Comments on: On MetaFilter Being Penalized By Google (Sadly their comment system is too buggy and kept failing, so I couldn’t post this there).
It is hard to be Google. But they have billions of dollars (tens of billions, I believe now) in profit from search every year which provides resources that dwarf those of all but a handful of companies.
When Google takes action against users (providing bad search results not because the site content isn’t valuable but because the site has some practice Google doesn’t like) or tells website to change other web sites (get rid of links we at Google don’t like you having from some other site) that is extremely bad behavior even if you have a difficult task. And give billions of dollars to do it right I don’t agree it is anywhere near acceptable.
That Google still believes giving search users bad results because that is the best way Google can figure out how to punish those sites doing something Google doesn’t like is super lame. If the site content isn’t useful to search users Google shouldn’t rank it highly. If it is, Google should rank it highly. Basing what I see for search results not on what is useful for me, but on what is from sites that Google didn’t dislike their practices and had related content, is lame.
Sadly without better competition Google can keep up this lazy behavior. Once one or more of DuckDuckGo, Bing, Yandex, etc. do a decent enough job to pull away users Google will stop providing results based on sites that don’t behave how Google wants and instead base search results on value to the user.
There is an easy way to see if Google’s behavior is user driven or the result of lazy behavior by an incumbent without realistic competition. If the “bad practice” Google is trying to correct provides bad content to users it is user driven. If the “bad practice” Google is trying to correct is about doing things Google doesn’t like it is lazy behavior they engage in because providing bad results won’t cost them and doing so lets them threaten sites into compliance with Google’s desires.
This like no-follow and removing links on sites Google doesn’t like have no user value. They are aimed at forcing sites to behave as Google wishes. Google can claim (often it stretches credibility but in some cases with justification) that the trustworthiness of a site is degraded by certain practices and therefore the likely benefit to users is less. So if a site links to lots of lousy sites (per lots of data Google has to value sites) and fits certain patterns which algorithms should be able to measure it is reasonable to penalize those sites.
Treating Twitter results differently because they had no-follow links or follow links has no value to the user. If Google can’t do what most somewhat sensible 10 year olds can do and tell the difference between @timberners_lee, @neiltyson and @Atul_Gawande and spam Twitter accounts then Google threatening Twitter into saying that they don’t believe any of their users are trustworthy (by using the “nofollow” tag) then that is all Google can do. And those threats will likely work fairly well just will the grumbling that we have all seen for the last 5 years. If they get a reasonable competitor such tactics won’t work – Google will have to provide the best results for users and stop penalizing Google search users in order to let Google keep threatening web sites into compliance with their wishes (and if sites don’t comply removing good content from users view).