December 15, 2009

Google destroyed the web

I don’t mind advertising supported content. But I’m sick of the heaping mounds of garbage that clutter the Internet in an attempt to generate “passive income” on 0.000001% click-throughs of Google AdSense ads.

Today I searched for the answer to a question. The top hit was a useful article written by a subject-matter expert. (Good job, Google.) Many of the following hits were a simplistic rewrite of that article that had been search engine optimized, and were hosted on massive “content” sites cluttered with ads.

You can always tell a Search Engine Optimized page. A Search Engine Optimized page reads like it was written by a six year old. People who write a Search Engine Optimized page are sure to include keyword phrases many times so that search engines can optimize the way they find the Search Engine Optimized page.

I’m not saying anything new. I’ve just reached my personal “I want to scream” point.

I’ll give them some credit; Google has gotten better. Now when I search for “hilton fresno” I’m very likely to see Hilton’s official site ahead of the nine-million “I loaded the yellow pages into a web site” sites.

But it’s still out of control. You can’t trust search anymore. It’s why people are turning to social media for links and visiting trusted blogs and content providers.

(It’s good for my business, too: people buy Bible software because they want a dedicated tool and a curated library. There’s lots of free Bible content online, but our users don’t have time to separate the wheat from chaff.)

Google, Bing, and especially Wolfram Alpha are trying to offer more “answers,” rather than just links. But most of my searching is for another site, not just an answer. I want to be sent to somebody’s page – just a real page, not an ad-farm.

There’s an opportunity here to create a web search engine that punishes results littered with ads. Google can’t do it – they live off those ads. A site that took ads but didn’t have an incentive to send you to other sites full of them could offer a superior experience.

And there’s an opportunity for publishers, too, to take their quality brands and build content sites that take over some of what you’d use the search engine for.

Comments

  1. Andy Sack :

    Nice blog post Bob. I like the idea of a search engine that punishes those with ads….

  2. Kalle :

    .. but googles does punish those with ads. They look at bounce-rates and page loading times.

  3. xavi :

    Really agree, you cannot trust google anymore, most of times you are forced to use “entries of the last month” to get some fresh real content :(.

  4. Maybe the best approach is to rethink how search engines / users work. Maybe it could be done totally differently and that would not yield the same problem…
    Maybe the key is decentralizing search- that is putting it on the user side. This of course has many problems, but could also yield very good results.
    Of course this is very very hard to imagine and you’re up against the last two decades of web evolution.

  5. “There’s an opportunity here to create a web search engine that punishes results littered with ads. Google can’t do it – they live off those ads.”
    This is absolutely incorrect.
    Google actively de-lists pages that aren’t content intensive, and I mean serious legible content.
    Research some SEO IM work before you try and suggest that Google does nothing to remove Ad-sense filled pages. It’s this kind of blogging that really muddies the waters.

  6. In parting I’d like to say this: wake up, Ad-riddled sites get tossed up in miliseconds (I know, I’ve written an engine to do so). You can’t possibly make a search engine that can de-list fast enough. SEO IMers will fucking break you and that’s just the way it’s going to be unless someone (God forbid) regulates who can make websites and how fast.
    post script, there are millions, if not hundreds of millions, of legit websites that use the easy and unobtrusive Ad-sense ads to pay for (sometimes) very expensive hosting.
    You want to talk about destroying the internet? You’re describing the obliteration of (almost) any non-corporate website.

  7. Bob Pritchett :

    If it was true that Google de-lists pages that aren’t content intensive, I wouldn’t be seeing them.
    The problem is that they’re technically “content intensive”, it’s just useless or redundant content.

  8. Bob Pritchett :

    You’re probably right — it’s an impossible task. My post was just to lament the clutter, and express my frustration that AdSense exacerbated the problem.

  9. What are the queries you see that give too many AdSense-heavy pages, and what results shouldn’t be there?

  10. Bob Pritchett :

    I was hoping to avoid specific examples… but what set me off was a search on “difference between mandarin and cantonese”. Google’s first hit is useful, but the “simple-speak-keyword-optimization” of Associated Content’s page was really annoying. (And it appears to be a re-write of something else, though I don’t know for sure.)
    Then I did some research into Associated Content, and from there found sites that literally sell downloadable bundles of “500 pages of travel content” or “1,200 sports articles” that you can use to set up a “money making machine!” web site in minutes.
    Sure, you can argue that AC is a collaborative version of About.com, or a cross between Wikipedia and an open-source magazine, but really — is it adding much value or just cluttering up the Internet? Browse some of its other articles, and read the articles that tell you how to write articles for AC to optimize your revenue generation.
    Do I like sites with reviews? Yes. Do I mind if they sell ads? No. Am I sick of dozens of redundant product review web sites that suck in entire catalog listings and then ask me to “be the first to write a review!” on this empty wasteland of a site? Yes.
    Do I have a solution? Nope. I’m just pointing out an opportunity for someone smarter than me. :-)
    Company information is another example, and why I talk about this as an opportunity for branded content portals with quality content. Try to find the name of a vice president at a major company, or a profile of a public company. A billion sites have boilerplate info from standard databases, cluttered with ads, and no real profile. Sites like Forbes.com — technically a magazine — also have company info, but usually with better editing and actual data. (Or Hoovers.com, or D&B, etc.) Forbes has an opportunity to become a trusted “business information portal”, going beyond their “business news” niche, if they can make it easier for people interested in business — who already read their magazine — to find quality business info faster than going through Google.

  11. Ross :

    Can you name a time when you could actually trust search? I disagree with this post. Yes, by increasing usability of the net 50000%, they also rose the chance of more irritating content 5%. It was a necessary evil for the search engines to still profit but moreso, offer value that far offsets the clutter.
    I will take that 5% mindclutter over the excess 3 hours I would have to spend finding the GDP of Botswana if I didn’t have search engines to direct me.

  12. Matt McKnight :

    Do you remember the web before Google? It was far worse than you describe, because you couldn’t search for anything common on Yahoo or AltaVista without getting completely unrelated ads as the first few pages of results. Not even goofy content like AC, but totally unrelated garbage. I found a bunch of stuff on the first page of results for your search that was useful.
    This is not Google’s doing. Sign in for personalized search and click the little X. I hardly ever see experts-exchange any more…

  13. Seems like a bit of a misleading title. They destroyed search results which they pretty much created anyways.

  14. silentium :

    The Top 5 Google Alternatives and Why You Should Use Them http://bit.ly/4v8pz9

  15. rick :

    Great idea…however, without ad supported sites, are you really willing to pay for each search you perform?

  16. The plan truth is that we have now hit the wall on what can computationally be done to give relevant search results.
    Garbage in = Garbage out. Its just that simple. Couple with this the fact that currently content on the internet is created using html and text. None of this can easily be parsed for meaning or context.
    Google and the rest have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to try to solve this problem, and today the result is that you cannot easily used the most advanced search engines on the market to do research on purchasing a washing machine.
    One can only come the staggering conclusion that search and content creation as we know it today is broken, and that we need to take some revolutionary steps to fix this.
    At factoetum we are changing the game in search and content creation. Our aims are to do nothing short of revolutionizing technology and turing upside down current notions if business models that seek to push members to levels of serfdom

  17. Four short links: 7 January 2010

    London Datastore to Launch — the Mayor of London will launch a site full of London data. (via Ed Dumbill)

  18. >>You can always tell a Search Engine Optimized page. A Search Engine Optimized page reads like it was written by a six year old.<<
    Only if done badly.
    Unfortunately, a lot of it is done badly, and Google is not smart enough to tell the difference.
    It’s definitely a frustrating situation.

  19. I agree that the search results are becoming very cluttered. About half of my co-workers here at the John R. Carlisle Institute use social media to find relevant info as opposed to searching Google for it.
    John R. Carlisle

  20. I do agree with the writer on some aspects, though the term “Google destroyed the Web” is rather strong. As an example, we work super hard to work with local merchants (restaurants) to provide good content, but unfortunately the affiliate coupon or deal sites who get tons of content without lifting any weight will always overwhelm sites like us. We product quality content working with local merchants which affiliates do not do. This is a foundational problem and hope Google, Bing, and other Search Engines can tackle and resolve this issue. I am not saying affiliate sites should not exist, except they should not be ranked so high for they do not produce any content.

  21. John Watkins :

    I laugh at the idea of using social media to search anything. Social media are turning to trash faster than anything on the web.
    Why not create a system to block results from known abusers? It’s done with e-mail spam. It would be nice to put the responsibility to not sign up known webspam rub(l)ishers on Google, but that would not likely work.

  22. marcel :

    Nice post.
    We should turn search tasks to recommendation tasks supported by trusted sources. I think the future of search engines is more something like a metadata generator.
    Cheers
    Marcel

  23. dete :

    “If it was true that Google de-lists pages that aren’t content intensive, I wouldn’t be seeing them.”
    If it were true that the police arrested criminals, there wouldn’t be any crime.

  24. I don’t agree with this post. Google has this issue covered, sandboxing / blacklisting such sites occur regularly. Sites that are peppered with ads are crafty. I feel that as a user, if you end up on a site that has pop-ups, auto-play video ads, and in your face newsletter sign-up’s – it should be natural to hit the back button. That bounce rate will decay their positioning. Move on to more relevant content – use various search queries to find what you seek.
    When you find good content, bookmark it, share it, reiterate it in a blog/forum post and link back to the source. This helps for all the better.

Practical wisdom on growing your business that you can start using today.

Get it now