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.