Phil Bradley makes an excellent point:
“How Search Works according to Google
The Story – Inside Search is a website that Google has put together which attempts to show us how search works. You’d think with a whole site that would be really helpful wouldn’t you? In actual fact, it’s a single animated infogram, which boils down to ‘we find some stuff, do magic to it, filter out the crap that our magic didn’t get and then give it to you.’ Yes folks, an entire site to say that.
My rant follows:
Take a look at the infographic [http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/thestory/] and ask yourself:
1. If they use over 200 factors for their algorithm, why is this a piece of the graphic that doesn’t link to more information? You can find hints on their advertiser/SEO sites but not here. Do they not want real searchers to know? Or is their agenda to promote herd behavior and drive revenue?
2. Why no comments on the role of advertisers’ needs in the algorithm, the role of SEO (search engine optimization industry), the role of paid or sponsored links and their privileged placement, …? Is this what is meant by the ‘best’ search experience? The one that delivers revenue? Can we determine how much of their revenue comes from advertisers, paid placement, politicians, special interest groups…? (hint: virtually all of it.) [Slightly buried in the infographic is a Cliff's Notes version of their guidelines (43 page pdf): http://www.google.com/insidesearch/howsearchworks/assets/searchqualityevaluatorguidelines.pdf]
3. Why no comments on the role of behavioral tracking (your personal search behavior) and it’s influence on search engine results? Is it important to know that search results vary from user to user, site to site, day to day, and location to location?
4. Indeed they don’t mention SEO at all and the role in the search engine rankings played by an entire industry focused on infuencing what you see on Google results. Again, what factors play out here? We know that you get different results based on your geo-location – very local or your country or state/province. Since SEO can use geo-tags based on such things as political districts, census metro areas racial, ethnic or economic characteristics, etc., you can’t be assured that your results aren’t influenced for better or worse.
5. Google’s attempts to control, not eliminate, spam content are laudable but it still needs to be managed well on their side to not disturb their revenue model(s). We still see SEO, SMO, and other tricks used by sometimes pretty unsavoury groups to promote their positions to the top of results – whether it’s lies about birth certificates, Googlebombs about public figures, diet regimens, drug treatments, and so much more. It’s a giant game of whack-a-mole and can’t be fully cloaked or hidden in virtuous attempts to deal with it.
It’s not education about Google if the risks aren’t talked about to ensure that no one trusts the results without considering the origin and using their critical thinking and credulity skills. That’s an important role that librarians, teachers and faculty should play in the search ecosystem to inform and teach searchers, researchers, and students.
There’s lots more to question, and as information professionals we must question. If we’re not paying for Google searches, then we must assume that we’re the product – the eyes and people being served up to Google’s real customers who generate tens of billions of dollars in profits annually. There are laws governing advertising in print media and broadcast media. Do these apply to global advertisers like serch engines and websites?
Now, ask ourselves how many of our library institutionally licensed or created databases, repositories or library catalogues that we offer allow for and encourage an algorithm that is served up for influence by payment by third parties? How many are deep indexed by the commercial consumer search engines? On the other hand, it is true that we can’t ignore the tools to promote our own web sites and services using SEO, SMO, geo-tagging, mobile, ads, and more. We also can’t ignore the role Google (and the other commercial consumer search tools, play in the marketplace. They do need to be positioned properly.
Library content IS different and we need to make sure we promote that differentiation. Algorithms are powerful things but an unthinking approach to them as a black box where the magiuc happens isn’t what information professionals do.