I’m not usually one to come to the defence of Google, indeed I’d love it if they made their preferences easier to find, search tips more obvious (how about a search tips button?) and didn’t hide “verbatim” quite so well.
And anyway, I don’t think I really am leaping to Google’s defence here so much as saying “ah come now, what would you expect?” This is because, to me, the advertisement-heavy results mentioned in Phil Bradley’s recent post are a) not surprising and b) easily avoided.
The results of which the blog post complains are mostly down to two aspects:
Firstly: searching while signed in – so sign out (i.e. make yourself a little more anonymous) and run the search again. I never run any searches signed in for just the reason Phil mentions – Google will, by default, personalise your results (it still will when signed out, but less so). For sure, this must be irritating if you feel the need to be signed in.
Secondly: It would seem that Aaron Harris chose “auto mechanic” in order to demonstrate the plethora of advertising, and not so much as a real-life search. It was inviting predominantly advert-filled results. Perhaps he meant to show the worst, but I expect a librarian would do much the same if faced with an enquirer who refused to expand beyond “auto mechanic”. How about trying a less commercially focused example? “Regenerative medicine” or “middle east situation” or “junk food”?
Thus the experiment certainly proved a point about Google’s capabilities, but is it realistic to say it’s “killing your search results”? I don’t think so. It’s not an example of a sensible search. After all “garbage in – garbage out” still applies. Most searches will contain a little more detail, which easily improves the results.
In the library trade it used to be called the “reference interview”, i.e. finding out what your enquirer really wants to know so the search can be accurate. But we apply it to ourselves all the time: what do I mean by “auto mechanic”? What aspect do I want to find out about? Local services? Try yell.com. Training courses? Try entering auto mechanic training courses…and so it evolves.
We have several options to help refine any search: we can use the Advanced search, or if we want news or academic research we can easily point Google in a specific info-type direction (that’s why there’s a menu under the search bar). Actually, searching on “auto mechanic” in Scholar was quite interesting!).
Just a few basic changes will bring different results. And a lot less advertising? Yes, of course.
Phil, your blog is a great resource which I’d recommend to anyone without hesitation and naughty Google likes to play around…if you let it. But please don’t suggest that there’s no way round it – we need to teach people how they can avoid this, perhaps also recommend other search engines – it’s not rocket science – and we are supposed to be professional searchers!
Let’s have a little more disruptively savvy searching.