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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Does Google Search Still Return the Best Results?

Google dominated the search engine war so thoroughly that its name has become a synonym for search itself. Just like “Nintendo” was once synonymous with video games themselves, Google has become the giant of search. And, naturally, that position of power garners plenty of criticism. Google built a reputation as a fast, accurate search engine powered by PageRank, but the past decade has given spammers plenty of opportunity to game the system by loading down pages with fake links that lead to worthless web pages. We all use Google, but are its results still the best?

Search Engine Land says no. In a test against Bing, Google fared slightly poorer than Microsoft’s search engine. VentureBeat weighed in, too, calling this old news: Google search has sucked for years. But VentureBeat had another point to make: Google knows it’s results aren’t up to snuff, and is taking great strides to make search better than ever.

Search Engine Land’s test primarily concerns the basic results returned from Google and Bing. It awards points for accurate and trustworthy results showing up in the top three and subtracts points if nothing valid shows up on the first page. The test proves what most of us using Google probably know already: junk links and web pages trying to sell you products are rampant on Google in certain contexts.

But by putting Google and Bing on an even playing field, Search Engine Land is discounting most of the efforts Google has made to improve its search. Basic link results are no longer its greatest strength. Its secondary features have grown increasingly vital in recent years. Instant returns results faster. Preview lets you see them before loading a page. Predictions help you find popular, reliable queries. Web history learns from your past searches.

And those aren’t even counting the big changes Google has made to its layout. Location searches are integrated straight into results. News often pops up at the top of the list, delivering current articles about popular topics. Images and shopping results are a click away. Google has worked hard to integrate immediate results like mathematical conversions or translations straight into its search engine. Even if it falls behind in the most accurate search results, Google still rocks at delivering accessible information at lightning speeds.

Just look at This Week in Search to see what Google’s been doing to improve its engine. It may be difficult for Google to completely wipe spammers and misleading webpages from its search results--but if it keeps improving its accuracy and delivering the exact information we’re looking for, we might not have to go sorting through those results, anyway.

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