Many webmasters have found that recent changes at Google have hurt them. But does all the hue and cry over Google's recent algorithm change have any impact on searchers? There are some developments worth noting, and this article takes a Q&A approach to examine them. Also be sure to see other articles about the recent changes on the Florida Google Dance Resources page.
Q. Do webmaster complaints mean Google now has bad results overall?
Not at all. Each search has to be measured on its own. As a searcher, only you can determine if any search engine is providing answers you like.
If you've recently found Google seems better, then overall, the new ranking system may be working better for your needs. Similarly, if Google suddenly seems worse, then perhaps overall, the new ranking system isn't as well for you.
If you do think things are worse, you can easily complain using the link at the bottom of every search results page page you do at Google. You'll see text and a link that says, "Dissatisfied with your search results? Help us improve." Click on the link, and you can fill out a simple form to tell Google what you didn't like about that particular query.
You can also switch to another search engine. There are excellent alternatives to Google, such as those listed on Search Engine Watch's major search engines page.
Right now, probably the best places to go for an alternative "voice" about what's tops for a particular query is AllTheWeb and Teoma. Both crawl the web and use unique ranking systems of their own to determine what should come up tops. They each have large, fresh databases and offer a range of interesting features for more advanced users.
Inktomi is also another good choice. The best way to access it is to visit HotBot. By default, the results you get come from Inktomi. These are also what you get if you select the HotBot tab. FYI, the Lycos tab gives you AllTheWeb results, the Google tab gives Google results and the Ask Jeeves tab gives you Teoma results.
That's why HotBot's such a great tool -- it offers four good search engines all in one place. And that's also why you might look at the recently relaunched Dogpile. It gives you results from three of these -- plus a few more -- all blending into one single list.
What about Yahoo? It's a great search engine, but it not really much of a Google alternative right now in terms of searching the entire web. That's because Yahoo is still largely powered by Google's results. In the near future, it's expected that Yahoo will begin using web results from Inktomi, which it owns. That will strengthen it as a choice. If you want news, yellow page listings or shopping results, Yahoo provides a much different experience than Google. This is because it gathers its own information for these types of searches.
And MSN Search? It's actually always been a good choice, but be aware that the MSN voice is about to radically change. Most of its results currently come from a partnership with LookSmart. But in mid-January, MSN will switch to using Inktomi's results.
Q. Is Google doing plural and stemming?
Yes, and this addition of stemming is the most significant change searchers should be aware of. When you now search on Google, it will automatically look up variations of words. So a search for travel tips behind the scenes is looking for pages that have all of these words, and perhaps others, on them:
Stemming is a helpful feature for many searchers to have, since it save you from having to think of many variations of a word.
It would be nice for Google to somehow indicate exactly what terms are being used. AltaVista used to do this in small text at the bottom of results pages, and it's useful feedback for when a search doesn't go the way you expect.
Stemming can be overridden. When you enter any search command, in front of a word, stemming is shut off for that word. So:
Would only enable stemming on the word travel while
Would disable stemming on both terms.
By the way, Search Engine Watch will be taking a longer look at stemming in a future edition of SearchDay.
Q. Why does a web search and directory search bring back different results?
When you search within the Google Directory, only matches from within the human-compiled directory listings are supposed to be shown. However, this isn't happening. Instead, matches from across the entire web are retrieved. This is a bug that's been around for two or three months. Google say it will be fixed in the near future.
Q. Why do I see "related queries" and directory links showing up at the bottom of some Google results pages.
Google has long shown directory suggestions at the top of its search results list, when deemed appropriate. However, the company has also tested using these at the bottom of its page in recent weeks. It's also testing showing related queries that help searchers refine what they are looking for. There's no way to switch these on. If you see them, you just happen to be one of the people randomly selected as a test subject.
Q. What are these Product Search matches I'm seeing?
These are brand new, Google's way of suggesting to you that its Froogle shopping search engine has material you may like. For more, see this.