Google has launched a suggestion form and is asking for feedback on how the search engine can provide a better experience for users. The form is different from the existing “send feedback” feature found in the footer of results pages and solicits broader suggestions by asking for ideas on how Google can improve “search policies and processes”.
The post on the Inside Search blog by Search Policy Specialist Patrick Thomas states that all submissions will be reviewed and that Google will contact some of the best contributors to discuss their ideas.
Thoughts on Patrick’s suggested feedback areas
Should we alert users if we suspect that there’s not much information on the web about their query?
Does this really happen that often in 2013? When you look at the figures for the amount of content added to the Internet it is hard to believe that there are many queries which don’t return valid information to match the user request, even if Google doesn’t manage to surface the best bits to the top. Besides, surely it is up for the user to judge the sufficiency of the results returned and not Google.
Currently if nothing can be found that matches your query exactly, Google may slightly adjust or expand the search in order to pull in results and informs the searcher that this has been done.
Perhaps by doing so Google are attempting to reduce the spread of misinformation or encourage content creation in under-represented areas, but this seems outside the remit of a search provider.
How should Google surface information that might affect a website’s ranking?
I am sure Google’s Webspam team would argue that any additional transparency in this area would aide spammers by providing them with additional data on the spam detection capabilities they are up against when trying to rank their sites.
Google have only recently added a feature in Webmaster Tools which informs site owners if their sites are subject to manual action, such as a penalty for low quality content or link building. Given this, I don’t think we will be seeing much more from Google in the future. Especially since in many cases the current information given by Google doesn’t exactly provide any insights.
Realistically I don’t know how much more information webmasters should reasonably expect but if manual action is taken the site should be made aware – preferably by email!
How should we deal with businesses that we believe may be hacked?
Rather apt given that Google recently decided that one of my websites “may” have been infected with Malware and decided to inform searchers of this and prevent click-throughs with a scary looking warning page.
The effect on organic search traffic traffic was, as you would expect, dramatic. But Google didn’t think to send me an email to inform me of this instead a vague malware warning appeared in Webmaster Tools with no details as to what was found or on which page.
If Google has enough information to reasonably believe a site has been hacked, they should take action to demote the site from search results – but only if they have made a proper attempt to inform the site owner.
Should we do something completely different to support our users? Anything related to how we serve content in search results or interact with users is fair game.
Google has come a long way since results pages were just 10 blue links.
The slides below by Pete Meyers show 85 features now appearing on selected search results pages including answers boxes.
Google are clearly moving to provide a greater variety of information directly on search results pages. Good for the user yes – but the ability to answer user queries directly can also take away search traffic from websites overnight.
Whilst undoubtedly many of these additions are enhancing user experience, there comes a limit if this capability is to be used to enter new industries overnight.
Take for example [car insurance] where Google has positioned its comparison service in front of searchers in premium space not available to other advertisers.
Given the number of Google changes both casual searchers and SEOs have experienced in the last couple of years, it will be interesting to see what the coming years hold for Google.
The Google search policies feedback form can be completed here.