6 Potential Issues With Google Search Today?
There's a bombshell piece in The Wall Street Journal today alleging that Google actively tinkers with search results contrary to years of the company claiming it does no such thing. Are the issues the article presents true? If so, does it matter?
First, why Google search matters for just about every business that creates content for the web. Google is a search behemoth. It dominates search. Of all web queries, 90% go through Google. There's a reason that for years people have joked that Bing stands for, "But it's not Google."
Here's a visual to understand what Google's share of internet search traffic looks like.
Let's take the six issues from the WSJ article, and consider each in turn.
Potential Search Engine Issue #1:
Google favors big businesses over small businesses in search
It could be that Google puts its thumb on the scale in favor of large businesses over small businesses but it could just as easily be the case that large businesses have a few things going for them, vis-à-vis Google's algorithms, that small businesses don't. The first is pretty obvious, SIZE. Large businesses by definition have more revenue, and often more people working for them and more customers going to them, than small businesses. It's not terribly surprising that a large business would get more search traffic than a small business because it has a larger audience of customers and potential customers searching for its products and services. There's also a good chance that a large business owns more branded keywords than a small business. If you're searching for "coca cola," there's only one country in America that makes Coca-Cola and that's Coke. The other thing large businesses have in their favor over small businesses is similar to size and that is GRAVITY. Search engine rankings take into account the number of sites that link to your site. If you are a large business with lots of customers and lots of employees, there's a higher liklihood of having people you don't know link to your site rather than another site. Large businesses are more well known, if not more trusted, than small businesses. Sorry WSJ, this isn't that surprising.
Potential Search Engine Issue #2:
Google engineers frequently make behind the scenes adjustments to knowledge panels and featured snippets
Not much of a surprise here. As the article acknowledges, "'knowledge panels' and 'featured snippets,'...aren’t subject to the same company policies limiting what engineers can remove or change." Put simply, Google considers these boxes as bonus features to provide better information to search queries rather than fundamental features of the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). As a company that spends a fair amount of time with computer-aided automation, we can't really fault Google for keeping humans in the loop while trying to deliver a better customer experience.
Potential Search Engine Issue #3:
Google blacklists some sites
Anyone involved in Search Engine Optimization in the past five years knows that Google demotes spammy sites. This is why we emphasize the importance of avoiding "black hat" SEO practices that can give your website a quick boost in search rankings but will probably do damage to your long-term search rankings. Generating a bunch of backlinks from low-quality or untrustworthy sites is a surefire way to lower your domain authority.
Potential Search Engine Issue #4:
Google filters out inflammatory search phrases from auto-complete
Google is a commercial company, not a nonprofit operating at a loss for the public's benefit. The article doesn't say whether inflammatory phrases that don't appear in auto-complete also don't appear in search results. In our mind, that would be more damning. We'll call this one a toss-up and do a little digging to see what we find. Stay tuned for a follow-up post.
Potential Search Engine Issue #5:
Executives at Google disagree on how much to intervene in search results
Now we're confused. Is the issue at hand that Google does intervene in search results or that it intervenes in search results too much? Either way, we're not really surprised that executives at a gigantic company have disagreements over day to day operations. We've actually gotten in a fight about how many cups of coffee grounds go in the coffee maker. People argue. About everything.
Potential Search Engine Issue #6:
Google hires thousands of low-paid contractors to assess the quality of the algorithms' ranking
Would there be an issue if it hired thousands of highly-paid contractors to assess the quality of the algorithms' ranking? Maybe, maybe not. Again, having spent a lot of time with internet marketing, we can say with confidence there's nothing wrong with having humans in the loop to perform frequent quality checks. Low-paid is relative to location. For the Bay Area, everyone at Reynolds Marketing lives well below the median income for people working in digital marketing. In Kansas City? We're doing alright.
Bottom line. Google has an outsize place in the world of search. Ninety-percent of market share is a LOT of market share. As they say in Japan, "the nail that sticks out get hammered," and Google sticks out 80% more than everyone else. Having said that, this article is as much of a bombshell as it first appears. Google has arguably done more than any other entity in human history to generate nearly free access to humanity's information. We're willing to cut them a little slack.