Is Google Making Too Many Changes To Search?

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 i...
Is Google Making Too Many Changes To Search?
Written by Chris Crum
  • 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

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