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Is Google's Search plus Your World Fair?

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A guest blog post by Lorianna Sprague of Web Talent Marketing.

Are Google's Search changes unfairly putting Google+ content above other social media sites?

In October 2009, following the partnership of Bing and Twitter, Google announced a similar partnership whereby Google would include tweets in search results to serve the most up-to-the-minute results for search queries.

That agreement with Twitter came to an end in July, one month after the release of Google+, and ended Google’s real-time results in search. Bing and Twitter say they have continued their partnership as of September 2011, but there are no tweets or any sort of real-time results in Bing search today---not even for topics that are trending on Twitter. So, while they may have a partnership, it isn’t clear what they are doing with it.

With the release of Google's Search, plus Your World there is a lot of discussion about Google forcing its social network on users in an effort to push out the competition: Facebook and Twitter.

This has been reinforced by comments made by Twitter:

“For years, people have relied on Google to deliver the most relevant results anytime they wanted to find something on the Internet.

Often, they want to know more about world events and breaking news. Twitter has emerged as a vital source of this real-time information, with more than 100 million users sending 250 million tweets every day on virtually every topic. As we’ve seen time and time again, news breaks first on Twitter; as a result, Twitter accounts and Tweets are often the most relevant results.

We’re concerned that as a result of Google’s changes, finding this information will be much harder for everyone. We think that’s bad for people, publishers, news organizations and Twitter users.”

Twitter believes it is being intentionally suppressed, and that it's bad for the world.

However, in November 2011, Google released an algorithm called Freshness. The goal of Freshness was to quickly crawl the web and find up-to-the-second results for trending and news worthy topics in order to serve searchers with the most relevant and up-to-the-minute content possible. This has, in effect, gone out around Twitter---to some degree. Where a trustworthy news source may have written an article about breaking news and released it to Twitter instead of waiting for search engines to crawl their content so it could be found, now Google will find this breaking news through Freshness and serve it at the top of search results. Which areas will it miss that Twitter may be correct about? Things like Egyptian protests, and the here-and-there tweets about some major development that isn’t being covered by major news organizations? But is their fear really valid?

Let's explore.

With the violence that broke in the Middle East this past year, a lot of the news came to the United States and other nations through Twitter and other social media sites. A lot of major news organizations failed to cover the stories in a timely enough fashion for news hungry searchers, and Al Jazeera English picked the stories up and became the source of a lot of news for many people. For those who could not get televised broadcasts of Al Jazeera, mainly people in the US, they turned to the web and Al Jazeera’s social profiles, such as Facebook and Twitter. I was one of those people.

Once major news organizations realized that they were losing audience to Al Jazeera, they picked up the stories and began coverage. Al Jazeera remained the most up-to-the minute reliable source other than nationals within the countries themselves, but, at that point, it was easier to find news and information about what was happening in the Middle East. While Twitter played a launching role in these developments, I don’t see Twitter’s role as being so influential in the future. Now, Al Jazeera is on top of social media and locating breaking news, and other news organizations also have their ear on the pulse of social media. What made it possible for the tweet to be found to begin with was that the Twitter user had a network who shared, and their networks shared, and so on. This is how social media works. If something breaks on Twitter, and it matters, people will pick it up and share/retweet. Whether this trends or not, those tweets can go directly to the Twitter accounts of news organizations to alert them to the news worthy story. The same can be said of first-hand footage of the Japan earthquake and tidal wave of last spring or events in the Sandusky trial. Twitter is no longer the only way to find news and updates on these major current events.

On a side note, tweets from individuals have little ability to be proven by 140 characters alone. When pictures and video are shared, it carries more weight and is more likely that news organizations will pay attention to it. So, there is room for a tweet alone to abuse the power of tweets automatically being included in search results simply for the keywords they may contain. Tweets should be verified before they are spread to the masses via a major player like Google , whose credibility will automatically be put behind those results and can be put on the line as a result. If Google cannot crawl the links in tweets and verify the sources and weigh their credibility, then I cannot imagine Google is comfortable putting their "relevance" stamp of approval behind Tweets.

A quick disclaimer: I am uncertain of the specific limitations standing between Google and Twitter users’ status feeds.

What does this have to do with Google's Search, plus Your World? It means that Google has the searcher and its own well being in mind---not taking over the social media world and squashing Twitter through intentional suppression. Furthermore, this change isn’t mandatory. There is a button in the upper right-hand corner of the Google search screen that allows you to toggle between personalized search and un-personalized search (although, this is only relevant if you are logged into your Google account). If you are not logged in, you will automatically be served un-personalized results. This does not mean you won’t see a change in your un-personalized results, check out this article by Danny Sullivan about the change in relevance for Google search results.

I ran a test to see if Google’s new search method unfairly suppressed Facebook and Twitter results, as is being claimed by a number of people. On a test with all of the same advance search options (US-based, English results, most recent search results, etc.), I found that Google was the only one of the major three engines to include results from Tweetmeme and other sites that measure and report of Twitter trends; Facebook showed up for all three. I ran it a few more times on other topics trending in Twitter. Twitter profiles for individuals whose names were trending showed up in all of the search engines,including Google. Their Facebook profiles showed up in Google and Bing. None of the search engines showed an actual Tweet as a search result. So, if Google is suppressing Twitter, then so is Bing.

I re-ran this test again on Jan. 16, 2012, and found that for the term “tony allen,” which is trending in Twitter on that day, a tweet shows in the number two spot on both Bing and Yahoo. There are no Tweets in the Google feed. But it could be argued that the Google results are more highly relevant to the query---the tweet is fairly ambiguous. If I tailored my query in each search engine to look for “tony allen” only on site:twitter.com, Google’s results certainly leave something to be desired.


But if I changed the topic of these queries from Tony Allen to MLK (Martin Luther King), the results show something entirely different.



Google has indexed more recent Twitter status updates for the query “MLK” than either Bing or Yahoo. So, Google still seems to be the better place for up-to-the-minute, relevant search results.

Finally, Google results from Google+ were non-existent. For Google+ to be pushing Twitter and Facebook out of SERPs, it will have to increase in number, frequency, and be relevant to the topic---just like any other search results.

I believe, as I have always believed in regard to Google, that the main goal is to make each user a segment standing alone. Who you are, what you want, what you are looking for, and care about are unique to you. Google wants to give each user the most personalized and relevant online experience possible---that way they can tailor their advertising to you specifically and get the best conversions and ROI possible for its advertisers.

Lorianna Sprague is an SEO specialist with Web Talent Marketing, a growing Internet marketing company in Central Pennsylvania that servers medium to large companies nationwide.


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Comments

  • by TechPuffs Thu Jan 19, 2012 via blog

    Google+ can never take place of Facebook. If it want to be on No. 1 then it will have to improve. Such marketing gimmicks are not going to help too much.

  • by Jim Ewel Thu Jan 19, 2012 via blog

    Lorianna, do you have a Google+ account? Because I sure don't see what you see when you say that results from Google+ are non-existent. Google+ entries are being promoted way above their natural ranking. For example, if I search for Michael Porter, 2 of the 5 top ranked results are Google+ results, and one of them isn't even faintly relevant (someone else whose last name is Porter). When I remove the personalized search results or I go to Bing, I get relevant results. None of this has to do with freshness in my opinion, and has everything to do with Google promoting Google+. Whether that's legal or not is something for the courts and regulators to decide. However, I've decided to switch to Bing, as I find the results less cluttered. Yes, I know I can turn off personalized search results for that session, but that's one more step. I can't find a way to turn it off permanently.

  • by Lorianna Sprague Fri Jan 20, 2012 via blog

    Hi Jim -

    If you go to the little 'gear' symbol in the upper right hand corner of the Google search page, right next to the personalized/un-personalized results toggle icons, you can go into Search Settings, and, near the bottom of the page you can opt to turn off personalized search results for your searches. If you are logged in when you select this option, it will save for each time you make a search, but you would have to make sure you are logged in to get your specified settings.
    That aside, I am not saying that Google isn't going to place G+ results higher in rankings when you are allowing personalized results. I am saying that Google isn't unfairly suppressing Twitter, it's going more directly to verified sources for important data.
    Does Google place G+ results into rankings in a way that goes against the previous expectation that their results are the most relevant for all possible results that any person could search for? You bet. However...
    It would be difficult to argue that any two people will search for everything the same way and should, therefore, be served the same 'relevant' results.
    I look at Search, plus Your World as a way to easily find information I have previously interacted with online, that I want to find again. Because Google can personalize my results, and because it is creating a space (Google+) for me to include personal interactions, I now have a way to find an article someone I am linked to via G+ posted in the past, or to see what my connections are saying that is relevant to my search query.
    Since I am an SEO, if I do a search about something going on with Google, or developments in the industry, I have the potential to connect with a post from Matt Cutts, Will Critchlow, or Rand Fishkin or any of a number of experts in my industry who may have posted a link to an article, but also included their points of view in the post. That matters to me. I want to know what my peers are saying, and I like the idea of the connections supplying results based on a query. They also give the links they are sharing via G+ more credibility than those links would have alone. When it's something that an industry thought leader cares about, it becomes something I want to pay attention to.
    This isn't just for SEO, this can and will apply to any industry.
    This has become a way for businesses to link with their industry peers, and get in front of them - when relevant - with news and information that fits their queries.
    Mind you, this is still in the first stages of development, and will continue to go through refinements over time - as happens with every piece of software every written. Even the best software engineers cannot anticipate every possible bug, glitch, or consumer response to their product ahead of time. Given a reasonable amount of time, and moderate adoption by users, and G+ and its addition to Google Search will become a very useful and helpful tool - when you decide to enable it.

  • by Lorianna Sprague Fri Jan 20, 2012 via blog

    You are absolutely correct: Google+ will have to improve. Given that Google has taken the risk of launching G+, and now integrating G+ with search, I don't think G+ is going anywhere. Also, if you take in account Google's track record for success, and agenda (increasing market share, by improving search result relevance, and thereby ad relevance to increase revenue) I don't think any of the steps they are taking fall outside of the company's goals. Give it time, and you will see fierce competition between Facebook and Google.
    I don't know that I will ever NOT have both a Facebook and a Google account. So, I also think that Facebook isn't going away. But I do believe each social platform will eventually settle into its respective niche, though that day may be a long way off.

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