other posted in other news  on 24 January 2012
by Andrew Lang 
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Trouble at the Google Mill

While Google have helped my business over the years (and continue to do so via bringing me traffic), and helped my clients too, there's now a number of looming problems with their services that deserve a mention, especially since we're all (like it or not) so reliant on Google. I think all of these problems stem from the commercial pressure Google are currently under to "perform" to their shareholders, but the strain is showing, and most of the below points are because of this pressure.

Google Over-promoting Google+ on Google Search

Google recently launched "Search Plus Your World" which is actually "Search Plus Google+" (unless your world is entirely encapsulated in Google+'s pages....). It just means that particular search results are now filled up with links to Google+ pages on the right hand side. An example of why that's bad - consider a search for "cooking". In Google, I see Jamie Oliver's Google+ page offered as the top spot. If Google wanted to give the best results possible, they wouldn't show a Google+ listing of Jamie Oliver that was last updated on December 4th (nearly 2 months ago), but they'd show his last few tweets - posted just a few days ago. In fact, a group of Twitter, Facebook and MySpace engineers proved this is fairly easy to do by building their own "Don't Be Evil" tool here! This kind of self-promotion of Google's own products is bad in that it gives less relevant results to searchers, while also promoting yet another pointless marketing drive for businesses to build a Google+ page just to feature in the SERPs in another way. It would be better if businesses could focus more energy on their own sites (which are supposed to feature in Google's SERPs, not a Google page about the business!).

There is also the theory that Google may punish sites in the SERPs that don't employ the +1 share button on their sites - likely under the official reason of not having enough social signals or whatnot, but this is a terrible situation to be in where you have to essentially signup to external Google products just to please the Google search algorithm.

Google Hiding Referral Information For No Real Reason

Since October 2011, Google decided to stop sending referral information to websites they sent traffic to (when a user was logged into Google). But they made an exception with Google Adwords - the referring information WOULD appear in advertiser's website logs if the click came from a Google Adwords ad, rendering any claim of "privacy" as a reason to be redundant - it's just Google pushing people to use Adwords so they can get complete data sets. Remember when a company as big as Google claim to be looking after user's best interests, they're only telling the truth if that co-incides with looking after their own interests. And having said all that - here's an interesting by-product of all this - I can see precisely how many people are logged into Google and how many aren't because of this (I can still know that a click came from Google, just I don't get the referral string) - about 2 to 3% are logged in - which is a lot LOWER than I thought, and a lot lower than Google would want too.

Google Adsense Should Be Renamed to FewCents

Google Adsense really isn't a viable revenue stream any longer. I have taken Adsense off a number of my own sites, because payout per click is so low these days that you get to a point where the ads simply make no sense (and no cents) being there. Also with Google stating that they'll punish sites with too many ads above the fold since it impacts negatively on user experience, perhaps that's the final nail in the coffin for Adsense for me. Funnily enough, Google's search engine results pages (SERP)s are full of ads above the fold - more and more so over the years. I guess they are not looking after searcher's best interests on this occasion because of obvious commercial pressures.

Google Adwords Bid Inflation Means It's Too Pricy for Many

Competitive keywords are competitively bidded against, meaning that you just have to keep bidding higher and higher if you want the top spots on Adwords (ads on right-hand side of Google results). While Google introduced quality scoring so that in theory you pay less if your landing page's content is more relevant to the ad, it still doesn't stop bid inflation - because the top players in any given keyword will already be tweaking their landing page content to be super-relevant - it's hardly a difficult thing to do. What this all means is that it's become really hard for businesses to compete on a limited budget. An example of this is the second hand ticket market. I have a client in this market (since 2004), and now it's become prohibitively expensive for him to use Google Adwords - because the bigger ticketing agents have moved in and put up cost-per-click pricing for top spots way beyond the reach of the smaller businesses. This is typical in many niches now, and I know of a lot of businesses that have quit Adwords altogether. And if you look at the ads on any given search (especially high value searches), just look at the URLs - you'll see a lot of them are huge brands - because they're the only businesses that can afford these placements. Google does love the big brands because they are Google's biggest customers.

Gmail Gives Me the Most Email Spam

This issue may not be related to Google's own commercial pressures, but it's a big problem nonetheless. While Gmail protects its users with spam filters, it does little to nothing to stop its users sending OUT spam. And almost all of the business spam I receive is from gmail.com addresses - not Yahoo!, Hotmail or any other freemail provider. If this was a small email provider, I'd be on the phone to them telling them they have a serious problem with their users abusing their system. But this is Google - this is Gmail. I have complained, but the platform is too big, the spammers too many, and Google seem to do nothing about it.

By business spam, I mean SEO proposals, "make quick money" pitches etc. These are the worst since regular spam (viagra etc) is normally caught by spam filters. Spam filters recognise IP addresses primarily via a Realtime Blacklist. Gmail spam sent manually circumvents filters since filters just cannot afford to filter such a huge email sender like gmail (and when I check, I can see these mails are indeed sent from Google's SMTP servers). Maybe spammers think a lot of people have this lazy assumption that anything eminating from the gmail.com domain name is somehow "legit" because it has this reputation of being used by more "discerning" users (I say that as a Hotmail of 14 years user who's been on the end of a fair amount of "freemail snobbery" over the years). Having said that, Hotmail does have its own restrictions on sending mail, yet Gmail seems to do nothing about their OUTBOUND spam problem which is now hurting gmail's reputation. Surely if their SMTP is being hit so often they can restrict outbound mails, or easily match the content of outbound mails to detect mailshots as opposed to unique mails. There are many ways to restrict such nuisance mailings.

And these companies don't just send a single unsolicited email (which if targeted, is actually legal if business to business), they send repeated generic emails that demand I do something if I want to stop receiving them (which involves me replying to them). It goes beyond spam to sometimes actual harrassment. I've complained to Google a couple of times, but as I said earlier it's futile just banning individual gmail accounts when it's easy for a spammer to setup another gmail account and start the spamming all over again. If this problem gets worse, you might start seeing individuals simply filtering the gmail.com domain altogether - which in turn will hurt genuine Gmail users.

Will It Simply Get Worse for Google (And Its Users)?

Because Google only have one REAL revenue stream, they're having to make more and more of this revenue stream to ensure growth and keep the shareholders happy (even 6% growth didn't keep them happy last quarter). This means Google MUST more aggressively sell their own products in the search results, pay out less and less to publishers (for Adsense), and demanding more and more to advertisers (Adwords). This is the trend that has already been going on for the last two or three years at least, and I can't see it stopping without Google finding a major new revenue stream to take the pressure off their "cash cow" of search.

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