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Archive for May 25th, 2008

If Nobody Can Find You, Do You Exist? Google Can Do Better!

Posted by Bob Warfield on May 25, 2008

Interesting article by Ryan Stewart on how he was “erased” from the Internet.  In fact, it was just that Google quit indexing his blog, but that’s pretty scary if you rely on Google searches to direct most of your traffic.  It’s made Ryan a serious believer in the value of getting competitors in search so that one’s ability to be found on the Internet is not strictly a function of a potentially arbitrary and capricious Google.

There’s been a lot of argument lately from the Twitter audience that Twitter has become so important that it can no longer be left strictly in the hands of Twitter, and that it should be decentralized.  Isn’t Google many many times more important in this age?  And isn’t it growing more important day by day? 

One wonders when the anti-trust suits will start queueing up that argue that Google has altered its ranking algorithms in a way that is anti-competitive, for example, by exclusing Yahoo or other large competitors from its search index.

Ryan was able to get things restored (maybe, it takes 3 weeks, but he did track down what Google objected to), but if one were to look at this from a constructive, “What should Google do?”, standpoint, I have an idea or two.  First, it’s a good thing that Ryan was able to track through Google’s internal procedures to find the problem, but from his description, that process surely should be streamlined. 

My firm, Helpstream, makes generous use of search to help people get service when they have a problem.  The first thing the application does is ask them to describe the problem so a search can be performed and appropriate answers presented.  If all else fails, then a conventional support ticket is issued.  Now here is Google holding the keys to the search kingdom, and things don’t work this way.  Why not?  Why can’t I just type a multitude of problems, but especially, “My site was delisted from Google“, and see search results with Google’s support answers at the top?  BTW, if you click that link I gave, you’ll see that Ryan was far from the first one to have this sort of problem.  I mean heck, they banned the Disney blog for crying out loud.  How can that fit with, “Do no evil?”  I say that only partially tongue in cheek, because this is a serious business.

In fact, it is such a serious business that I have a second recommendation for Google.  They have a service today that Ryan used to determine what the problem was for his site.  Apparently the site was hacked and spammers inserted some bogus links that he wasn’t even aware of.  I sympathize.  A blog gets big and who spends time patrolling every post looking for such misdeeds?  My suggestion for Google is to offer a reporting service.  They could certainly charge for it if they wanted, because it is critical stuff for a lot of sites.  For a nominal fee, perhaps $5 or so a month, it should be possible to get an email alert whenever your site’s status changes with Google.  Whether that is a page rank change, or the more serious step of being delisted, you’d get an email when it happened.  I have to believe this would be a net profit generator for Google, as well as a comfort for those who rely on Google.

Lest you think this can’t happen to you, consider that search I provided a link for.  There are 348,000 entries there, including the poor Disney characters.  I can tell you from experience that I tracked Google results for SmoothSpan daily for about 6 months and they vary wildly.  It sits today at 16,900, but during that time it has varied from about 700 on up to the bigger 16,000’ish number for no rhyme or reason that I can see.  Google blog search is worse, and is all over the map, which speaks to Ryan’s issue of whether Google is an effective way to search his blog.

This is all bad news for Google.   First, that list of people who got delisted are unhappy customers, make no mistake about it.  Second, Google has no good mechanism in place to help them.  That’s really bad for a brand that prides itself as Google does.  Lastly, it provides strong incentive to consider the alternatives, as Ryan suggests he will. 

The other thing is, it’s tragically avoidable.  Google could easily implement the suggestions I’ve given, and they’d be a good thing for all.

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