Has Google Jumped the Shark?

This was the year of Google. Normally, that would be a statement of positivity. The year of Google normally would bring about feelings of happiness, unicorns, and rainbows.

But that would be another year. In 2010 I went from being a Google evangelist to a realist, maybe even a cynic.

Google 2010

Sadly, I had my awakening this year. I feel like a child who found out there was no Santa or Easter bunny.

Yep, Google, my mighty benevolent Google went the way of the dodo and became aggressive, pervasive, and (to use Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s own word) “creepy.” Who ever thought Google would be the company of creepy? Yet this year it was a frequent meme; Google and creepy.

But even for those who are still seeing Google through those rose-colored glasses I wore such a short time ago, there were some ideas thrust upon us this year that haven’t really enhanced the user experience, and in many cases possibly made it a lesser one.

My 2011 Wish List: Where did Google Jump the Shark?

So did Google jump the shark? I think so.

Whether or not you like the changes, the core product — search and its algorithm — have suffered. Results have gotten less relevant.

So here’s my end of year wish list of 10 things I wish Google would change (though I know they aren’t likely to do so) to get back to where they once belonged.

1. Google Instant Suc… Hey, Google, What Am I Thinking?

I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I turned Google Instant off within an hour of having it thrust upon me. Except for some SEO research, I haven’t used it since.

Why? Well other than the annoyance factor of the page changing as I type, I don’t appreciate that what I type into the search box isn’t the search I get. If I had wanted the grayed out words added to my search I would have, hold onto your hats, added them myself.

I know, silly me Google, there I go thinking for myself again. I forgot you can do it so much better. Except you don’t.

Fun Eric Schmidt quote: “I actually think most people don’t want Google to answer their questions, they want Google to tell them what they should be doing next.”

2. Geolocation All the Time — There is No Escape

Why Google? Why do you need to know where I am at all times? (P.S. You get it wrong a lot. Like a lot, a lot)

What if I don’t like my geolocated results? Living in Vegas they can get very muddied at times, like when all your ZIP codes have no separation and you can’t get the movie theater down the street in search because Google doesn’t understand it’s only three blocks from you.

Fun Eric Schmidt quote: “We know where you are. We know where you’ve been.”

3. All Personalized Search — Getting to Know All About You

Google, this may surprise you, but I don’t want you to get to know me. I don’t want you to deliver me results based on what I searched for two days ago or what you think I might be interested in two days from now. I’m quite capable of putting a keyword in the form that will let me tell you what I need and what I’m looking for.

You are like a parent who wants to read my diary. That’s what diary locks are for! Respect the fact that I’m not logged in and stop it already.

Oh sorry, there I go, thinking for myself again. Sorry, I need to stop that.

Fun Eric Schmidt quote: “We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.”

4. Google Previews — Window Shopping … Online

Overall, I don’t dislike the Instant Previews feature and have less issues with this than some of the others. However there are still issues.

Sure, you get to see the sites before you enter the site, but then you may never enter at all. What if that site had some great details, but just poor design?

Remember the days when half the fun of the web was to uncover that awesome site or piece of content no one else had seen before? With Previews you may never make it off the search results.

Also, make sure your pages aren’t in Flash or preview will never pick it up.

5. Multi Domain Listings — You Really Just Can’t Say No

OK, whose Idea was it to put the same domain over and over again and then do this again for other domains all the same SERPs? Once you see Amazon, do you need two more listings showing you Amazon has even more stuff? It clutters the results and makes it hard to read; in fact, I find more and more I skip over them to the classically laid out entry.

6. Diversity in Results — 31 Flavors of SERPs

Remember when you used to search for something in Google, like unicorns, and Google gave you hundreds of results about unicorns? Wow! I miss those days.

Now I feel like I hit the get lucky button and took a spin on the tilt-a-whirl. Maybe five or six of the results are relevant. The rest? Random unrelated fluff.

7. Google Maps in SERPs — The “Fushigi”

Huh? Really, when I saw this, my reaction was “Huh?” I scratch my head at this one.

The floating mystical map that is now not sitting with the items you’re looking at but way off to the right, following you down the page like some bad 1990s scripting. Bring it all back to the top, like it was, please!

8. Google Places — Jackson Pollack’s … Alive

Pointers, images, and the mystical floating map all thrust somewhere in the page — need I say more? When all this was at the top of the page it was a nice organized data point.

Now? A Jackson Pollack painting in my SERPs visually unsettling.

Again, need I say more?

9. Google Street View — Creepy Google

While I think there are benefits to Street View, Michael Gray (Graywolf) wrote a good post about the many possible privacy issues around this. If Google goes around the world taking pictures of everyone’s homes without telling them, then you should have the right to ask Google to replace your home picture with a generic one.

There are few reasons someone needs to know what your house would look like on a given street. While I understand the work involved in doing this would be mammoth, it would be fair.

Fun Eric Schmidt quote: “Street View, we drive exactly once. So, you can just move, right?”

10. Google Algo — Oh, Search! Is That What We Do?

There has just been so much wrong lately — results filled with top 10 AdSense sites, 404 pages, irrelevant terms, lack of real authority sites, big brand domination, and the list goes on and on.

On one search, Google gave me ZIP codes when I asked for areas codes. Really, Google? You can’t tell the difference anymore?

What I don’t get are good results for my search entry. Why?

When I was at Pubcon, Matt Cutts mentioned that the Google engineers responsible for spam control and other organic issues had been spending a lot of time outside of their normal focus, the algo. (Guess they thought we wouldn’t notice?)

Well, bring ’em back Google! Pour the Skittles trail and lead them home. You need them, whether you know it or not.

Google 2011 — Unjumping the Shark

What would have been an improvement? How can Google unjump the shark?

Well for one, Google could have taken all the time they spent with these stated “improvements” and given me a better algorithm perhaps with, call me crazy, semantic elements.

You know a search engine that understands, “why” and “what” and “in” and “out” and “the” and “an” — all those words that help give contextuality to a written thought. Had Google given me this, an engine that could understand a sentence, I would be writing how incredible Google is and how innovative and how they still live on the cutting edge of search.

Unfortunately, I can’t write that story. Instead, their product (search) has become steadily inferior while people are distracted by the shiny objects: predictive text, preview rollovers, AJAX, and the many other technologies that make things look cool, but really don’t add a whole lot to helping me find, well, anything.

Stop Killing Organics

Another issue is the ever-decreasing space of the organic result. Like many, I never minded that Google is so big and makes so much money and owns so much of the search space because the organic space gave a fair playing ground to anyone willing to sit and learn what they needed or someone willing or able to pay an SEO.

However, with all the recent addition and aggressive placements of sponsored ads, Google Places, alternative results, universal search, comparison engines, shopping images, etc., some verticals have six or less organic spots.

This will hurt the American small business the most, as they typically can’t afford the services of an SEO. Although last year they might have been competing in a non-competitive or moderately competitive space, all these changes make all verticals affected highly competitive by the sheer lack of positioning.

Karma can get you. This has also added legitimacy to the “black hat” SEOs, but that’s a column for another day.

My Google Plea — Google Classic

Google give me a clean, no anything engine. Give me Google Classic.

Let me turn off all your “improvements” and search naked. Yes I said it, naked! Maybe after a while I’ll miss all your “enhancements” and come out of my purist cave, but I wouldn’t hedge your bets.

For those like me — unhappy with Google, not loving Bing, and interested in what might be coming down the pike: keep an eye out on Blekko and DuckDuckGo. Both are promising engines with a possible bright future ahead. (DuckDuckGo is very nice for naked search, if you’re feeling frisky!)

So Happy New Year everyone, and may Google bring us Google Classic — the no-geolocation, no-cookie, no-personalized, all-under-your-control search engine in the new year.

Yes, Virginia, I do still believe in Santa Claus, but somehow not that Google will change any of this.

Thank you for reading! Have a safe and happy holiday! See you in the New Year.

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