Friday, November 21, 2008

Google's SearchWiki: Promote, Remove, Comment

Increasing numbers of Google users are waking up to a new search reality: the search results on any given keyword(s) now show three extra buttons next to each returned result, allowing selected users (the lucky folks, like me, that have apparently been chosen randomly from Google account holders) to promote webpages to the top of the search results page, remove them altogether or even comment on them.

Well, they sneaked that in quite below the radar, at least for something that in the SEO community will be considered a major update. And indeed, the SEO forums are buzzing with this news, with most people trying to figure out what this means for the future of SEO and how this new feature, you've already guessed, can be manipulated for personal improvement of site rankings and thus monetary gain.

One thing is clear, for the time being, using the Promote, Remove, Comment facilities affects only how that individual user will see the results and not how others will see them. As such it is merely a way for the Googler to personalise his own search experience.

But there is no question that Google will collate the data on people's preferences and will factor these in the organic rankings, at some point or other. And let's face it: in many search term spaces Google performs badly and seems driven mainly by PageRank levels of the homepage of the organisation to which the served webpage belongs, more than by the more difficultly applied concept of "relevancy". And on longer, niche search terms what the searcher obtains looks more like an algorithm-generated lottery than a rational classification. So there's clearly room for improvement and what better improvement than a decent human touch?

Taking into account actual users preferences of this ranked page over that one could of course lay the system wide open to abuse, the most apparent attack vector being biased malware spiderbots that would attempt to artificially inflate the popularity of certain pages. As a results it's not to be expected that the new user-empowering measures will start affecting overall search results overnight: As such this is very much beta. From Google's own user guide:
Note: This is an experimental feature served to a random selection of participants and may be available for only a few weeks.

But I doubt very much that this feature will disappear any time soon though: it will take Google considerable time to objectively work out how to algorithmise what in effect will be a user-based voting system, a form of democracy on the Net as it were. And as with any democracy, expect some massive attempts at vote-rigging...

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