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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Caveat googlers?

Courtesy of article from getlisted.org, circa 2010

Google has enjoyed mainstream use as a verb, in English and Japanese ("ググる"). Furthermore, if Wikipedia is to be believed, people "google" things in Dutch, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Turkish. However, a quick look at any of Google's portals shows that the company offers much, much more. Combining its various services with the perceived bias for presenting content with close allegations has led to my finding a recent article by Danny Sullivan. There he, in a nutshell, decries his company's having crossed an arbitrary line of what search engines are "expected" to do - objectively point to online content - and what it now (and increasingly) does: provide a biased subset of content that aligns with its business model. I'd found Mr. Sullivan's op/ed via an article posted to TechCrunch, which caught my eye due to its title: "Why we may no longer be able to trust Google".
This was a strange statement to me - Google has never been, to my knowledge, a non-profit or public sector service. Many of Google's offerings have evolved in order to compete against other private sector corporations such as, notably, Microsoft (which had its own news outlet, MSNBC, about 13 years before they unveiled Bing, their search engine).
For this reason, I have never trusted Google any more than I felt comfortable trusting Microsoft, Yahoo!Lycos, or any of the myriad of other search engine providers that have had their moments in the proverbial sun since the advent of the internet age. I expected each of these companies to have inherent biases in what the present. And as I have thought of mentioning before, I chose Blogger as my hosting site in large part because Google owns it, with the expectation that it would initially give me a slight edge in Google organic results over, say, Wordpress even if my content (read: site and page-specific SEO efforts) were exactly the same.
The fact that Google has branched out to acquire so many data sources, such as Zagat and Frommer's reviews as mentioned by Mr. Sullivan, didn't surprise me either. It's quite understandable that Google may believe that these historically credible sources of information will become popular with its users, thus encouraging widespread adoption of their location based search (now known as Google Plus Local). I believe that's fodder for another blog post, however.

In any case, here is my stance regarding the trustworthiness of search engine services, summarized:
  • The major search engines come from private sector companies, and do not have to conform to any idealized view of what search engines may be "expected" to deliver.
  • Since their objectives include running a profitable business, they will have inherent biases, which are likely not just to appear via paid advertisements, but in their organic results as well.
  • Their users would benefit from being aware of and accounting for said biases when conducting searches. 
If you're afraid of what you share on SNSs being exploited by the services themselves (e.g. Facebook or Twitter in targeting ads to you) or by prospective employers/schools/nosy acquaintances etc. performing background checks on you via said search engines, then control what you share, every time and via every service that you use.
In the meantime, my persistent advice for content creators - and if you're active on an SNS, you are one regardless of whether you realize it or not - is this: so long as you focus on creating high quality content, judiciously use social media to spread awareness of said content, and refrain from using disreputable (underhanded) techniques, your web presence should (eventually) rank reasonably well for your targeted keywords, even if unseating Wikipedia is but a dream. Certainly, I was pleased to see today that this blog is returned first in Ask.com.


About Mayo

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Professional: As "Senior Enterprise SEO Strategist" in IBM's Digital Marketing division, I provide consulting and training services for both internal and external clients. Formerly I was involved in Natural Language Processing, software localization, quality assurance and documentation authoring.
Personal: INTJ Nikkei Nisei ex-patriated Canadian who takes photographs and enjoys Baroque through late Classical music. The G+ page shares some of the "best of" photos.