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An "Undifferentiated slush of results"

By - March 23, 2009

I love this piece in Ad Age if only for the way it characterizes Google’s results, at least in the eyes of a troubled traditional media world:

Major media companies are increasingly lobbying Google to elevate their expensive professional content within the search engine’s undifferentiated slush of results.

Many publishers resent the criteria Google uses to pick top results, starting with the original PageRank formula that depended on how many links a page got. But crumbling ad revenue is lending their push more urgency; this is no time to show up on the third page of Google search results. And as publishers renew efforts to sell some content online, moreover, they’re newly upset that Google’s algorithm penalizes paid content.

“You should not have a system,” one content executive said, “where those who are essentially parasites off the true producers of content benefit disproportionately.”

Where “true producers,” of course, are media companies that make packaged goods content. On the other hand, there is a point here. And the piece is worthy of the read.

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12 thoughts on “An "Undifferentiated slush of results"

  1. As I noted earlier today, Google has actually come clean and openly and transparently described how the Wisdom of the Language plays a central role in their ranking algorithm (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMfWPWUh5uU – the question posed by Monica in Wisconsin elicited a response from Matt Cutts about how Google finds “high quality” results).

    Of course if Google didn’t satisfy user expectations, then users would stop using Google — and I recall sometime a year or two ago there were tons of people on a post here at searchblog saying that one of the primary reasons people use Google is that they’re too lazy to type the dot in the domain name!

    ;D nmw

  2. Karl Foxley says:

    This is an interesting read. I’ve just opened the link to the piece on Ad Age and will get myself further informed.

    Thanks for sharing.

    Karl

  3. Maybe the newspapers should try to gain reader loyalty. I visit my chosen newspapers every day specifically, and many people I know do the same.

  4. JG says:

    Pfft. This is not about Google. And it’s also not about the Big Media companies. It’s about the users.

    I don’t fault Google for not featuring premium media content more prominently. I fault Google for not giving the users the choice and ability to explicitly personalize and customize their searching preferences, so as to choose whether or not the customer themselves wants that content featured prominently.

    If Google would only do that, then this issue would go away. It would no longer be Google vs. Big Media, but Big Media engaged directly with their customers, and Google truly as a neutral intermediary. Right now, however, Google is not neutral, because everything is ranked Google’s way, not the user’s way.

    Double pfft.

  5. imma says:

    re: customising search
    I’m surprised you don’t think this is possible, have you tried any of the searchwiki, custom search engine & ad preferences? ;-)

  6. I, too, found that story interesting though not altogether surprising.

    Of course, Big Business wants special treatment. I know I almost sound a little nutty, but I am anti-corporation– and this is just another reason.

    I’ve actually come to respect Google over the years. In many ways that few other online giants have done, it is always focused on the individual– the little guy.

    Big corporations don’t like that? Hmmm. Maybe that’s their whole trouble.

    Marige O’Brien

  7. Peter says:

    The key point here is relevance. Google made it’s name because the results it returned were more relevant.

    Who decided that the results were more relevant – well, the users of Google, i.e. all those millions of users.

    If the Google index continues to show websites that are relevant, then there is no problem.

    Relevance has always been subjective – there are always vested interests , but the voice of the many (mostly) triumph over the voice of the few.

  8. Since Google only controls about 35% of real search market share those publishers had better be looking to other search engines for traffic, too.

    Leverage their relationship with Google to help improve their Google listings makes sense but only to a certain point.

    If they are wearing Google blinders they need to remove those blinders.

  9. JG says:

    @imma: Re: customising search
    I’m surprised you don’t think this is possible, have you tried any of the searchwiki, custom search engine & ad preferences? ;-)

    Well, first of all, adblocker helps with customizing my ad preferences ;-)

    But the other two things you mention fall well short of what I’m talking about. SearchWiki, for example, basically lets you memorize preferred results. It doesn’t actually help you re-rank new results. So for example if I am a skiier, and prefer the Northstar Ski Resort over the Heavenly Ski Resort, SearchWiki helps me guarantee that the former always gets ranked at the top whenever I type the query “ski”.

    And Google custom search engine lets you memorize or pre-select certain web sites, and craft a search engine that only searches a filtered portion of the web.

    But neither of those are what I want. I want a search engine that works on queries that I’ve never done before (SearchWiki fails on those, by construction) and also works when I haven’t explicitly told it which sites to restrict the search to. In fact, the whole point isn’t to restrict my search to any sites (ala google custom search engine).

    The whole point is for me to be able to say, without having to know every single site, “Ok, Google, run this query, and show me mainstream news at the top”. And then, a minute later, for me to be able to say, “Ok, Google, run this exact same query, but this time put all the mainstream news sites at the bottom and show me what the most relevant non-mainstream news sources are saying about this exact same topic.”

    That way, I gain the ability to compare what the mainstream is saying against what the alternative press is saying.

    I want Google to give me the ability to run the search both ways, to find both the most relevant mainstream news and the most relevant non-mainstream news.

    I’m sure google could do it, if they wanted to. They’ve got the pagerank information to do machine learning/classification of mainstream and non-mainstream. It’s just a matter of giving me the interface ability to make this selection.

    Nothing about SearchWiki or Google Custom Search does this, imma. So you shouldn’t be so surprised. I stand by my earlier words, which is that this is about the users, not about Google or Big Media. To the extend that Google does not serve the users, it needs to change.

  10. Hukuk says:

    Question: “Are Google putting more weight on brands more in search results?”

    Answer: “No we don’t, we just changed something so that brands might now be appearing higher up on the list”

    - Well isn’t that what the woman was asking?

  11. mike says:

    well its all upto the future if google remained with its mission statments then it will be better for users as well as google otherwise it is well known fact that users can switch over easily to other subsitiutes and there plenty of them