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Is Google Making Too Many Changes To Search?

    August 20, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google celebrated the ten year anniversary of its initial public offering this week, and reflected on the past decade of search and some of the major changes it has made.

Everybody knows that Google is constantly changing its algorithm. They’ve said in the past that they make changes every day (sometimes multiple changes). It would appear, however, that the changes Google makes (algorithmic and otherwise) are only getting more rapid.

Do you think Google makes too many changes to its search algorithm and other features?Are results getting better or worse? Let us know what you think.

Amit Singhal, who runs search at Google, took to Google+ to talk about how far the search engine has come over the past ten years. The highlights he mentioned as the “biggest milestones” of the past ten years include: Autocomplete, Translations, Directions and Traffic, Universal Search, Mobile and New Screens, Voice Search, Actions, The Knowledge Graph, “Info just for you,” and “answers before you ask.”

Some of this stuff is indeed truly remarkable. I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the time before instant search results. For that matter, the omnibox in Chrome was a revolutionary change in my opinion, and isn’t even mentioned.

Some of the features have been more controversial. Knowledge Graph, for one, has kept who knows how many clicks away from third-party sites. A lot of people aren’t too happy with the way search has evolved to keep people on Google rather than sending them to relevant sites as it originally did. Either way, I wouldn’t expect Google to reverse course on that anytime soon.

Singhal also mentioned that Google made over 890 “improvements” to search last year.

“The heart of Google is still search,” he wrote. “And in the decade since our IPO, Google has made big bets on a range of hugely important areas in search that make today’s Google so much better than the 2004 version (see our homepage from back then below). Larry has described the perfect search engine as understanding exactly what you mean and giving you back exactly what you want. We’ve made a lot of progress on delivering you the right answers, faster. But we know that we have a long way to go — it’s just the beginning.”

“We made more than 890 improvements to Google Search last year alone, and we’re cranking away at new features and the next generation of big bets all the time,” he said. “We’ve come a long way in 10 years — on Google and so many other general and specialized search apps, it’s now so much better than just the 10 blue links of years past. In 2024, the Google of 2014 will seem ancient, and the Google of 2004 prehistoric.”

While some webmasters wouldn’t entirely agree that everything Google done has been an improvement, I have to say, going back to the 2004 Google as a user might be a little annoying.

The rate at which Google functionality and its algorithm is changing is growing at an astonishing rate though, and you have to wonder just what percentage of the changes are for the best. Obviously that’s subjective, but it makes you think.

As Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Land notes, Google said in the past that it made 350 to 400 changes in 2009. In 2010, it was 550. Last year, it was nearly 900. Perhaps this year they’ll break 1,000.

Not only are they changing things more frequently, but they’ve become less transparent about the changes they’re making. Google has always guarded its true secret sauce carefully, but at one point, they decided it might not be a bad thing to give people a closer look at the types of changes they were making.

There for a while, Google was providing regular updates highlighting a lot of the changes they were making. This, the company said, was in the interest of transparency. It was actually pretty interesting, as you could see specific themes that Google was focusing on from month to month. For example, there was a time when many of the changes it was making were related to how the algorithm understands synonyms. You could sometimes see patterns in Google’s focus.

As time went on, the lists became less regular, and eventually, they just stopped coming entirely, without a word of explanation. Finally after many months, Google said they stopped doing it because people were bored by them. People disagreed, but the updates never came back. That appears to be the end of it.

These days, we’d be looking at some pretty long lists. Unfortunately, as Google is amping up its change frequency, the lists would be more helpful (and transparent) than ever for understanding Google’s approach to search.

Sure, Google does make public certain changes. They recently announced that HTTPS will now be considered a ranking factor in its algorithm, for example. Okay, so that’s one out of probably nearly a thousand changes it’s making this year.

Occasionally, they’ll blog about new features they’ve implemented, but most of how Google is evolving is kept in the dark, open for guesswork and third-party analysis.

Google said a couple years ago that it runs about 20,000 search experiments a year. From time to time, bloggers pick up on some of these experiments, and we learn about them, but you’re not hearing about 20,000 of them in a year’s time. If Google is making more actual changes, you have to wonder if they’re running an increasing number of experiments, or just implementing more of them.

When it comes to search engine optimization change comes with the territory. The game has always been in a constant state of change. Still, Google appears to be making things more difficult than ever.

But Google isn’t out to please webmasters and SEOs anyway. They want to make users happy (or so they say, anyway). The question is, are all these changes really making for a better experience?

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Images via Google


  • Sofakingdabest

    All tech evolves on a daily basis so changes will be made.

  • sam

    Depends on if you ‘pay to play’.

  • http://gastricbandfrance.co.uk/ geofflord

    Google are in it for the money, any way they can screw more money out of us all the better they like it. anypne who believes it to improve the user experience is living in cloud cuckoo land (or maybe working for google !!)

    • rpitera

      So your hospital gives out free surgery and medications? Here’s a secret for you – EVERY business is in it for the money. If they’re not, then they aren’t a business for long. And as an aside, Google doesn’t bill you at the end of your visit like your hospital does so I’m not sure how you feel they should recoup operating costs and make a profit for their shareholders.

      I understand your position; I’m a web developer myself. But learning to work with Google, Bing, Yahoo, et al is part of the landscape.

      • http://gastricbandfrance.co.uk/ geofflord

        Yes I appreciate the fact that “google” are in business to make money, but the big difference is that most businesses are open about there terms and are pro-active in notifying clients about major changes that will effect the terms of any deals or contracts they may have…whereas “google” make secretive and dramatic changes which will undoubtedly have an effect on most businesses listed on their search engines, which can even destroy a business without any notice whatsoever, and what is even worse is that you (we) have absolutely no way of even raising a complaint or getting a straight answer as to why your site has been effected or even delisted. I use Adwords on a daily basis for which I am obliged to pay the going rate on a PPC basis which I consider to be yet another rip off because once again google have a super way of optimising their income with the bidding system which we are all forced to participate in….I am not against any business making money, but lets all be open how we do it !!

        • rpitera

          What world do you live in where most businesses lay bare their practices? What color is the sky in that world? My clients have great SEO positions and I have NEVER used any PPC for it. If you have relevant content, follow standards and curate relevant inbound and outbound links, PPC should be an afterthought.

          • http://gastricbandfrance.co.uk/ geofflord

            Yeah, we all live in your perfect World !! Unfortunately the vast majority of people do not have the time, the knowledge or skills to even attempt to attain your level of perfection.
            The vast majority of my business does in fact come from generic searches and my sites are always ranked on page 1 of google, but because we can no longer get away with “keyword stuffing” or “Black hat spamming” there are certain phrases and keywords which “Most” regular website owners need to use PPC to catch those “extra” Hits.
            However the Main point of this discussion was about being open and transparent about how one does business, and I am still of the opinion that “Google” are one of the Worlds worste offenders on that score !!

      • http://cannabis-spain.com Paz

        Actually I run a non profit (as all business hould be) so the community and peoples welfare if far more important than profits to some of us 😉 Hopeully with in a few years the sheeple will all be turning to open source free services

        • rpitera

          Google has released over 20 million lines of code and over 900 projects. Many engineers work on open source projects full time, and even more use their 20% time to create new projects or contribute to their favorite existing projects.

          • http://cannabis-spain.com Paz

            I’m aware of Googles dominance in the market, this is the point I think :)

  • Anon

    Google cares about one thing and one thing only, attacking all methods of traffic and website promotion in order to force millions of self employed people and small businesses to try to compete with the largest corporations on the planet, making them spend billions of $’s on advertising.

    There is absolutely no way, of course, that any small business can possibly compete with the bottomless pockets of the biggest corporations, who get preferential treatment from Google already because of the massive volume of traffic and business.

    This is a rigged game. It’s a protection racket. Google is a mobster organization coming into your high street and blackmailing businesses to conform to its demands, and if you don’t conform you face having your door boarded up with their goons standing outside directing customers to a business willing to pay their bribe.

    The sooner Google is destroyed and the market opened up to GENUINE competition, the better. It’s a dangerous, insidious, nasty and criminal corporation in all but name.

    • IMBack?

      Could not have said it better myself

    • John Beagle

      I’m going to have to disagree with you here. While brand names and wiki dominate search results, there are many many smb’s showing up in SERP1 results all the time (including mine).

      I also disagree that Google is a rigged game. Who is Google blackmailing? If anything it would make sense to show search results for smaller businesses and force the brands to increase ppc budgets to get on the first page of results.

    • jgeorge

      Totally agree

    • http://www.hawaiian-shirt.net/ Hawaiian Shirt Aloha

      Google has single-handedly destroyed more small businesses than 10,000 Walmarts ever could have. They did so without any public condemnation whatsoever. Yet we still have otherwise intelligent people who harbor legacy goodwill that Google neither merits nor needs cheerleading away….

  • http://www.PalmSpringsHomesAndEstates.com Nancy Hankin

    I think Google is doing the same thing that the large box stores started to do in the 70’s by pushing the “Little Guy” business person out of business. You no longer see the corner drug store or grocery store where the merchants treated you like “family.” I miss those days of yore. I am a Realtor. I used to be on page one of most searches because my website had great content. I cannot compete with Realtor.com, Truila and Zillow or the large real state companies because they can afford to hire all the experts who’ve learned the tricks needed to be found. We are becoming a country of depersonalization and that is so sad. No wonder its become so easy for some to kill others……they have no empathy because they don’t even know their neighbors anymore!

    • Susan

      Hi Nancy. I wanted to let you know that the reason Realtor.com, Zillow and Trulia are at the top doesn’t have much to do with them learning the tricks. It is Google forcing everyone to use the bottomless pit called pay per click, which I have found will cost you thousands of dollars but no real leads. The reason those sites rank at the top is because Google uses brand name mentions as a leading factor for ranking. Meaning that the more mentions the business has, the higher it ranks. You can look it up somewhere – Google patented it recently and that’s how it was exposed. There is no way to compete with those sites when you are a local site because the mentions of those brands throughout the internet are endless. Again, it’s the mere mention of it, not links. The way Google sees it is those brands will continue to use ppc but they weren’t getting enough of those “regular” people so in one brief moment they chop off everyone’s legs and say it is in the name of progress. The unfortunate part is that Google doesn’t realize that pay per click doesn’t really work, or maybe they do. It may work if you are a recognizable brand but otherwise get ready to spend way more than you will ever make if you are in real estate. Maybe if you are a plumber or something like that, it may work. But real estate…….forget about it….and with Zillow buying Trulia now, it will only get worse.

      • http://www.PalmSpringsHomesAndEstates.com Nancy Hankin

        Susan: Thanks for stopping by. A few years ago I did pay thousands for “pay per click” and never got 5 cents in return. I had to stop. Pay per click was putting me out of business. Sadly, what people do not realize is that these large companies KEEP SOLD LISTINGS on their sites for a very long time. About 4-5 years ago I was in Wisconsin visiting family and I used Realtor.com to look for homes we could see. Now what I am about to tell you REALLY DID HAPPEN. I pulled 10 homes to look at. Every one of those homes had been SOLD 6-12 months ago but they were still on Realtor.com as ACTIVE. I am now advertising on Zillow to get leads of properties in my own neighborhood. It is costing me $406 per month. ALL the so-called leads I get is other sales people trying to sell me their products…..or get this one…buyers wanting me to open a home because their own agents tell them they are too busy to show homes, but once the buyer finds a home, they will write up the offer. How sick is that? What we all need to do is EDUCATE THE PUBLIC and make them aware that these companies are forcing us to buy leads from buyers visiting their sites….and asking buyers and sellers to go the Realtors websites when trying to find a Realtor….not the giants who are costing us a fortune to buy a lead they captured on their website. As a matter of fact, that’s what I am going to write for my next Blog!

      • http://www.PalmSpringsHomesAndEstates.com Nancy Hankin

        I am referring to ORGANIC LISTINGS. You are referring to PAY PER CLICK. Two entirely different scenarios. That is NOT the reason they dominate the first pages of all city real estate searches.

  • http://www.PalmSpringsHomesAndEstates.com Nancy Hankin

    I also want to commend Chris Crum for all the great articles and posts. Chris….two thumbs up on your fine work….keep it up!

  • George

    I think their efforts is to keep it unstable with the SEO efforts, so they can convert people into a more stable and profitable PPC Adwords switch for them. They want to kill SEO marketers and the money they are loosing to us. I always tell my clients that this is a roller coaster ride. Nothing is stable, and this is an article I will give them to prove it. Thank you for the great post.

  • João Maurício Gonçalves

    From São Paulo – Brazil.
    O Google está se achando o dono da Internet, um verdadeiro Deus. Deve tomar cuidado porque quando cair, vai ser grande a queda e nunca mais se recupera.
    Sim. O Google está abusando na quantidade de mudanças, eu fui muito prejudicado mas estou lutando para subir novamente. Essas mudanças são apenas para gerar mais receitas e lucros e não pela qualidade das pesquisas que estão cada vez piores…

  • My Ideal Life

    I frequently see scraper sites outranking quality content, I know of businesses that have had to lay people off because of the impact the changes Google have made.

    At the end of the day Google are purely out to make themselves more profitable no matter what the cost to anyone else is.

    The only winners other than Google are the SEO companies that have used these frequent updates to pick up more business and use as an excuse for their inability to deliver the results they promised.

  • IMBack?

    Google sucks and is becoming less relevant

  • Aaron Gibbs

    As a small business owner ( taxi service) i am currently very frustrated with Google. The last couple weeks my business has dropped severely due to the fact my free” Google places for business” listings have suddenly and mysteriously stopped appearing in the Google search in two of the three towns nearest my business. So now where my listing used to appear at the top of the first page of search results along with my competitor, now in those two towns its just my competitor’s free Google places for business listing appearing. Not fair!
    Not fair for my business and not fair to potential customers because theyre not seeing that they have a choice for local taxi service near them in their search results.
    Could get no help or answers from Google’s telephone “specialist”. He actually suggested their paid adwords advertising to me! ( which ive tried in the past and it didnt work for me)
    This could actually doom my new business which was struggling before this debacle. 80 to 90% of my taxi clients have told me they found me from doing a Google search.

  • Zonda

    5 Reasons according to me, You Should Be Scared of Google!!

    5. Google Has All The Answers (About You)
    4. Google Isn’t Like Other Companies (Unless You Count Microsoft)
    3. Google is Big Because They’re Smart (And Too Big To Continue to Be Smart)
    2. Google Will Protect Your Data (Until They Feel Threatened)
    1. Google Stood Up to Chinese Censorship (Because They Are Terrifyingly Powerful and They Know It)

  • SteveFaul

    I think a lot of truths have been said below, I wish Google would listen to their audience “we don’t like what you are doing” – Google wants to control the world.
    Destroying business as they go & take no prisoners. The “information highway” is limited to what Google wants you to read. As a comment below points out, the small guy cannot compete against the big corporation anymore – small business are collapsing. Personally I think Google had a good product but now, with all their buggering around, it’s not great.

    Example – If I live in a village in Europe and want to plan a trip to Australia why goes Google give me search results & the name of the shop at the end of my street, who has never been to Australia – I want to contact an operator in Australia who knows what they are talking about. My once healthy business operates at 10% now thanks to Google

    I think Google should stop messing everyone around and go find another project / job

  • jgeorge

    Google only cares about their bottom line. It is going to come back to haunt them one day. I am a very small retailer and every time I see some success Google changes and my sales plummet. Why should I keep paying Google for PPC when I get nowhere because of all the changes. I’m a one woman show and I can’t keep up with this fast pace. Google only cares about the big guys with big pockets and big IT teams. I generally hate penguins and pandas.

  • Mark Lamendola

    Yeah, it’s great for users who like to see Wikipedia and paids ads plus a lot of poorly done sites dominating the rankings. The user experience at Yahoo or Bing is at least 10 times better. Using Google for search makes about as much sense as driving a car for exercise.

    They could fix this by getting rid of idiotic things like Penguin (a non-solution to a problem that is more easily and effectively solved in other ways) and maybe looking at the real search engines to see what grown-ups can do so much better than Google does.

  • nauvoo

    Frankly I am getting pretty sick of Google. The people they constantly want to kick in the teeth are the people who provide the content they so self-righteously purport to be delivering to the public. If there was no content they would have nothing to deliver. There are plenty of good solid businesses that provide great services but are invisible because Google wants to set up as many hurdles as possible to getting ranked. It seems like original content and photos don’t mean diddly to Google as long as you have the scratch to cobble together a bunch of bogus “back-links” to your site. I have a business to run. Getting backlinks is largely a fraudulent exercise except for the most social of social sites. I don’t have time to engage in Google’s vacuous and pretend world so the heck with them. I rank pretty good in Yahoo for my keywords…without all the backlinks. Backlinks may be a big deal to Google, but I can tell you I get pretty tired to getting all the same websites up for every keyword phrase I enter…whether they have anything to offer or not. I can type in the title of my page, a very specific, location sensitive title and get 50 websites that have nothing to do with my search topic before I can find my website. Just exactly who the hell is that helping?

  • unconvinced333

    Google sucks now. I’d love seeing the 2004 Google back again, where most relevant was shown instead of what Google thinks they know better than you what you want or (should) see. Oh, for a true ‘do no evil’ Google again! Saddest day of the internet when they went public – they already had a good thing going for them and were profitable. Now I use them only for a quick spell-checker.

    • Moderate

      there spell check is 5 star!!!

  • http://www.hawaiian-shirt.net/ Hawaiian Shirt Aloha

    Worse. The google durable good keywords used to go to actual stores about those keywords. Now they go to bloated corporate brands. I have spoken with many that no longer use google to shop. Speed the day when nobody uses it.

  • joes

    I see a big problem with Googles constant changes, especially giving so much weight to social media sites such as pinterest. Searching certain keywords, Google will rank all of these sites very high – Although the results are not relevant at all, and i can see many more useful and much more related sites being ranked not even on the main page! So that is the future, the little guy is pushed out, the big companies get ranked higher, and we all get less useful content. Yay.

  • david rogers

    google is a very bad search engine now. not at all accurate

  • Angeline Plesek

    Google needs some tough competition in order for the game to change!

  • kds

    You have to roll with the tools that are available. Also, those tools are completely up to you to use. no one is forcing a retailer or service provider to use any PPC stratagy at all. If you have a good site with relevant content and it is optimized correctly, PPC should be a boost not a need for more traffic. A small shop site can swing with the big boys if it evolves and you continue to make content improvements. A web site, social media platform, blog, etc… should change, shift, and develop as technology grows and improves. I constantly update and tweak content to improve page placement. This is not a set it and forget it type of environment.

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