Former Googler Talks About Google’s Changes And Controversies

    December 14, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Vanessa Fox is always good for an interesting conversation about Google. Considering she used to work there, created Webmaster Central, and wrote the book Marketing In The Age of Google, it makes sense.

What has been the most controversial thing Google has done this year in your opinion? Let us know in the comments.

We recently caught up with Fox, who shared some thoughts on a number of Google-related topics, such as how Google+ is impacting search, the quality of Google’s search results, the direction Google is going in, areas in which Google needs to improve, Bing, Google’s paid inclusion Google Shopping model, antitrust concerns, and the mistakes marketers are making.

Has Google+ Made Search Results Better For Users?

Google makes it more and more clear all the time that it’s in this Google+ thing for the long haul. Last week, the company pointed out that Google+ is the next phase of Google. It’s getting integrated into just about every aspect of what Google has to offer in one way or another. Ever since Google launched Search Plus Your World, its social search integration, which relies heavily on Google+, the results have brought about mixed reactions from users.

“Google has experimented with how to bring Google+ into search results and some of the experiments have been pulled back, with good reason,” Fox tells WebProNews. ”Better for users’ means getting the searcher exactly the information that they’re looking for. Does Google+ integrated into search results provide that? Maybe sometimes; often now. I think Google knows that the online world has gone social and they need to evolve to take that into account. I don’t think they’ve hit on exactly the right formula quite yet.”

When asked whether this brand of social search has been a blessing or a curse for search marketing, Fox says, “I don’t look at search marketing in a silo; I think of how to better understand and engage with audiences overall. Online audiences are social and so it’s always a good idea to meet them where they are. I think that Google+ specifically being integrated into search results does give marketers a new opportunity for visibility on the search results page, so it shouldn’t be ignored.”

The Impact Of Google’s Changes

We asked Fox what she thinks has been the most significant event or feature release of the year, in terms of the impact it has on white hat SEO/search marketing.

“I think the continued evolution of Google’s Panda algorithm and the other strides they are making to move beyond counting links to really getting to the heart of content quality and utility are fantastic,” she says. “The more loopholes are closed and the less the algorithms can be manipulated, the more the best quality sites win.”

“I also see Google making significant advances in supporting structured data, which is a great foundation for the future,” she adds. “New ways of interacting with content, such as Google Now and Google Glass are significant as well, because they start to move us beyond the keyboard and beyond explicit search. HTML5 and Google’s support of responsive design techniques make it easier to build content once and supply it audiences on any device.”

Search Visibility And Google’s Evolution

As Google continues to get smarter at giving users information they seek, whether that be through the Knowledge Graph, Quick Answers, Google Now, or anything else, marketers have a lot to adjust to.

“It’s definitely getting harder to track,” says Fox. “One of the primary reasons I’m building a search analytics software (called Blueprint) is to provide a foundation that enables marketers to better understand their audiences and better measure ROI on search-related investments. I think in some ways, search visibility is becoming easier. We now have so many more ways to connect with audiences and so much more data to better know what they’re looking for so we can meet their needs. Smart marketers will take advantage of this data and these new opportunities.”

When asked if there is any particular area of focus where she thinks Google definitely needs to do a better job, she says, “The hard problem of discerning quality and utility is definitely not solved yet. I think Google has been doing a great job of starting to pull in all kinds of data sources (images, mobile, structured data…) and is evolving as devices and searcher behavior change (Google Now, for instance), but their biggest obstacle is also their oldest one: how do you surface the more useful results to the top and cut through the clutter of an ever-increasing web?”

Bing And Scroogling

We asked how Bing is stacking up to Google these days in her opinion, in light of all of Bing’s campaigns against Google of late.

“Well, funny you should say that because I finally took the Bing challenge yesterday and I picked Google (4 out of 5 times),” she tells us. “But honestly, Bing is doing a pretty good job.”

Bing would probably be happier with her answer to the next question, which was: Has Google made any product changes (non algorithmic) that you think they should not have made?

“I’m not super happy about the shift to paid placement in product search,” she says. “I can see the rationale of why they did it, but doesn’t reflect the stated mission all that well.”

Bing has a “Don’t Get Scroogled” campaign based on this.

Competition And Antitrust Concerns

We’ve written a number of times about how Google is lacking real time search, and potentially sending information seekers to Twitter. A recent NYT report talked about more people starting their product searches at Amazon rather than Google. We asked Fox what kinds of information she is turning to non Google sites and services for.

“I primarily use Urban Spoon for restaurant searches,” she says. “And Oyster or Tablet Hotels for hotel searches. Although I then will search Google for hotel reviews but will specifically click on Tripadvisor results, rather than search Tripadvisor directly. No, I can’t explain this behavior.”

As you may know, many companies have voiced dismay with Google’s business practices with regards to competition. We asked Fox if she believes any of the antitrust concerns are legitimate.

“I can only speak to those that relate to unpaid search,” she says. “But no, I don’t. Google’s search quality team is maniacally focused on including as much of the web in the index as they possibly can and then surfacing the most useful results to searchers. The complaints I’ve seen tend to be based on a misunderstanding of how search works (from those outside of the online world) or misplaced fears about Google’s goals (from those inside).”

What’s Wrong With Your Strategy

Finally, on common pitfalls she sees in organizations’ marketing strategies, Fox tells us, “I see a lot of algorithm chasing, which is such a short term game. I also see a lot of fragmented organizations — the web developers don’t think SEO is important and don’t know best practices of making sure the site is search-friendly; the user experience team thinks that SEO is spam and has no idea that insight can be gained from search data; and so on. And I see a lot of tactics with no strategy. Organizations need a plan, they need to prioritize changes based on impact. There’s ideal online marketing and then there’s practical online marketing. Practical should win every time.”

Do you agree with Vanessa on these various points? Which don’t you agree with? Let us know.

  • http://giorgiotave.net/google-catch-all-but-badly/ Andrea

    Google serps are tremendous…in Italy a disaster. Italian research give Russian, English and Australian Results even if with hl=it

    • max

      You are right, since about one year now I get the worst search results since I started to use google 12 years ago. They are going almost perfect according to Murphi’s law. The worst is because they commit themselves to constant manipulations. Two of the worst of this kind is and effecting search results extremely negative are, first this “authority” stuff which purely is pure cronyism and totally useless and the second is that they still stick to about 60% value on links which is even worst since everyone know (where is google located? on earth?) that around 80% of link stuff is manipulated, nobody cares about this strange stuff called good content on a website. What a search nonsense I see in the last few month is mindboggling it’s even worst that alta vista 15 years ago, no yoke!

    • Ridiculous

      Same in france, we get results in wrong language, even worse, sometimes the 1st result is a blank page with no content :d

      Penguin has been the most ridiculous algorithm ever, when i think it was made by Phd in maths or so, that makes me laugh.
      But they succeeded in selling more ads ( for now ! )

      • max

        They did not succeed, they are lucky because they have a monopole, that is not because they are good, that is they were more or less the first. I’ts more or less the same as with the telephone companies in Europe long time ago, as long they had their monopoly they make billions, monopole finished they been finished. The whole is a pattern of the typical stupids we have in EU politics, if they would help a good start up without their nationalistic thinking in this business instead of burning tax payers money in greece and elsewhere this start up could neutralize google and bing with 2 year and bring real good search without manipulation to the net. There are several excellent search machines in Europe but they have no funding to go international, etc. since google search really got miserable within the last 12 month there is a opportunity, but as indicated where do the money go in the EU? it’s gone south to some corrupt balkaneser etc. it’s a shame.

  • cc98

    What do you expect from an ex googler ?!!?

  • http://www.domainsinternational.net Carlos Martins

    Thnaks for your articles, we always learned with you.
    On the Google conduct i think they are overreacting and have a malpractice behavior in some aspects. I just give you my example. I created a profile page on Google+ and added several industries to my circles hoping this could me to spread the word about my business (domaining) out of this small circle of colleagues. At a certain time i have a post from a fashion model dressed with a sexy lingerie. Well, when i send (by mistake, i was a beginner on Google+) to some of my circles, a woman claimed that the picture it was porn. You see Victoria Secret creating porn lingerie? Well, suddedly and without any chances of defending myself telling them (Google+) that the posting it was not mine but from a fashion circle, they simply suspended my account and just could keep with my business account. The ridiculous of this incident is that everyone is publish on my profile account and i can´t even posting there, no add more circles, nothing! I just only do all that on my business page with the same profile. Isn´t life Strange? (quoting Moody Blues).

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk BlokeToys

    “The more loopholes are closed and the less the algorithms can be manipulated, the more the best quality sites win.”

    Yeah, as long as you’re lucky or have some inside information of what exactly is deemed a quality site!

    This is what infuriates me about Google. Only a selection of people within the corporation know exactly what makes a perfect site in their view, so there is massive corruption when someone leaves Google and starts up in business making money advising others how to play the game.

    Google is so secretive about what they want, yet business depends on it. Why do they have the right to dictate what a site must adhere to, and then not tell 99% of the people what those demands are!?

    This is like a hostage situation, with the hostage takers saying they’ll kill someone every hour if their demands are not met, but you have to guess the demands!

    Amazon can have a sit-down meal with some Google bigwig and get specific direction on what they need to do to dominate the search (don’t try to tell me that doesn’t happen) and the rest of us are locked out, with Matt Cutts grinning like a Bond villain giving Yoda-like responses to questions that affect whether a business survives or not.

    “To increase your rankings in Google, wash lemmings on a Thursday you must”

    • Ridiculous

      You know that the chairmans of amazon and google are mostly identical 😉 you have your answer.

      • Chris


        “To increase your rankings in Google, wash lemmings on a Thursday you must”

    • http://www.oxxus.net tash pop

      what do you suggest they do, tell everyone what the rules are? Then everyone can go and apply it and THEN who gets to be on page1 ? All 5039 businesses in your industry.. I understand your frustrations but you need to think practically

  • Ridiculous

    Well the big problem with google is that more than 50% of the front page is just ads, not search results.

    On the news we see more and more little entrepreneurs committing suicide after their business disappeared from google.
    Google is definitely favorising the big corporations which have the financial means to buy unnatural links that look perfectly natural. Once again the little guy get screwed :( (“scroogled” ! )

    • Bob


  • Luke

    I think she might have a little too much Google juice. Social signals only mean there is is an interest. It doesn’t mean the consumer can afford the product. I may like Ferrari’s and a facebook page on Ferraris but can I afford that product? A facebook page can be set up in minutes at no real cost. It can become popular very fast at no real cost. Take a decent website, it takes more time, more money etc. Google was made by quality websites. Now if Googles places this false value to social networking what will happen? Instead of businesses spending on websites some of that budget will now go to Facebook, Twitter etc. The actual effect will be Google stimulating revenue for these social networks at their expense. Google is messed up right now. We need the truth and not the standard Google promotion garbage. She is in deep enough she knows what Panda and Penguin did to businesses. There has to Antitrust lawsuit coming out of there. Way too much data exists. So is Vanessa a reporter or a promoter?

  • http://www.captaincyberzone.com Cap’n Cyberzone

    Google lost itself when it capitulated to greed of money and power. It’s become the corporate enemy ‘doing evil’.
    That once straight path to becoming the best “search engine” ever has become a convoluted highway with many entrances and exits.

  • http://bubbaspools.com Daniel Osko

    With over 20,000 products, I cannot afford to use Googles Merchant Center “pay per click”. Google was at one time the leading, non-biased search engine available. It has since fallen to a point that if you impliment a search…, your results are typically only from paid advertisements. I have even used Google Checkout on my website in the past. What a scam that is! Just try to actually speak with someone from Google…, They do not even readilly avail contact info!

    Google…, Terrible experience. We as business owners and consumers need Google to either change their policies or close the shop!

  • neo

    Not to worry. If you do the research you can see the trouble Google is in. Nobody wants to stop drinking the Koolaid though to watch the empire crumble.
    1. Google has 97% of their income from 1 product (advertising)
    2. Google uses 1/4 the power from 1 nuclear power plant
    3. Google has 200k advertisers a month (the number is flatlined)
    4. Google makes 7 bil/quarter and spends 5 bil/quarter on their electric bill. Net 1.96/quarter 650mil/ month.

    The price of electricity is going up. The number of advertisers is going down, 650mil/mo is a joke in the advertising business, where budgets from companies like Pepsi are 2 billion.

    So you see Google desperately buying up companies to augment their failing advertising (a disaster in creating more overhead, duh). You see Google taking out ads in magazines to try and get more ad bucks. You see Google creating solar panel farms. You see Panda and Penguin updates to force small businesses to buy adwords.

    Everything Google does right now is an act of desperation. You cannot run a business on one product that patently sucks (Facebook stock tanked because of it). It’s business suicide. The only reason Google has survived so far is the alternative hasn’t appeared yet. It will, and when it does it’s GAME OVER GOOG. Google’s attempt to find other sources of income is a list of disasters longer than my arm. Chrome (yeah right..a virus you can’t get off your computer) Android, a ripoff, being blocked by Apple’s lawsuit of Samsung (another failure). On and on and on. The company is crumbling. Just look at the worried look on Sergey’s face as his electric bill continues to skyrocket.

    • Chris

      What they are really worried about is any new Apple Siri and voice search that would by-pass their type-in search and ad$.

      I saw the writing on the wall when Google started force feeding Google+ to it’s users. I still don’t or never will use it. When a company starts doing this, they are worried about customers leaving. Google may be the next AOL?

      I would not buy Google stock in 2013 with so much leveraged in advertising. Buy Bidu or Apple.

    • Bob

      Congratulations! RIGHT ON!!!

  • http://foreverelegant.com Karen Miller

    I agree with Vanessa point for point, and appreciate the candor of her honest appraisal. Google is clearly off-target as far as their stated mission and it is evident that monetization is taking priority over accuracy. It’s a free market, and they are entitled. Still, there is something unsettling any time a company starts out in one direction, then after building a following, abruptly shifts towards exploiting their loyal base.

    Google has done this with their search engine, and more recently, implemented the same strategy with their Google Apps program. Without warning, they announced that they would no longer accept free Google Apps accounts, nor permit existing Business users to downgrade to the free Apps program. Again, their prerogative in a free market. Yet again and again, they are demonstrating that they intend to employ the model of building a following, then changing the rules. “Scroogled” is an excellent description of how it feels to the user.

    I feel like an addict being exploited by a dealer who initially handed out “free samples”. Having gotten used to Google and Google Apps, I find it very difficult to tear myself away, even though I greatly resent what they are doing. In other words, their strategy is working. Ugh!

  • http://ulc.net Become Ordained

    Kudos to Bing on their “Scroogled” campaign. They are striking at Google’s soft underbelly on this one. The ads resonate both with small business owners who are feeling the pinch from unholy alliances between Goliaths and Google, and also with consumers frustrated by misleading search results in a world already riddled with spam.

  • http://www.seggiolin​oauto.eu Seggiolino

    They still have the majority of searches on the web so we need to deal with them and try to make our way through their unlucky algorithm.

  • http://www.graciousstore.com Nina

    Thank you for this piece. I hope Bing succeeds in their campaign against Google’s paid ads that replaces organic search results. If Bing succeeds that might help to set a level play ground once more for every body

  • http://www.cristao.ro/ Cristao

    Google lost itself when it capitulated to greed of money and power. It’s become the corporate enemy ‘doing evil’.
    That once straight path to becoming the best “search engine” ever has become a convoluted highway with many entrances and exits.

  • http://www.teflteachthai.com James Parmelee


    I emphatically do NOT agree with these analyses! I am admittedly not an IT specialist, but I have been conducting successful online business for over 14 years, and what Google is currently doing is running my online Thailand TEFL course enrollment out of business!

    To illustrate my frustration, please Google for the following two links:

    tefl courses
    tefl courses Thailand

    For more than a decade, my website has been first on the first page of generic search for tefl courses Thailand. Now we are fifth or sixth behind courses of seemingly less quality and distinction, in my opinion — and they certainly lack our prestige and longevity.

    Even worse (much worse), for the keyword phrase ‘tefl courses’, we have always appeared on page two or three of search results. Now we appear somewhere between page 11 and page 15!

    So what does appear, as an example? The http://www.i-to-i.com website, which offers mainly an online tefl course whose certificate is generally deemed worthless by employing schools, at least in Thailand, as ‘learning’ how to teach online without interactive instruction from professional trainers in a proper training room is a bit like reading a book by Tiger Woods called “How to Play Golf”. It just would not work, as the first time one teed it up, we would just whiff!

    However, the http://www.i-to-i.com website appears HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS of times on the tefl courses search pages, smothering many worthy teacher training websites along the way.

    I have an honest, and admirably set up website providing Google with all the information it needs to find and show my website prominently in search results. It has also been optimized for Google through submission of our site index.

    Right now, we are serviving solely on our excellent reputation and word-of-mouth recommendations.

    However, that cannot continue forever, and I can only hope (and pray!) that Google’s new orgasmic algorithms will soon be a thing of the past, and that search engine results for our course will return to normal.

    James Parmelee
    Thailand National Director TEXT-AND-TALK Academy

    • Guy

      wow, what the cool level of spam! I taking down my hat 😉