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As consumers, techies and the media trade some of their infatuation with Google for the latest crop of super-hot web upstarts like Facebook, the world's most dominant search engine is finding that more and more people are pointing out its flaws.
The quality of Google's SERPs have increasingly come under question, with some complaining that Google isn't doing enough to weed out web spam and low-quality content that ranks well but doesn't offer consumers much value. I am one of those who have been highly critical of Google's capabilities in these areas.
Since Google launched Instant, there have been numerous claims that Instant has a bias towards brands. In October, for instance, Siddharth Shah of Efficient Frontier Insights observed that "of the 26 letters in the alphabet, 21 have brands as the first suggestions."
Based on this, he suggested that Google Instant is "going to make brand key words more expensive, increase impression volumes by 30% - 40%."
Last Friday, the New York Times detailed the antics of a gentleman who may be a contender for the web's most unscrupulous merchant. Unlike other unscrupulous merchants, including the lazy, the flaky and the scammy, "Mr. B" has taken great pride in his unsavory -- and potentially criminal -- treatment of customers.
Many of the responses to the New York Times piece have centered on Google's role in Mr. B's online business, which sells eyewear online. That's because Mr. B worked his site up the rankings by taking advantage of the fact that many of the complaints being posted about his business online were generating valuable backlinks despite the fact that these backlinks, of course, were not really positive signals.
Google's dominance in search stems from a lot of things. One of the biggest contributors to that dominance is the perception that Google's algorithm is capable of delivering relevant, high-quality results. Those results, Google has repeatedly told the world, are as objective and unbiased as is possible.
But is that really true? According to Harvard Business School assistant professor Ben Edelman, the answer is 'no'.
Google loves brands. Google's Vince update was referred to by many as 'the brand update' because major brands seemed to benefit most from it.
That Google would seek ways to incorporate 'brand equity' into its algorithm is not entirely surprising. After all, in many cases, there's an argument to be made that the websites of recognized brands are more likely to offer Google's users what they're searching for when it comes to particular queries.
Many SEOs make a lot of claims. Some, of course, are entirely legitimate. And others fall under the snake oil category.
But here's a claim you probably haven't yet come across: "I have read and understand Google's Webmaster Guidelines." Interestingly, however, this basic claim might be something you should look for.
Google Instant certainly ranks as one of the biggest user experience changes Google has implemented since it launched Google search more than a decade ago. And for that reason, it has attracted a lot of press attention, and sparked a significant amount of conversation among search experts.
But is Google Instant really little more than a convenient distraction that masks Google's flaws? Some are essentially arguing just that.
The "boisterous doodle" on the Google homepage is excited about the week
ahead, and the week ahead starts with a Google search event at the
Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco later today.
What's on the agenda? Google isn't saying much. The company has told invitees that it's an event "you won’t want to miss" and indicated that it will be sharing its "latest technological innovation" and an "inside look at the evolution of search."
Social media and Web 2.0 (a term that, incidentally, we don't hear much of anymore) were supposed to make the internet a more democratic place. On today's internet, just about everybody has a printing press, and the little guy has equal opportunity to distribute a message. The best, we're often told, will rise to the top.
Of course, anyone who is involved with user-generated content and the popular web services through which user-generated content is shared and promoted, eventually learns that the internet isn't as democratic as it's supposed to be.
The data collected on Twitter may create interesting new opportunities for search engines, and that's why the major search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Bing, have done deals to gain access to Twitter's firehose.
But applying Twitter data to search in a meaningful way has proven to be a bit tough. Although there's the potential to use Twitter data as a signal for traditional SERPs, or to display 'real-time' results within the SERPS, search engines are also interested in providing consumers with search experiences explicitly built around real-time information.
Many expect that search engines will eventually incorporate signals from the realm of social media into the SERPs. There's good reason to believe this: both Google and Microsoft have, for instance, already signed deals with Twitter to access the company's firehose.
But if Bing Social, "the first search experience" based on both the Twitter and Facebook firehoses, is any indication, social search is going to have an uphill battle.