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Search Quality & Twitter's Outrage: Industry Reaction to Google Changes

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Google’s new personalized search has segments of the tech world in an uproar. Twitter is ticked and released a statement that said, in part:

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."

There has been much speculation and proselytizing from news outlets and the world of social on whether or not Twitter is justified in their position and what the debate means for the online community as a whole. We asked search engines and search marketers what they think of Google’s move and the web’s reaction to it.

DuckDuckGo, Covario, AdMarketplace, and Conductor spoke with us about the calls for an antitrust investigation, whether Google’s motivations were to improve search, and how they felt about Twitter’s reaction to Google’s launch. In this first segment, they talk about what this means for search results quality and weigh in on Twitter’s statement that Google Search Plus Your World is bad for users.

Bing, meanwhile, has stayed out of the fray so far and declined to comment. They may not need to; the guys at Gizmodo are currently campaigning that you dump Google and switch to Bing, and they’re not alone.

Does Search Plus Your World Improve Search Results?

Signed in search results for selling puppies

Search engine DuckDuckGo.com’s Founder and CEO Gabriel Weinberg sees two different reasons for some of the widespread discontent with Search Plus Your World: "One is adding personal stuff to search results; I don’t necessarily think it improves results in many cases. The part where profiles are ranking higher and especially coming up in the autocomplete seems directly related to increasing Google+ participation through their dominance in search."

Jeff MacGurn, Vice President, Earned Media Services at Covario, said, "I’m curious to see how it influences search behavior. This is really going to depend on how active people are on Google+. If people are active on Google+, there’s more information to show in search results. If they’re not, there just won’t be the volume of content to really influence search results."

MacGurn expressed that whether Google’s motivation behind Search Plus Your World was improving search results or increasing Google+ adoption, there is definitely greater incentive now to participate in their social network, especially for brands.

"It’s like Pascal’s Wager. He was a French mathematician in the 1800s who said you can believe in God or not, but I make the wager to believe in God because I have less to lose by being involved than not. So I have less to lose by being involved now in Google+. Now, your presence there is going to be more visible to them, whether it be images, posts, deals, anything related to a topic, is going to show up in search results. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to have not just my regular search result, but something I’ve pushed out to my Circles."

The first chance we had, Search Engine Watch authors tried out Google Search Plus Your World to see just how different the results were. The results were surprising and not in a good way. It certainly appears that Google is simply looking for broad keyword matches in social mentions and ranking this content, sometimes out of context, irrelevant, or out of date, at the top of the organic SERPs for logged in users.

Judging by what we saw and how easy it seems to rank for anything you want, at least right now, businesses have a definite edge on Google+ over Facebook with posts appearing in organic search results, all other things considered. This can’t really be considered best for the end user, as it’s easily gamed and is not likely to produce relevant results. Following a user from another country because of their insight in technology, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean you want their posts about what they had for lunch coming up when you’re using organic search to find a local restaurant.

MacGurn notes, "Personalized search is very different depending on context. If you’re trying to find a brand or a person and they keep their profiles up to date, you get a relevant result. In navigational searches, not so much."

Is Twitter Overreacting or Justified?

When asked whether they believed Twitter was justified in going on the offense, many of those we spoke with seemed to be taking a wait and see approach.

"There’s a lot of speculation around this, but it’s hard to know without knowing what, exactly, happened between Google and Twitter," MacGurn said. "I can certainly see why Google did what they just did, from a usability standpoint, with Twitter. Being able to crawl Twitter is one thing. But it’s more than just knowing who is active on Twitter."

According to him, "This is the next step in search evolution, to take not just the social information but personalize that as it relates to you. So taking your relationships on the platform you subscribe to and relating that to you and your searches and putting that all in one place makes sense."

Conductor's Marketing & Product VP Seth Dotterer said, "I think the issue is two fold. Whether or not Google is simply trying to get social data into their search results and using whatever they have access to, in which case the question is, can Twitter and Facebook even give them that data? That’s the first question."

He continued, "On the flip side, is Google abusing their position in one area to succeed in another? Google’s position would be a lot less defensible if Facebook and Twitter came out and said okay, we’ll give you our data."

AdMarketplace COO Adam Epstein feels it’s pretty cut and dried. "Twitter wants to get paid for their content and Google doesn’t want to pay for it," he told us. "Twitter is definitely correct in saying this is not a consumer friendly move by Google and it’s not friendly for advertisers, either. Google is a monopoly, but if you want to beat a monopoly, you need to start spending with their competitors - that’s how you break a monopoly."

What do you think of Google and Twitter’s public back-and-forth exchange and what personalized search with Google+ results means for users? Let us know in the comments.


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