Don't Like A Google Search Result? Tell Them In The Forums

Oct 8, 2009 • 9:10 am | comments (8) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine

For the first time in my six plus years of reporting on search forums, I spotted a thread where Google has made a change to a specific query based on a thread. Of course, they make changes for porn or inappropriate search results, but never for standard issues with sites missing or pages missing from the results.

That has changed with a Google Web Search Help where one user reported that his search for [ information literacy awareness month] did not originally return this page on the White House site. He went on to say that Bing found it, but Google did not.

Google replied a day later saying:

Good news, Janran. We made a slight change this morning and now President Obama's proclamation should show up at the top if you search for it. Thanks again for letting us know. :)

Google made a "slight change" to make President Obama's proclamation "show up at the top" of the search results? Did they just say that? Yes they did.

Forum discussion Google Web Search Help.

Update: See Matt Cutts of Google's comments below where he said this was being "fixed" even before the post and this was not a fix for a "specific query" but for many queries.

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10/08/2009 02:05 pm

if someone that worked at the white house told me Bing had more relevant info and i worked for Google.. i would do everything i could to fix it.. wouldn't you?

Matt Cutts

10/08/2009 02:56 pm

I think I'm familiar with this case, and I'm pretty sure it was a bug that was already being fixed. We don't even have the ability to say "pin this search result at #1."

Matt Cutts

10/08/2009 03:01 pm

By the way, the phrase "Google has made a change to a specific query" is not correct. This bug fix affected multiple queries, not just this one. Feel free to ask us about stuff like this in the future, because I wouldn't want people to reach incorrect conclusions from this post.

john andrews

10/08/2009 03:52 pm

@matt people reach wrong conclusions from the Google thread (hence, this post). People often jump to wrong conclusions when left in the dark... Google (I think) understands how information asymmetry works. It not only looks like a specific adjustment in favor of a friendly client, but Google's suggestion that all things are algorithmic has lost its oomph over time. We all know how easy it is to make a specific algorithmic adjustment to achieve a desired top ranking (even though it's not a "put this result #1" knob). We also know it probably impacts thousands of other queries as collateral damage... but we assume you would have fiddled with it until you saw you only damaged relatively unimportant queries. But that doesn't make it any better... if Google wants to stand behind a protective wall (we have a secret, objective and unbiased algorithm), it can't also abuse that power by managing specific SERPs. Or it can. And when it does, it looks really bad.

Jessica Eballar

10/08/2009 05:22 pm

But isn't a page also ranked according to it's authority and trust (among other things)? Something written by The President of the United States on a specific matter definitely gives it a lot of weight/authority.

Tim Staines

10/08/2009 06:23 pm

@Jessica, I believe you've missed the point. It's not that the source wasn't weighty or authoritative, the issue is that Google "fixed" something in reaction to a comment on a thread, or at least appeared to do so. Besides that, it was a "site:: search, so every returned page had "Presidential" weight/authority. It's a question of SERP manipulation on Google's part, rather than an attack on the value of the page in question.

Matt Cutts

10/08/2009 11:23 pm

Jem clarified on the original thread: "I wanted to clarify my last post. I didn't mean to make it sound as if we made an adjustment to this specific search result. In fact, we were addressing an existing issue (we make little adjustments to improve search all the time), and that change affected the search that Janran brought up in this case. Sorry if there was any confusion." I can summarize from my side as well. There was a bug on our side which was already in the process of being fixed. This particular search happened to show that buggy behavior, but the buggy behavior affected other documents as well (it had nothing to do with pages or any specific types of queries). The bug was already being fixed--in fact, I believe we were already serving correct results at one of our data centers by the time someone mentioned this thread to our engineers. To sum up, the bug affected multiple documents. I doubt the engineers that fixed the bug even knew that it affected were fixing it even before the report came in.

Steve Call

11/15/2009 12:05 pm

Thank you for this nice post. But I had difficult time navigating around your website as I kept getting 502 bad gateway error. Just thought to let you know.

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