Google’s Fresh Results: Irrelevancy In Action

    April 30, 2012
    Chris Crum

Google continues to place a certain emphasis on the freshness of search results. Even with its latest monthly list of algorithm changes (which reminds me, another one should be coming out any day now), Google had five different changes related to freshness.

Do you think Google’s increased emphasis on freshness has made results better? Let us know what you think in the comments.

I’ve hinted at it several times while writing about Google, but I’ve never come out and written an article specifically about this. Google’s emphasis on freshness is often burying the more relevant results. While I run into this problem fairly often, I ran into it while I was working on my last article, so I decided to go ahead and point out an example of what I’m talking about.

WebProNews puts out a lot of content. I put out a fair amount myself, and sometimes I simply find it easiest to go to Google to search for past articles I know we’ve written, when I want to reference something we’ve talked about in the past. When I do this, I’ll usually search for “webpronews” and a few keywords I know are are relevant to the article I’m looking for. Sometimes Google will give me exactly what I need immediately. Sometimes, however, freshness is getting in the way, and this example proves that.

In this case, I was looking for the article I wrote back in August called “Does Google Need Twitter?” So I searched, “webpronews, does google need twitter”. I can’t imagine what else could be more relevant to that query than that article. According to Google (and this is with or without Search Plus Your World turned on, mind you), two more recent stories I wrote about the Penguin update (both from today) were more relevant to that search.

Fresh isn't always more relevant

The only mention of Twitter in either of the two articles ranking above the one I was actually looking for, comes in the author bio sections, where it says to follow me on Twitter. I’m not sure what signals Google was looking at to determine that these results would be relevant to me for that query, but clearly freshness was given too much weight.

This is just one example, of course, but I see this all the time. I’ve seen others mention it here and there as well. We had a comment from Matt, on a past article, for example, who said:

“I find that recency is often given more credence than relevancy. Sometimes the content I’m looking for is older. Not all of the best content on the web happened in the last week.” Exactly! I thought it was just me. Freshness over relevancy was driving me nuts, I started using Bing it was getting so bad. Turns out Bing is actually pretty awesome.

Google may be looking to compensate for its lack of realtime Twitter data, which it lost as the result of a deal between the two companies expiring last year (in fact, that’s what “Does Google Need Twitter” was about).

We get it. Google can index new, fresh content. That’s good. I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, when Google had realtime search, it came in the form of a little box in the results, much like other universal search results appear – like when you get results from Google News. The latest tweet wasn’t presented as the top, most relevant result, just because it was indexed a minute ago.

Realtime search was Google’s best example of freshness, in my opinion, and that went away with the Twitter deal, although Google has hinted that it could return, with Google+ and other data. I don’t think it would work as well without Twitter though. But this is one important area of search where Google isn’t cutting it anymore. If you want the latest, up-to-the-second info or commentary on something, where are you going? Google or Twitter?

Interestingly enough, the fact that Twitter is better in this case, gives Google one line of defense against antitrust accusations. There is competition. In fact, verticals like this, with efforts from different companies (including Twitter) that have the potential to chip away at various pieces of Google dominance, may just be Google’s biggest weakness. I’ve had a conversation with one Googler, which leads me to believe the company tends to agree.

We saw how Google was falling short in the area of realtime search, in particular, when Muammar Gaddafi died.

Google continues to make changes to its algorithm every day, and a focus on quality, both with the Panda update and the Penguin update is good, even if these updates may not be entirely perfect. It’s also good to have content that’s as fresh as possible, so I also don’t want to say that Google’s focus on improving freshness is bad either, but I do feel that Google may be giving a little too much weight to this signal in its ranking process, just as it may be giving a little too much weight to social signals for some types of queries.

Either way, it clearly pays to keep putting out fresh content.

Have you noticed relevancy being sacrificed for freshness in Google results? Let us know in the comments.

Image: The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (via)


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.