One of the current subjects of discussion in the web marketing
community is Google's addition of the Google+ social networking
service to its tool chest of products. Google+ is of interest to web marketing, and particularly SEO practitioners
, because of Google's apparent intention to include the Google+ 'likes' directly into its organic search ranking algorithm, which will shift the search ranking results away from general internet relevancy towards a more Google proprietary relevancy. It also means that the determination of whether a website ranks well or not will directly relate to the number of people using the Google+ service, and what kind of people they are, ie, what age are they, what social background, and what they think about Google.
The sceptical amongst us might think that most people are un-discerning, and probably will just tick the terms and conditions box, without at all considering the implications of that action, and you can bet Google
is counting on this. One can then ask, who then will be deciding what search results I see, and the answer will be Google, not you. We will not know how Google skews the results in any event, and there is no watchdog to keep them in check. Further, if they do skew the results in favour of individual likes and dislikes, will this mean the results are skewed by the likes of naive and undiscerning people, and won't it then start reversing the freedom of information one can find on the internet to an ever decreasing circle of what a person knows they like? What about what they don't know, and what they don't know they don't know? Will the search results available become an ever decreasing self reflection, skimming out all information that is outside or tangential to a person's now self-reinforcing view of the world? Ultimately does this mean we get less exposure to the freedom of information that was one of the key cornerstones of the internet from the outset, and that what we get instead is a smaller and smaller view of the world, and we get this imposed on us insidiously and gradually so we don't even realise it is happening? Google presents this as an improvement, and that all they are doing is giving us the best of what we want to see, but in the end what Google is doing is putting an ever widening filter over what we see, and they are in charge of it. They also do this whilst presenting themselves as the ultimate search engine, making potentially everything out there available to us, when instead we will actually be getting more and more of a 'Google view', and judging from past behaviour, Google will do this skewing of the results in its interests, not yours, mine or ours.
There are loads of examples of Google manipulating the search results already, where the results are clearly skewed in its interests to weasel out, and subtly influence us into behaviours that generate more cash for Google, and against the interests of society and the market generally. Here are two examples of many:
- The interruption of the organic search results for generic search phrases with a large number of non-organic listings, including Google Places listings, when a local search has not been asked for by the user. Search for 'garage doors', and you'll see what we mean. The effect is to reduce the number of visible organic search results and focus attention on paid advertising (or soon to be paid for directory listings), and to make being seen on Google's first page of results that much more difficult and uncertain so that more and more business are forced to resort to expensive pay per click advertising, from which Google receives the greatest benefit. It also benefits small local business over more successful businesses spanning more than one location, going directly against the competition mechanism of the market, ie, against everyone's interests.
- The flaw in the Google algorithm that gives unwarranted ranking benefit to having a search phrase in the domain name. We have proven this 'flaw' provides the domain name with the equivalent of a PR3 rating in link popularity, one of the principal factors in determining a domain name's rank in Google's search results. We have run and measured experiments proving this is in place, and whilst to begin with several years back, we thought this was just an error (that we could take advantage of for our clients!), now our view is more that Google decided it needed to pander to big brand companies, who were spending a fortune with them on Adwords, but not having their website appear high in the search engines because basically they had been slow or lazy when it came to SEO. So we think Google decided to fiddle the algorithm, to make these big brands happy (or at least to stop the griping), and the 'flaw' with the domain name is simply a consequence of this fiddle!
So given all this, and of course there is much, much, more, what do you think? Is Google+ a good thing, and is search freedom on the internet heading down the steady slope to eventual destruction? Tell us what you think!