Social Search might kill Google’s Integrity

Danny SullivanDanny Sullivan – @dannysullivan
posted late yesterday, How Being “Friends” On Google+ Leads To Better Rankings http://selnd.com/o2m3mk – this surprised me.

Danny Sullivan’s article here stoked some interesting questions about Google’s search results – questions I’ve had for a couple weeks now, after experiencing “social search” modifications to my search results. My initial reaction was blase – so my search results would be tweaked based upon what my friends, followers, and social connections have marked. No big deal.

But the more I think about this, the more I think this is a HUGE deal. I think Google may be playing with their entire brand & business.

Think about this: Google has spent virtually their entire existence reinforcing the concept that they’re the information portal. If you want to know something, want to find something, want to research something: You go to Google. They’ve fought off gaming, they’ve fought off spammers, they’ve done everything they can to cull the best organic search results on the web – and sprinkled in advertisers in such a passive (and ultimately helpful) way that the results were nearly always a good place to start anything fresh online.

Coming: The Google+ Brand Boost
Bottom line: being a brand on Google+ will mean people can make a direct connection to you, and that’s going to result in an increased chance that you’ll rank better for those people, when they’re logged in.

But for a while now, Google’s search performance has been “under threat” by social and other activities, which has become quite the sensation thanks to a (now) public berating by Roger McNamee…

Google is a victim of its own success: its search has become polluted by SEOs. What shows that Google has failed is all those “non-search” services that really solve a search problem, like Match.com or Realtor.com. If you add them all up, they account for 50% of searches.

http://adage.com/images/bin/image/1-TroubleGoogle-042009.jpgThe argument goes like this: Google can’t grow bigger if people aren’t putting up websites (in the Google-esque way) to populate it’s search results with better information. People are instead gravitating towards walled gardens (like Apple’s iPhone ecosystem, Wikipedia.org, Realtor.com, Match.com, etc…) to perform up to half of the searches for relevant information (essentially after picking a portal that will provide them a gateway to what they want).

But by including “social” results (culled from Google+ now that Twitter is out of love with them and Facebook is tight with Microsoft on Bing), Google may be playing with the core essence of their entire brand and business.

I go to Google precisely because I want a trusted resource that has spent its entire existence weeding out garbage. Of course Google search could be better – but the opinions of my friends and social connections is hardly a better solution. Those social tools already exist. They’re Facebook and Twitter searches. I’m sure that’s terrifying for Google, but even worse is gambling your entire search engine & index on social suggestions.

Personally, I think Google should simply introduce “Social Search” as a separate tab of their search engine universe. Let me choose to see what everyone has to share, and order it by social proximity. But don’t blend search + social together! The end result is a killer backfire: I’m logging OUT of my Google account just to see the search results that I actually want. And once you’re out, the temptation to see that red “notification” tab at the top of the new black Google bar vanishes pretty quickly.