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Have you started questioning the quality of Google's search results? You've probably noticed that a lot of people have been lately.

Before you start asking too many questions, however, Google's Matt Cutts wants you to take into consideration a fact you may not know: Google really wasn't all that good in 2000.

In a post on his blog, he writes:

Google in 2000 looked great in comparison with other engines at the time, but Google 2011 is much better than Google 2000. I know because back in October 2000 I sent 40,000+ queries to google.com and saved the results as a sort of search time capsule.

He shows a handful of results for the query "buy domain name" and explains:

Seven of the top 10 results all came from one domain, and the urls look a little… well, let’s say fishy. In 1999 and early 2000, search engines would often return 50 results from the same domain in the search results.

The not-so-subtle message: yes, Google was the best search engine in 2000, but that didn't mean that it wasn't pretty crappy.

It's an odd message for a well-known employee at the world's largest search engine to send. Yes, Cutts may be trying to make a valid point about how much Google has improved in certain areas over the years, but in doing so, he's making a losing argument about the state of Google today. Nobody cares about Google 2000. Most of us do care about Google 2011.

Unfortunately, Google, as a company, seems ill-equipped to fend off the growing criticism of the core product on which its empire is built -- its search engine.

Google's success has given consumers a good reason to have higher expectations for the company, but instead of treating this as an opportunity, Google seems to be treating this as a curse, so it's playing defense instead of offense, lashing out at competitors and watching as employees like Cutts take PR into their own hands.

In this case, there can be little doubt that Cutts' strange post is a direct result of the fact that the media's infatuation with Google has largely worn off.

Google is being scrutinized and criticized publicly by those who never before dared. A lot of this criticism is leveled at the quality of Google's search results, which Cutts is partially responsible for maintaining.

There's a good lesson here for all companies: relationships with customers sometimes look an awful lot like romantic relationships. In the beginning, everything is perfect, even when it isn't.

Over time, as the endorphins wear off, you start noticing things you didn't before. It's natural, but the key to rekindling the flame is not disparaging your first experiences together so that things seem a little bit better today. In other words, just as you wouldn't tell your spouse "You know, honey, our first date really wasn't all that special" or "I thought you were a really bad kisser at first", you shouldn't tell your customers "Our initial product really sucked" or "You should know we had no clue back when you started using us."

Instead, the key to rekindling the flame of a solid customer relationship is finding ways to bring some of those past emotions and experiences forward to the present.

For Google, the first step in doing this requires asking the question "What did Google mean to consumers in 2000 and why?", not "What did our search results look like in 2000?"

Photo credit: pittaya via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 10 February, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2381 more posts from this author

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Brandon in Seattle

It's funny watching the PR battle over which search engine is the best/worst and whether or not it is even an issue with Facebook taking over a lot of the traffic. Ultimately, we'll decided as consumers what to use.

Personally, despite being in the backyard of Bing and having lots of friends who are employed by it's parent company (yes, the "M" word), I don't use Bing. It's simply not relevant when I'm looking for things. There also isn't another search engine that matches google regardless of how good or bad (in terms of media's perception & maybe some of the noise out on the Internet) people think it is.

I use Google and probably will for a very long time.

over 5 years ago

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Ian Orekondy

As Guy Kawasaki would say, to be a revolutionary in business, "don't worry, be crappy." Or as Seth Godin would say, it doesn't matter if you don't "ship". The important thing then is to launch then iterate and constantly improve - faster than the competition. Google has mastered this approach, and Matt Cutts' comments reflect this.

However, Google's no longer a rule-breaker, they're a rule-maker. They're now Commanding Like Kings, to use another Guy Kawasaki reference.

But are the critics still justified? Maybe, but users and advertisers don't seem to mind one bit! Critics need something to write about, and frankly Google isn't really doing anything that special anymore.

If Google Health could make more in-roads that would be big, but I don't see that happening - there are tons of medical EHR companies rushing into the space - but there IS opportunity here for Google to make significant waves. IF they can simplify the adoption process for physicians, and more importantly, assuage privacy concerns.

That's my take!

over 5 years ago

John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

I remember it being whispered in my ear "Try this new search engine called Google" in the bad old days of Alta Vista. The press has been in love with Google since the beginning, and this must be the longest running honeymoon in corporate history, it had to end.

I remember search before Google ruled the world, and I expect I will see it knocked from it's perch in due course.

John Courtney
Chairman, Strategy Internet Marketing

over 5 years ago

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Alec

I read a lot of blogs and comments from people criticising Google's search results, but personally I haven't experienced any real problem with them. No product is perfect and it seems no matter what they say there is a critic out there who can't do a better job skimming some acclaim for themselves by making negative comments about them. Is there a better search engine? No.

This seems to only matter to people in related industries, everyone I know who is just and end-user has no complaints, they all use Google and none of them think the results are bad.

over 5 years ago

Steve Harvey-Franklin

Steve Harvey-Franklin, Director at AttercopiaSmall Business

At least one issue with search that remains is the relevancy of business/service searches, compared to much less used (hardly ever used) business directories. When searching for business services, the results are cluttered up and often even dominated by non business results.

Example
When searching for "asbestos removal" many of the top results are governmental, authorities and industry associations, which naturally tend to attract the best page ranks / relevant inbound links, and have all the right keywords naturally, but more often than not, people are looking for businesses.

(all asbestos removal companies will include links to regulations and industry associations, so the page rank dice will be loaded, when a whole industry links to a few sites) Not many asbestos removal companies have sophisticated SEO teams to get ahead of the "authority sites".

As I'm not signed into my Google account, Google interprets my dynamic IP address as being London when I'm actually in Huddersfield, so Google places suggests businesses that are hundreds of miles away, so even the attempt to push Places results doesn't work.

That said, Matt Cutts is right... it has got better, when I did the same search 4-5 years ago businesses results tended to be on pages 3 & 4 of the results, so it is getting better.

Wouldn't it be easier if Google just had a business filter (check box) to include / exclude business or non business results. But wait a minute ..... that might compete with Adwords!

over 5 years ago

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video production

Thanks for the post. I agree this exposes another chink in the armour or should that be amour. I would have thought that any multinational would have had a policy on staff bloggin about this type of thing. I agree the stance is completely wrong - 'we're crap but now we're good' isn't an endearing stance. Its not quite up there in the Ratner pile of bloomers, but should sit in a second division.

over 5 years ago

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Lead generation

magnificent job. I did not imagine this. This is a fantastic blog. Thanks!

over 5 years ago

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