You’ve probably heard the news already. Google is making search more social with their new Search Plus Your World. Basically, results from or recommended by people in your social network (meaning Google+) are given high placement in rankings when you search.
You might have also heard the biggest criticism of this new search feature — that it’s anticompetitive. (Or at least that’s what Google’s big social media competitors have said.) While I understand that concern, I have bigger ones. I worry about how Search Plus Your World will affect the actual users of Google’s search engine. And I immediately found two glaring problems.
Search Becomes Redundant
The first thing I noticed after the introduction of Search Plus Your World is that my results were repetitive. I already knew so-and-so wrote about subject X and recommended Y. I saw that in their social media updates.
In and of itself, that doesn’t make the content more relevant. I’m using a search engine to find something new or specific. If I want to see what my friends recommend, I’ll check out their +1s, likes, or I’ll ask them on Twitter. Search engine users shouldn’t have to be bombarded with the same material they’ve already found elsewhere.
Google Gets Gamed (…Again)
As a Web publisher I’ve watched Google go after people they see as gaming the rankings system for years. Now it appears they’re handing these heavy promoters better rankings on a silver platter. That’s another trend I noticed quickly — people who are blatant self-promoters ranked high while more trusted sources (like closer colleagues and friends) didn’t appear in my results nearly as much.
Why did this happen? Because these folks are the link whore types who will link to, “recommend,” +1, etc. their own content all day long if they think it’s going to drive more traffic to their sites. These are the old Stumble exchange folks, the “tribes” that blindly link to each others’ content so their own will be promoted too, and the aggressive SEO link builders.
Now don’t get me wrong. These aren’t all bad people. But they do game the system, and the behavior borders on spam at times. I follow some of them because I like what they have to say on their blogs or I have an interest in what they offer elsewhere. That doesn’t mean I should be slammed with their self-promotional nonsense in search results. Keep it isolated to the social networks where I choose to let that through. Wanting to see something on Google+ (or any social network) doesn’t mean we want to see the same people and the same things promoted whenever we search the Web.
On the plus side, Google does let you disable Search Plus Your World (either in your settings or on a case by case basis). The latter option has its own problems though. The options aren’t labeled well, so I doubt the Average Joe searching the Web would even notice. You have to change the results after you search rather than being able to set your options up front. Their highlighting seems almost reversed (when personal results are turned on that button is grayed out — not a big deal, but I can see how it could get confusing).
Then there’s the worst part. You have to change this setting every time you use Google (whether it’s a separate visit or you just open another browser tab). The exception is if you run a new search in the same window where you already changed the settings.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not thrilled with Google’s aggressive tinkering with the default style of search results. If you want your search engine to work as a search engine (rather than a promotional tool for Google+), you need to login and change that in your search settings. I’m sure most readers of this blog are savvy enough to do that. My concern is more about an average user who doesn’t even notice the changes yet (given that the new settings and the ability to change them back aren’t clearly disclosed on results pages).
What are your thoughts on Search Plus Your World? Have you seen the same kind of redundancy I’ve come across? Have you also had issues with bloggers and other heavy promoters ranking better than more trusted people in your network? Share your thoughts in the comments below.