Over the last couple of months there has been a bit of a slow down in traffic to this site. Not particularly surprising as I have been posting far less frequently. Then, yesterday, my web traffic shot up: three times as many visitors as I’ve been having the last few weeks.
The reason? Seemingly a slight change in Google’s algorithm in my favour. The site has gained no new links, there are no new posts worthy of note, Google have just changed the significance of one of their many ranking attributes and it has changed in my favour.
This can be seen most clearly when taking traffic from one of Google’s sites in isolation:
It doesn’t matter for this blog. Its purpose is not to make money, just provide a place for some of the random thoughts that creep into my mind.
There are, however, many business that rely primarily on search engines driving traffic to their web sites, and such huge variations in traffic can only cause difficulties. Whilst social media is changing how many of us find information, search engines are still very powerful, and Google is too powerful.
Unfortunately most poor academics don’t have access to the same data as Bill Tancer, instead we generally have to make do with the crumbs from Google and the other search engines. This morning however, I was reminded about how careful we need to be when using the tools the search engines offer us.
Today I was using Google Insights for Search to compare the term cybermetrics and webometrics. Whilst I am part of the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group, as a group we tend to discuss ‘webometrics’. Google Insights for Search clearly shows that whilst there was once a time when cybermetrics ruled supreme, webometrics is now far more popular.
More importantly, however, I also noticed that Iran wasn’t highlighted on the map for the term ‘webometrics’, despite Iran have a (relatively) strong webometrics community.
Basically, because Iran does not appear in the results for ‘cybermetrics’ (which was my first search term), it is not calculated for ‘webometrics’. If I had added the term ‘webometrics’ first, then the term ‘cybermetrics’ the map would have looked very different:
The solution would seem to be to include a universal search term first, but those that immediately spring to mind are not necessarily the sort that you would want appearing on a corporate slide-show.
It is always a bit of a chore to catch up on RSS feeds after a couple of days away, but the release of Chrome has taken the blogosphere by storm in a way I have never seen before.
Whilst Blogpulse shows that 1.5% of all blog posts were about Chrome, it was probably nearer 25% of all the posts in my RSS reader. Even the most irregular of bloggers were compelled to post an opinion. So, is Chrome any good, and how quickly will it grab market share?
Chrome is amazingly quick, the bloggers are impressed, the press have decided not to take the ‘porn’ browser line they did with Internet Explorer 8 – Beta 2, and it’s promoted on the Google homepage. Whilst it has been suggested that Chrome will take 15-20% of the browser market within 2yrs, I expect to see it grow faster than that.
Not only will Chrome quickly gain market share, they will be getting it primarily from Microsoft, not Firefox. Without extentions the Firefox geeks are unlikely to be swayed in the long term, whilst the simplicity and speed will quickly appeal to the average user. From Microsoft’s point of view, it will give Google access to sort of data that they wanted to leverage with their BrowseRank.
Verdict: Unless Microsoft produce something amazingly innovative in the next couple of years, Google will own the web within 10 years.
When you wake up thinking “I can’t wait to try Chrome” [that's Google's new browser if you have been living living under a rock for 24hrs], you realise that you spend too much time working and thinking about the online world. It is, however, an important move that could shake up the way we use the web for years to come.
Chrome is being promoted as the first step in the brave new world without Windows, it will be the web OS. ‘Hooray’ shout the Google worshippers, professing their love for a service they have not yet tried: “I love Chrome already and I haven’t even tried it yet” says an irrational TechCrunch, presumably shortly before taking a much needed very cold shower.
I have mentioned before that I was waiting for a browser that fundamentally changes our surfing behaviour, but it would be a shame if it came from Google. But there again, for all the noise their launches attract, they haven’t been particularly great products in recent times (e.g., Knol, Lively). So maybe there is still time for a new entry into the browser market.
nb. At the time of writing this, I am still waiting for the product to be launched. It’s in Google’s index, but the link just forwards me to the Google homepage.
But hopefully I will get to try it before the day is out.
In response to Google’s continued growth in the search engine market, last week I decided to attempt to give up Google Search. For the last week my search engine of choice has been Ask:
Whilst I have regularly used different search engines over the years, a fundamental shift came in my searching behaviour in about 2000. Pre-2000 there was no single search engine that dominated my search activities, I went all over the place: HotBot, Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista. I even Asked Jeeves on occasion. Since 2000, however, Google has dominated my life, with only occasional visits to those few search engines that continue have their own index. Trying to break eight years of Google dominated search has a number of difficulties.
Habit – You don’t have to think about typing in Google, you fingers seemingly hit the keys before you have even decided what you want to search for; this is not an easy habit to break. I quickly remember, however, as soon as I have typed GOOGLE, or after I have typed in my search terms, that I am trying to give up Google Search, and force myself to go to Ask and type in the queries again (however tempting the Google results may look). I think Google is a habit that can be broken, but it isn’t easy.
Trust – After using Google for eight years, I find that I trust them to do their job as a search engine. Whilst I understand the limitations of any single search engine (i.e., that Google’s search engine is not exhaustive, and that other search engines will have different pages indexed), tens of thousands of queries have taught me what to expect from the Google index. When I don’t get the results I need from Google I make a judgement as to whether I need to try somewhere else or adjust my search terms; if I don’t find what I want on Ask my first reaction is to question the quality of the search engine. Trust is something that can only come with time.
The Google Package – Google now offers more than just web search: blogs, emails, news, image search, blog search, scholar. No other search engine provides such a variety of products that are of the same quality (the UK version of Ask News is currently rubbish); you can’t help but return to a certain extent. Vigilance is constantly necessary if we are to stop falling back into our old Google habits.
The Gold Standard – Despite trying to break away from Google search, I still care how it ranks my pages. Most people use Google. Most of my traffic comes from Google. It means more to have a high Google rank than a high Ask rank, and you can’t help but check.
Whilst it was always going to be difficult to move away from Google, Ask’s search compares favourably, you just have to make an effort to break the Google habit, and give Ask enough time to build up a level of trust. For all Google’s growth, there are two things I prefer about Ask: The Skins (the polka dot background always cheers me up); and the URL is 3 keystrokes shorter. How many man hours would have been saved if Google had called themselves Goo?
Whilst the Olympics has been drawing my attention away from the world of technology, one Hitwise finding did catch my attention: Google’s share of US search hits 70%.
Whilst I have often lamented at the state of the search engine market, specifically the Google monopoly, like most other users I have made no effort to change my behaviour. However, as the Google machine marches forward, and another landmark is passed, we realise that unless we do start changing our behaviour we could end up in a world where Google is the only search engine. Or even the only powerful online presence.
Google has spread throughout my online activities, far beyond the initial search:
-I blog with Blogger.
-I track my web site’s use with Google Analytics.
-My blog contains AdSense Ads.
-I keep notes in Google Docs.
-I find articles with Google Scholar.
As there is only so long I can comfort myself with the fact I managed to resist using Google’s RSS reader (nb. Newsgator is brilliant), I have decided to stop using the Google Search Engine. Giving up Google Search requires the least initial effort, although will probably require greater effort in total; I often find myself typing ‘www.google.com’ without even thinking. The only way will be to give up Google Search ‘cold turkey’.
Most of us use Google Search out of habit these days, rather than there being any real difference in the quality of the results; the competitive advantage of PageRank has long since been caught up. Hopefully new search engines will give me a whole new perspective on the web.
In addition to Google Trends, Google are now offering Google Insights for Search (http://google.com/insights/search/#)(via TechCrunch). Not only can you filter the terms by category, for example helping to distinguish between Apple (Computers & Electronics) and apple (Food & Drink), but it will also give a nice visual representation of the geographic data.
We can now quickly see that the Iran is the country most interested in webometrics:
The maps also offer a whole new type of vanity searching. The “David Stuart” brand has yet to make major inroads in Africa, Asia or South America. I was grateful, however, to find that my own vanity searches had not overly effected the results (at a city level London is the hub rather than Wolverhampton).
Some bloke called Barack Obama, on the other hand, seems to have made inroads all over, with the exception of the Middle East.
The obvious question, based on the directory structure of the Insights for Search URL (http://google.com/insights/search/#), is what other insight services are Google going to offer? Insights for Maps? Insights for Shopping? Insights for News?
Cuil.com is the new search engine that, as ReadWriteWeb point out, got rather a lot of publicity for its launch. Its publicity seems to be based on the fact that it is run by some ex-Googlers, and that it makes some big claims about the size of the index. However, I seem to be missing the feature that will make it a Google killer.
Whilst wanting to be part of the next generation of search engines, it seems to be playing a rather old fashioned game by going for the simple interface and bragging about the size of their index.
Most search engines gave up index-bragging years ago. Beyond a certain number of pages the size of an index becomes quite meaningless for all but the most obscure of queries. If anything a larger index may hamper the results as more low quality pages will be included. It is best to focus on a quality crawl rather than the biggest possible crawl.
Whilst the public love a simple interface (they are simple creatures), it brings nothing new to the market. Whatever way you try to rank the data, whether PageRank or BrowseRank, there is only so much you can do with a simple keyword search: people will continue to use homographs and fail to use appropriate search terms.
Whilst you can only really tell how good or bad a ranking algorithm is by using it regularly, first impressions of Cuil are not good. A simple search for webometrics fails to find any of the three main webometrics blogs, whilst the Statistical Cybermetrics Research Group at the University of Wolverhampton is coupled with a photo of a guy in a turban. No one in the group wheres a turban.
Cuil is definitely no Google killer. These days there are a million and one reasons to go to the Google site besides search, and any new entrant into the market needs to offer something outstanding to break the monopoly. Cuil has nothing.