Chris, agree. That's why I don't really expect things to change. Google is an ad platform now, with search being secondary. More power to 'em.

 John Park said:
Loved your article and Thank you. This is exactly what I've been noticing with Google these past few months. Google has been screwing a lot of people with good sites out of money that they rightly deserve by catering to there own greed. I've noticed piece of junk websites and blogs on the first page with crappy SEO and no PR, while others that have good SEO have been place back. I really like Bing because they seem to give you good relevant content for the specific KW's that you are searching for.
 Phil Steele said:
Amen, Jill! Google sure is making it tempting to go over the the Dark Side of SEO by rewarding blog comment spam and the like. How long can they continue to do that without destroying their search results and whatever search credibility they have left? I guess we'll see.
 Dennis said:
I have seen this coming for about a year now. A particular client of mine was ranking very high organically - then became an "Adwords" guru. Interesting that when this client reduced or stopped his "campaign" his organic results were on page 5 or up past page 10.

I have since stopped using a lot of "Google" products due to the obvious reasons and have chosen to focus more on clean coding without the "spam farms" that are so commonly found on Google. Bing sure seems to be taking over though :-)
 Mike Kern said:
Jill, you totally rule!

I really like this article, I read your original dear Google, and knew then that I was not alone.

Your insights are top notch, I guess the billions of dollars due pose a bit of a conflict of interest.

I too have a love hate relationship with Google. Greed will fudge up any good thing, but we need people like you to be the light.

It seems Google is now trying to be what the yellow pages once were, and this will surely put them on the list of "What a great thing they could have been".

What is Google Boost - Except Adwords for Dummies? If they stuck to their original mission? ahhh
and what the hell happened to our New England Patriots? Go Celtics!
 Linda McLenithan said:
You've gotta be kidding! Right next to your article "Google Sucks" is an advertisement for Google Adwords. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Linda, as I said, "the sponsored results (ads) are highly relevant and have exactly what the searcher wants."
 Aaron Bradley said:
Google has never been a company - unlike many others - to value short- over long-term interests. To this end they have always understood, and demonstrated they have understood, the value of providing the best possible search results to their users. This is not altrusistic, it is not Google being good corporate citizens, it is simply good business practice: if they cease to deliver the best results they can to users, then they'll start to lose them.

Yes, I too have have noticed that "poor results are being talked about with more fervor outside of the search marketing industry" but these discussions invariably fail to cite any hard evidence of this supposed declined, or - indeed - what "poor results" mean. And is it just possible not that Google has decided to let more crap in (which just seems patently absurd to me), but rather that spammers have gotten smarter? That their bots, their algorithms, even their dedicated "white hat" SEO efforts have met with increasing success?

Even when Google adjusts their algorithms to fight spam, unless those efforts are wholly successful, and without any collateral damage, these adjustments are disparaged as promoting, rather than fighting spam. The Florida update that "stopped showing many perfectly good websites" also stopped showing a much greater number of perfectly crappy and useless websites.

That Google is deliberately making their results worse to send users to AdSense-rich sites, again, dismisses the role of these sites in trying to attract these queries in the first place, often with substantial investment in not only SEO techniques but new technologies (such as Demand Media's algorithmic approach to optimization).

Finally, I would point out that Google continues to be a leader in semantic web technologies that increasingly make it unnecessary for users to visit webpages, or at least be able to make a base assessment of what those pages are about directly in the SERPs (basically the drive behind rich snippets). I find it amusing that many of the same SEOs that were agast at Google's acquisition of MetaWeb - because this further enabled display of answers directly in search snippets without site visits being necessary - are among those now whining because Google is seemingly now deliberately promoting spam to force user visits to sites sodden with Google advertisements.

Again, it is not in Google's best interests to be anything but the best search engine on the market. I believe they pay real service, rather than lip service, to the two pillars of their corporate philosophy "Focus on the user and all else will follow" and "It’s best to do one thing really, really well," because they understand that that's where their bread is buttered. That's the impetus too, behind continued free listings - and indeed enchancements to - Google Merchant Center, despite the basic failure of Google Checkout as a tag-along monetization pathway. They want users to be able to get that product information in their SERPs. Not so with the less-enlightened Microsoft, that has perpetually tried to tie MSN/Live/Bing product listings to convoluted monetization pathways rather than look to users needs - and they've certainly paid the price for that with failure after failure.

I've seen no viable evidence that Google has a hand-edited or algorithmic bias towards poor quality sites because they somehow make more by doing so. It's certainly data I'd like to see.
 Kent Allen said:
I could not agree more with this article. I've had conversations with other SEOs who are pretty much of the belief that the advertising side of Google is pretty much the only beneficiary of the way Google's results have shifted over the last several months / year. As a searcher I am torn... I sometimes see value in the results, but more recently I am finding that the organic results are so hidden by paid and local, that when I get to actual organic, I am not incredibly pleased with the results.

My question... why are the comment spam links getting approved? I've surely dropped a link or two in comments before, but am very much of the opinion that my comments are well thought out and "deserve" to be approved. When I see comments with spam on any site that I have admin access on, I delete immediately. Am I just "old-fashioned" in taking that approach?

Despite not always agreeing with your point of view, your "SEO" newsletter is pretty much the only that I read everytime I see it in the inbox. Very thought provoking for sure.
 Kuul said:
It may be a slow one but a downfall is a downfall, it happens to all companies that get too big for their own britches.

It gets to the point where you get so many people trying to keep their spectacular jobs that they will make up anything.... and then call it creativity.

I think Bill Gates has sent over infiltrators into the Google ranks to water them down.
 Eddie said:
Welcome to the World Jill. Yes, money sucks!
When in business hands.

Google is a business, not an academic institution. And like everything else on the market, they use their big cash to make more cash. Much more. So you either play dirty by their rules, or look for some sterile job somewhere else.

Frustrating? Definitely. But I don't think there is anything we can do about it.
My advice - don't ruin your reputation and own business with these useless wars. Get back into the dirty waters and swim with everybody else.
 spammy textlink cos Jill Whalen Rocks said:

Great post, lets all spam Google into it senses!

 

 

[changed your spammy text link to point to google - Jill]


 Justin Woodcock said:
Keep talking to Matt Jill, and maybe one day he'll have enough money and be sufficiently fed up with G to set up a proper search engine ;) ! I guess the questions are :

Could a new search engine, unowned by huge corporations, ever compete just by offering "good search" ?

How would such a search engine pay for itself ?

And if it did pay for itself, how long would it last before it became corporate / sucky ?

Or more likely, how much of the market is Google willing to lose to Bing before it straightens itself out ?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Eddie, I agree. Business is business and I don't think there's anything we can do about it.

That said, I refuse to go into the dirty waters to swim. Never have, never will.

@Justin, I did have a few tweets with Matt last night / this morning. He said that "Everyone in Google's search quality team knows that best choices are the long-term ones that engender user loyalty not short-term revenue."

To which I replied: "I have no doubt that the search quality team at Google knows that," and then asked, "Are their hands being tied then?"

Because that would go along with my whole theory. His team has to know how to fix things, but must not be allowed to do all that they want. What else could explain it? (Maybe they're just not smarter than the spammers?)
 Doug said:
Nice post Jill...New to your blog and I'm impressed. Not sure if someone else beat me to this comment, but Google is now all about the money. Forget good search results and not being evil. Their day of reckoning is coming, not sure when but it will. Oh, and where can I insert that link again? Here? Thanks for a nice read.
 Maria said:
Let me start by saying that I am all for productive criticism. This post, however, is more of a rant, an exercise of letting off steam, rather than anything else. So I am sorry, this is not helpful. I would love to hear what you think about how Google should be handling their SERPs instead.

Being a Googler, I am most certainly biased in my opinion. Yet many SEOs keep forgetting that Google is a business, and the fact that it is constantly accused of "being about the money" is plain dumb. C'mon, it is a for-profit org and it costs a lot to be Google. And, as a business, you have to be profitable to stay in the game.

And all of the SEOs out there: where would you be getting your paychecks if there wasn't a Google? As a business, we created the industry and it is our technology that keeps so many people happily employed.

Lastly, we do not force users to come to Google. You are free to use any other engine or use none at all. It is solely up to you. But if you do use Google, please have some respect. We do not say all SEOs suck because they get paid for their work - and we reserve the right to be respected.
 Ken Jansen said:
Hi Jill,

I share your frustration. I am an enthusiast in the SEO field. It and extremely challenging competition. The sites with a lot of link farm links do seem to be the ones that are ranking higher than me for certain keywords, I can't say for sure that is the only reason, but it is true for 100% of the competitors ranking ahead of me for similar, non-nationwide, sites.

@Maria, I agree with your points as well. Google should be making money just like any business. I think Jill's point was more of a desire for Google to continue being great at what they are known for - great search results and innovation. I think the frustration is the fear of Google becoming the company that kills the golden goose (great search results) by beating the goose for more eggs and faster. I would just ignore anyone who thinks Google can exist on no money no profit and still expect to hire top talent.

Hopefully Jill will correct me if I got the sentiment wrong.

Thank you.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Maria with those remarks, I'd be extremely surprised if you do indeed work for Google (I'll load up my log files to check and get back to you on that). But, forgetting that for a moment, you said:
Let me start by saying that I am all for productive criticism. This post, however, is more of a rant, an exercise of letting off steam, rather than anything else. So I am sorry, this is not helpful. I would love to hear what you think about how Google should be handling their SERPs instead.
I did that already. You must have missed the Dear Google post and the link to it in this article.
C'mon, it is a for-profit org and it costs a lot to be Google. And, as a business, you have to be profitable to stay in the game.

I know. I said that. Which is why I'm not surprised that the results are the way they are. It is really an ingenious plan.
And all of the SEOs out there: where would you be getting your paychecks if there wasn't a Google?

Well certainly there would be other search engines, so yes.
Lastly, we do not force users to come to Google. You are free to use any other engine or use none at all.

Agree. But since that's where the users are, business websites have to be there. Making my theory hold even more water, since they almost have to buy adwords or spam to get there.

And for the record, I have started to try out Bing this week as well. So far, so good. But I haven't started analyzing how most pages get to the top there. I imagine I'll be seeing similar problems as I see with Google once I do.

As I said, Google is "just relevant enough" that the average searcher probably doesn't even notice that they're getting weird stuff. They likely blame their own poor searching skills like we used to have to do before Google.
 Bob said:
no hard proofs, just speculation and thoughts not backed by any data or statistics. Maybe your next article will be how faccebook is better ? so you are jealous that google is making more money ? I would like to know if you have any data about how google is returning poorer results than the past. Maybe you are just bored of google.
 Jill Whalen said:
Yeah Bob, that's it, I'm jealous and bored. Thanks for your helpful comment.
 jimbeetle said:
Thanks Maria from, erm, Google, now my keyboard that has to be dried out.

As an SEO, I guess if there weren't a Google I'd be getting my paychecks from the same folks as I did before Google, the ones who wanted to rank on Alta Vista, AskJeeves, Excite, Inktomi, HotBot, Magellan, Northern Light (my fave). You know, those and the other SEs that created the search industry. Believe it or not, there was life before Google.

Thank you, Jill, for a place to go for a needed afternoon's laugh.
 Jill Whalen said:
@jimbeetle those were the days, eh? It was much more fun to have lots of engines to worry about. Having just one takes a lot of the enjoyment out of SEO, indeed.
 Bob said:
sorry to be harsh, but google search is probably the most complicated technology in the entire tech industry, so when you say search has degraded, you need to present proofs or stats or something concrete to justify your thoughts. Even if search results are degrading for you personally, that still does not make a trend. Google cannot really hope to provide the perfect answer to all their 1 billion plus users, it is statistically impossible. Also Google cannot really afford to piss off their consumers as there is no stickiness to their service, so if their search share is increasing, that means they are doing something right. Consumers are not fools to stick around with a service that returns irrelevant results. And consumers would probably stop using search engines all together if google does not return relevant results. Because nothing else comes close to google search especially the hyped up bing with such a poor name. Microsoft hates google so much that they have named it as because its not google, so damn childish.
All I see on the internet are a bunch of articles written by bored technorati like Vivek Wadhwa, Anil Dash and the instapaper developer and everybody is just recycling the same thoughts even Paul Krugman(although to be honest to him, he did say he was writing hisarticle based on certain recent articles which propose that google is failing). And Vivek and Anil and Instapaper developer actually cross reference each other in their articles.
 Jill Whalen said:

Bob said:

Consumers are not fools to stick around with a service that returns irrelevant results.
Agree. That's why I said that it's not that the results are irrelevant. They're just relevant enough.What I question more than relevance is how the sites got to be where they are.

 

And I do have proof. I tweeted to Matt Cutts a few weeks ago some pages of comment spam where some of the comments were clearly helping some of the sites  mentioned to rank well.

 

I have lots of other proof such as that, but I don't choose to make it public at the moment.


 Bob said:
Sure it would be great for other companies to provide tough fight to google, but other companies are not even trying to keep up with google. Bing is pathetic, Facebook does not believe in search and Apple is too bored I think as they are making massive amounts of money from their iDevices, yahoo is beyond crappy. Blekko and duckduckgo are cute, but nothing beyond that. Bing is so pathetic that it believes adding image backgrounds to their home page, makes a difference to end users searching for stuff. Unfortunately google has got a vice-like grip on search. So unless people stop searching and rely more on facebook/twitter/apple appstore apps, nothing looks likely to beat google.
 Bob said:
if people searching for stuff on web goes down, your SEO industry will go down too and so you are better off if google succeeds in all their endeavours to keep web open and thriving
 Jill Whalen said:
Bob, honestly, I don't care if my industry goes down. I'm as sick of it as I am of Google.
 Jill Whalen said:
Update on "Maria." If I'm reading my log files correctly, it does appear that the Maria commenter above was commenting from a Google IP. Interesting.
 Sarah said:
I wonder if Bob is an internet marketer who uses exact match domains and anchor text comment spam to promote his sites :-)
 Jill said:
@Sarah...hmmm
 Jill Whalen said:
Okay, you guys want examples of what bugs me?

Here's one. Check out this page:
http://ospace.otis.edu/haley_robinson/hello_world1/comments/viewall?moduleinstid=111136&viewall

Looks innocuous enough on the surface, right?

But head down the bottom right with the gray link to "Show Comments and Tags." Click that and now you see a shitload of comment spam. Okay no biggie right? Surely Google wouldn't pay any attention to that obvious spam.

So now do a search for some of the keyword phrases in the comment anchor text. If you're like me, you'll be surprised at how many of the ones you check the pages they're promoting rank on the first or second page in Google. And we're talking about some very competitive phrases.

Do I think that this one page of comment spam has helped those sites to rank? Of course not. But if they're doing on this page, you can bet they're doing it on thousands (if not tens of thousands) more pages.

It's likely that many of the pages are created by text link promotional companies themselves. Certainly not all. There are tons of these types of pages that were created honestly, but got abandoned by their owners.

How much would it hurt the relevancy of Google's search results to simply stop counting any comment link at all? It couldn't hurt anymore than them counting them.

It's not just Google. The same pages are ranking well in Bing also. But that is something I would expect. I don't expect it from Google as I've held them to much high standards (in the past). And thus the rantings.
 Adam said:
First thing is first: I agree, Google's search results are often crap. I've ran many SEO-focused tests with some experimental domains to see just how far you can take it. I'm very amused at how easy it can be to game Google for top results, and how quickly this can be achieved with some know-how.

I do remember the alternative, though... something everyone complained about before these updates: Google consistently ranking the same 50 or so domains in the Top 10 for every keyword under the sun. The Web then accused them of giving preferential treatment of the "big guys" while crapping on the "little guys". They were accused of doing this out of laziness and/or because of corporate crony-ism since the commercial sites were supplying the bulk of their ad budgets, as if some sort of conspiracy. Wikipedia, About, Amazon, Target, WebMD and others all getting top positions.

As far as I can tell, the constants with Google are:

1) Google has, and probably will always be accused of making every decision based solely on financial outcome. And maybe they do, maybe they don't. I don't sit in the meetings.

2) Google has and probably will always be accused of providing crappy search results.

3) As long as the Google brand reigns over Search, people will always be trying to get to the top using any means necessary to ride this huge wave of money, using whatever crap content they want to throw onto the Web.

There's no easy solution to any these things, and as the Search "juggernaught" Google will always be accused of doing something. And so it goes.
 Al said:
Jill,

If you can't beat em, join 'em. Shop for new cars

Google has been sellling out for quite a while unfortunately. I'd thought you'd appreciate the humor in the blog comment link attempt.
 Sad said:
Couldn't agree more
 Ryan Young said:
Great article, many of my clients have wanted to say away from paying for google advertisements, but with the searches coming up the way they are, its either pay or get left behind. It is sad, I know that has a company you need to make money, but give us the best search results and allow us to make money, in the long run the seo people out there can help make google money in the long run.

I also agree with the fact that they are making harder and harder for those that practice everything in the right way to compete with those that are just out there not only spamming comments, but also the very forums that most of us used to love and use on a daily basis. Hopefully soon things will change, but with the changes with google places, I am not sure that this will be the case.

keep up the excellent work, and thanks for the insight.
 David said:
I think this is a 'sad, but true' situation. However, it is one that Google has full control over. As Jill rightly pointed, all that's required is some manual intervention to discount links from blog comments and forum posts; that would go some way to redress the siutation.
 Sarah said:
http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/google-search-and-search-engine-spam.html
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks for the link, Sarah!

There's a good link in there to a spam reporting Chrome extension as well.

I've decided to give up my stance on NOT reporting spam. I always felt it was Google's job and not mine, but since they can't seem to do it, I guess I'll try to help.

I still don't think it's my job as it's so easy to spot, but we'll see what happens.
 Gary Stock said:
Jill,

A very interesting and intuitive notion. I sense your frustration may derive less from Google's internals (though they do seem to have changed for the worse) and more from the disrespect it implies for your own work. That is, if all SEO focused on legitimate methods and materials -- as I've observed you do for over fifteen years -- I suspect Google would "function" much better, and be far less frustrating for everyone.

I'm also tempted to cite Hanlon's Razor: "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." It's not ~necessary~ to presume any overarching or nefarious plan in place internally to alter Google's function or business model. Corporations are fully able to bollix themselves ~utterly~, without anyone at the top understanding why.

I know you consult with businesses of all sizes, but it seems you've headed up a manageable, focused ensemble most of your professional career. In such environments, everyone can be made aware of what's wrong; it's possible to focus on fixing problems. I prefer to work in similar groups, but I did spend several years at NSA, and more at The Upjohn Company (pharmaceuticals). Believe me, organizations of that size (thousands of employees, like Google) waste ~enormous~ volumes of talent, dedication, and goodwill among their best employees simply through "management" that conflicts with the quality mission.

NSA and Upjohn served two of the most critical functions in any society -- to protect national security, and to produce medicines. In both cases, my job was to solve complex puzzles, and innovate quality and performance tools to replicate my solutions. In both cases, I eventually chose to leave work that I loved, largely because entrenched bureaucracies literally ~prevented~ the best work from being done. Management resisted doing what their real ~producers~ knew needed to be done.

It is possible -- not certain, merely possible -- that Google has now grown far enough, and become layered enough, that it is no longer ~capable~ of doing real quality work. I consider it axiomatic that as an organization adds MBA's to staff, the quality of its output declines. In my experience, the primary effect of having a "management class" is to undermine or prevent practical steps toward the organization's real mission. That axiom may be in play here -- and I wouldn't expect Matt or anyone else inside to be blogging about it! lolz

Personally, I think Google jumped the shark about three years ago. But... that's another post ;-)
 jonathan scott said:
I think Google is out of control.
By that I mean that searches have slipped from the searcher's control and into Google's.
For some time I have been filling in the forms under 'Give Us Feedback' and my main moan has been the dreaded 'Showing results for' message. I have been forced into using more and more search operators to get a chance of having results returned which I feel are relevant.
But it gets worse. Google is now frequently ignoring operators. It varies from Google site to Google site, but if you have an asparagus site and expect people to search for 'British spears', even an exact phrase of "British spears" will return in first postion a video of Britney - without even 'Showing results for' displayed.
An example from this morning? If you enter 'state registered clinical scientist' as a broad phrase wouldn't you expect that query to be matched as an exact phrase in the SERPs? In fact if you are even more specific and ask for an exact match on "state registered", what do you get?
'Showing results for state registered clinical scientist. Search instead for "state registered" clinical scientist.'
And not one page on the first page of results related to a 'state registered clinical scientist'.
So, Jill, I don't think it is just the spammy stuff. Can we start a Wall of Shame for the most irrelevant results? We could include examples where the number one result is a blank page with zero content - but the domain name matches the search query.
Should the Webmaster Guidelines now be burned? Although we are advised to
"Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it", it seems Google will ignore the words anyway.
(This comment was generated by AutoBlogCommenter, check it out at http://URLdeleted :-)
 Jill Whalen said:
@Jonathan, you said:
"Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it", it seems Google will ignore the words anyway.


Agree. And that bothers me immensely as well. They've gone towards not trusting page content at all to trusting anchor text way too much.

I would think (and I'm certainly no search engineer) that using on page content as a signal and using links as a signal (but not anchor text) would be the best balance and provide the best sites.

And @Gary, thanks for your insightful and thoughtful remarks. I agree with you as well.
 Jeff Ferguson said:
Hi
Although I've noticed the prevalence of Directories in Google SERP's' pages and agree with everything you and many others have said. I have another issue with Google to complain about.
My business is in the sales and repairing of domestic machines (washing machines etc).

My site actually does very well in the SERP's result pages, in the top 5 of all me top keyphrases. Surrounded by directories funnily enough. Mainly due to the fact that I'm aiming within a very geographically small area ie the County(UK) and the towns that I work in. So the my keyphrases are not particularly competitive.

However, I have one competitor whose website is so stuffed with keywords I swear the home page covers the length of a good 4 or 5 A4 size pages masked by the fact that his background colour is black. But there he is no1 in SERP's, admittedly in only one particular keyphrase and admittedly my site is just behind him in position 2, but its the principle of the thing. Why, with all the algorithms, 200 or more so I told, that Google has to weed out sites that cheat they don't appear to be able to cope with such basic keyword stuffing as this.

Sorry Jill I,m ranting just like you, although slightly different topic. It won't make any difference but, hey, its good to get it of your chest.

Regards Jeff
 Jill Whalen said:
@Jeff, I haven't really noticed keyword stuffing as being so much of a problem anymore. In fact, it almost seems like the words on the page barely matter at all.

I would guess that the page you're talking about likely has tons of links pointing to it. But if it's not a very competitive phrase than there is just likely not many others to show, so they show that.

Don't forget, just because you see your site being under that one in the SERP doesn't mean everyone does. The results are mostly all personalized these days and not the same for any two browsers.
 OEE said:
You are absolutely right about Google search results. I think anyone who works in internet marketing understands where you are coming from, I certainly do.

We are all creatures of habit and tend to go to Google first but there are alternatives. Only a couple of days Yahoo triumphed over Google when I was doing an obscure search.

The problem I find is that people who aren't internet marketers don't understand when you suggest that Google sucks - they just don't get it yet.

Ultimately there needs to be a step change in search for users to switch from Google. Personally I think search has evolved very little. It's still they same little text entry box and page of 10 results that it was a decade ago.
 Michael said:
Google is crap, but the biggest reason is the new map stuff. It supports your they are just an ad site theory. Pretty soon everything above the fold will be Ad words or tags and since the results themselves often aren't great, it just causes people to click on the ads more.

Search Los Angeles workers compensation lawyers. The map is crap and given how big that city is and how many thousands of lawyers there are, the map is irrelevant. They have listings like City of Los Angeles in there. Same thing for Chicago criminal lawyers. The people that ranks well are the ones that have spam in their feedback.

I'm really surprised that more people haven't railed against how terrible the map looks. If you are looking for a specifc place like Home Depot or In and Out Burger, it makes a lot of sense. But when searching for a doctor, lawyer, Mexican restaurant, etc, especially in a big city, it makes Google look terrible.

I'm surprised how few people have railed against this. I often find myself having to go to page two to find what I want since there are so few organic results on page one. I'm all for staying ahead of the game and all, but the changes at Google seem to me to be comparable to the New Coke disaster 30 years ago.
 William Charlton said:
Jill, I like your thinking. Not too far off from my usual satirical mindset regarding the business intent of our prevalent search engine. (Ich hasse dich du ruiniert mein Leben!) What I learned back in 2004 when I entered this business of SEM and SEO has come full circle and I find myself using tricks again to help clients achieve "high rankings", rather than concentrating on providing a service which give value to both my clients and the web community at large.

Indeed, you are 100% right when you state that "spammy anchor text rules the SERPs. It does. And it does it so well, that you can load a pile of junk onto the web and within weeks, rule top positioning for very competitive keywords by using the SAME EXACT tricks I learned over 6 years ago. Automated, yes, but still the same old stuff that we have been fooled into thinking the search engines can "figure out". Well, guess what? The web is too big for any kind of effective policing to happen.

I have always thought, "what are the limits to the storage farms used by the data centers around the world?" There is always the law of diminishing returns and I truly believe that at some point it will become impossible to index everything that is on the web. This goes hand-in-hand with trying to filter the good from the bad. Right now, with current technology, it cannot be done effectively. Maybe it's an issue of relevance vs. profits? I would hate to think this, but greed is a very powerful motivator.

It depresses me to think that the skills that I have worked hard to develop and put to use are sidestepped now for the ultimate goal of short-term gain. My professional worth now comes to the point of providing top page positioning on Google, rather than producing a high quality product that I can be proud of.
 Jill Whalen said:
Yep. That sums it up nicely, William.
 Keith said:
Google search is really out of line. When I search "IRS audit help" the IRS does not even make the list until spot 8. The new changes are forcing me to migrate to Bing and Yahoo.

I have a tax article several IRS offices use as part of their audit guide and I don't make the list at all. Google must want their search results to be a random list of junk.
 Gina Boyston said:
Google bites a big one!!
 Anonymous said:
It is time for a non profit or academic institution to create a non bias search engine for research purposes and just to preserve net neutrality. Maybe it would be a good idea to start a contest which university can create the best search engine. They have the money and resources and the students and phd candidates would be very excited about it. This is good topic for research as well. I'm surprised that there are no more projects and studies related to this.
 Jack Yan said:
It’s rare to find someone making sense when it comes to Google’s shortcomings—Jill, bravo!

Last year I tried a pretty obscure term, for a topic that I knew we had covered, and no one else did. Rival search engines, e.g. Duck Duck Go, Bing and Ask, found it on the first page. Google stuck it at 73rd. That meant 72 totally irrelevant results. So much for this popular idea that Google can figure out concepts when you type them in.

Whenever I ask a difficult question at Google, they clam up, with the exception of a few good product managers (e.g. Rick Klau, Chang Kim). It makes me think they have something to hide if they fail to be transparent—and my questions are always very simple ones (e.g. why does Google Dashboard report I have one Blogger blog when I have none?). I’ve found problems with Blogger, Ads Preferences Manager (confirmed by the NAI), Google Dashboard, Buzz and other services they’ve introduced, many of which I’ve documented on my blog. If they are messing up search as well, then Google has jumped the shark.

Remember, people still watched Happy Days for years after Fonzie jumped the shark. So a lot of people will remain fooled by Google for a long time to come.
 Tim Tracy said:
As a business owner and someone that has a degree in Internet Marketing and Advertising as well as 6 years advanced experience in SEO I can honestly say that GOOGLE SUCKS and is riddled with deceptive trade practices geared toward stealing money from inexperienced small business owners via adwords.

@the Bob dude above - Bing and Yahoo are today and have been for several years, much better and more revelant search engines and I believe Bing will continue to gain popularity as Google continues to manipulate advertising for their wallet rather than providing a clean platform for Internet advertising.

I have not (as of yet)participated in grey or blackhat SEO in order to place well organically in google although I do have several sites that place well organically for specific keywords on Google. Google breeds black hat SEO and as long as this company has no integrity there will be no integrity from its advertisers period. Anyone that argues this fact needs to remove their head from the sand.

Yes they are just an ad site but they wouldn't be without the search engine and consumers using it as a search engine. My forecast is that if Google continues down it's current path, advertisers will switch to other search engines and consumers will follow. In fact I'm already seeing evidence of this and I'm one of the first to jump ship. I no longer enphasize my efforts toward seo for my sites around Google, refuse to, and unless they make major changes in the way they do business I never will.

Lastly, in my opinion, all the hype and data around Googles search engine market share is skewed and for the most part, rumor mill, in order to keep the followers, and by followers I mean followers literally. Any SEO or advertiser that is exhausting huge efforts to be on page one organically on Google because they believe that is the most used search engine or "where the money is" is a follower and not a leader. Googles search engine market share is prodominately determined globally and this is far from true geographically or locally. I've completed polls in my target market and I assure you Google does not own the majority market share in my area. Furthermore, many people, without being asked mind you, commented on the decline of relevant results when searching via Google. Some indicated they are currently searching with both Bing and Google, Bing first, and comparing the results.

So go ahead Google, get in the mobile electronics business, the social media business, and yes, hopefully they will get in the drive in fast food business, and get the heck out of the search engine business because at the end of the day, THEY SUCK!
 Ken Jansen said:
@Tim - wow - tell us how you really feel. :)
Strong words about deceptive trade practices at Google, but I understand what you are saying. Perhaps a way to convince small business owners about what search engine is conveying the best ROI for them money is to show which search engine is converting the most and or best. So that google might show up as sending 1000 clicks, bing might send 250 but Bing, having provided better results converts at 10% and google at 1%. Yes I just made those numbers up, but I think they make my point on how one could talk to a customer about it.

Thanks.
 Dave said:
Perhaps what might really work is a march on goggle similar to marches on Washington DC. We piss and moan on the net but they don't care. What if 10,000 people showed up to Googles front door and brought news media with them?
 Gary Sellars said:
Please don't stop complaining about Google.

I never made a mental note when I started using Google, but it was before it was well known, having heard about it from Fred Langa and was instantly awed.

For some time I told everyone that Google was the greatest thing on the Internet because instant links to useful information is powerfully beneficial.

I remember when one could search for "natural remedy for ... " and GET the natural remedy! It's impossible to do on Google today. This is criminal.

I was off the Internet for two full years and returned over two years ago and immediately upon my return I was aghast at how much Google sucks. Spammers, crooks, thieves and liars are the top returns on so many searches. IT SUCKS!

I hope you are able to shame them so badly they loose 80% of their stock price.

How EVIL to build a great search engine so that after you become the de facto standard, you use that power to lead people astray so that you can make pennies from that misleading. They ought to go to prison.

From "Google is the greatest thing on the Internet!" to "I despise Google."

You may quote me.
 Brigid said:
Found this page and I'm glad to know it's not just me! As a writer/researcher, I've been using Google since early 1998. It was so much better than Alta Vista it blew me away. It was of great assistance in helping me provide evidence for fellow writers whose works had been plagiarized, cases which ended up in the hands of lawyers. But after about 2002 I began to note Google's downhill slide in this respect. Often it would not even locate pages that I KNEW existed because I had them in my bookmarks -- but had been too lazy to sort through my bookmarks to find. Things just got worse, and it became terribly frustrating to use in my line of work.

I don't have any hope that Google will change back to its previous "terrific" state, and am wishing another company would start up to compete with them.
 Guns and Ammo said:
Unfortunately, there is little choice in the matter. Google is simply too well entrenched in the market and can do anything they want because the vast majority of internet users "google" it. How do we inform the general public to stop using google all together and switch to other services?
 Richard said:
Google has single handedly ruined my business. In 2006, we ranked on page one for our most important key word search and were doing great. Enough so, that my wife and I quit our "regular" jobs to concentrate on our internet business. Well it is now 6 years later and we don't rank anywhere on Google anymore. Not just for one key word, but for a lot of our keywords. We have been replaced by either phony websites, articles, pinterest postings and news stories or companies such as Kohl's ,Target, Sears, Old Navy, etc. They even changed their product search from free to pay per click, just like their adwords. Nothing is "organic" anymore about Google. They are in bed with big business and just out to make money for Google. They will kill small business and ruin people's life. Please, will someone start a new search engine that can compete with Google. They are a monopoly and only out for themselves. I urge everyone to stop using Google. They are evil!!!
 Bob Lee said:
Almost one year later and Google search results are proving your statement, "My theory was that if Google could make the main search results "just relevant enough," but not quite provide what the searcher was looking for, the searcher would be more likely to click the sponsored results (ads) that are highly relevant and have exactly what the searcher wants. The searcher is happy, and Google makes money."
 Jill Whalen said:
@Bob, it's actually nearly 2 years later and I completely disagree. Google has substantially cleaned up their act and their search results thanks to their Panda and Penguin algorithms, IMO.