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Thursday, June 17, 2004

Google Urban Legends

Google Inc is so popular they even assembled a few urban legends around their bright image. Here are the top five street rumours I came across:

1. “Google ranks sites using AdSense higher than other”

Some people noticed quite a few sites use Google advertising on their site. Webmasters participating in the Google AdSense program also sometimes rank quite well on Google. Though you and I might think this is somewhat natural – after all, they must be at least remotely knowledgeable about Google if they use the AdSense program – others suspect Google tweaks its algorithms to push AdSense sites. Why would Google do that? Of course, to make more money from clicks and to sell more ads as well.

2. “Google pushes sites down the ranking so they are forced to buy AdWords”

AdWords describes the space occupied to the right-hand of Google search results. As opposed to the main results, this space is highly commercial – meaning people pay money to Google if the ad is convincing you to click on it. Now some people think their natural rankings are taken away from them by Google, forcing them to buy into the ad program. The people believing this are mostly disappointed webmasters who saw their site’s rank fall down the ladder for their target phrase. Of course, as others will tell them, for any webmaster dropping 100 pages there are 100 webmasters who rank 1 position higher.

3. “Google’s time is over, their results are not relevant these days”

I’ve often seen people pointing to their favorite search engine of the day, telling others Google has become nothing but spam-infested. While it is true most spammers attack Google (and why would they take on the number two search engine if they want to get visitors – I for one get 10 times more referrals from Google), Google still has the most relevant results of all search engines. It is also true Yahoo and MSN are getting better at mirroring Google’s approach. And others like Vivisimo or Kartoo have interesting concepts. But have you ever tried using something like Vivisimo for everyday search, especially when you are in dire need of nothing but the best match?

4. “Google favors blogs”

I’ve read over and over Google somehow pushes weblogs to the top. That most results become unusable because too many blogs clutter results. The only truth I can find in these accusations is an overtly friendly linking scheme of many bloggers (i.e. their habit to link to many other blogs via their blogroll). And we all know Google looks at links when they do their rankings. What most people wouldn’t want to realize is blogs also often contain highly specialized and up-to-date information on topics not covered this way elsewhere. E.g. enter “Where can I get a Gmail invitation?” into Google and you will find 7 of the top 10 results to be blogs. (Other results, like Wired’s one, are still blog-like – Wired has RSS, reverse chronologic news homepage, and so on.) Blogs matter for more reasons looking up their definition on would ever reveal, their good Google ranking being a mere symptom of that.

5. “Google’s Gmail invades privacy”

The topic has grown old by now (old in web time, of course), but I couldn’t dismiss it because I feel this is one of the most wide-spread urban legend attacking Google. Google’s Gmail does what every other web mailer does, which is to automatically scan your mails. Some companies use this scanning process to adjust links on the fly (a nasty habit of “Notmail”, as it was accidentally called in the forum), depriving you of your right to see where the link actually leads to. Most others, like Yahoo, just do it to filter out spam mails (their highly annoying in-between ads being completely unrelated to your interests, something which somehow should make you feel safe). The only web mailer on the other hand doing something mildly useful (read: focussing on the needs of the user) is Google with their Gmail.


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