25 Things I Hate About Google

  |  April 5, 2006   |  Comments

How do I hate Google? Let me count the 25 ways into my heart. Part two of a two-part series.

Love, hate. Love, hate. When it comes to Google, I did the "love" side of my love/hate relationship last time. In this article, I’m all about the hate. How do I hate Google? Let me count the 25 ways.

Google’s purchase of Writely sort of drove me over the edge. When I saw the news confirmed, I exclaimed out loud, "Oh, give me a break." "A break from what?" I freakishly asked myself. A break from Google going in yet another direction when there’s so much stuff it hasn’t finished or gotten right or needs to fix.

If Google wants to be as "ubiquitous as brushing your teeth," then it must make sure the Google toothpaste tastes good or that you can squeeze it out of the Google toothpaste tube (beta) without it getting all clogged up.

I normally loathe Google-specific articles, because the constant "Google, Google, Google" obsession of such articles continue to put the Marcia Brady of search in the spotlight when the Jans of the world deserve greater attention. They also tend to credit Google too much or blame it for problems others have as well.

Despite that loathing, I’m making a personal exception this time. Perhaps a little Google fixation will be just the cathartic experience I need to cleanse my jaded search soul. Consider this an open letter to a company I’ve been writing about since before it was formally a company, a to-do list of things it would be nice to have completed, a hope for an operational pause in the land grab it’s embarked upon.

1. Web search counts make no sense. In "Why do search engines lie?" Robert Scoble pokes at how reported counts don’t always match reality. Heck, try class two contributions with "about" 114 million matches. But then you find only 879 are considered unique! Meanwhile, "mars landing sites" gives 2,130,000 matches, while "mars landing sites earth" gives more than double that amount: 5,420,000 listings. It shouldn’t. Adding that extra word should give you a subset of the original query. It should come back with less results, not more.

I know, I know. It’s a bug, or search counts are hard to do, or they do say "about." And I know it’s not the only one, nor was it the first (see "Questioning Google’s Counts," "Danny & Tristan Talk About Link Counts, Site Counts & Index Auditing," and "Who’s The Biggest Of Them All?"). Long experience in knowing the counts don’t add up has perhaps left me numb to the issue. And goodness knows, I don’t want a return to page counts on the home page. Then again, if you’re going to put out a number, perhaps it should be accurate?

2. Despite results clustering, Google.com keeps serving sites you’ve seen. You may not know the name "results clustering," but you recognize Google doing it. That’s when it sees there’s more than one page from a Web site that might match what you are looking for, so it indents the second-best one below the first. Search for "books," and you’ll see this happening with Amazon. But clustering only happens on a results-page-by-results-page basis. For example, when I searched on "mars landing sites," there was a link to a page at the msss.com domain near the bottom. I rejected this, but on the next page, it’s back again. If I rejected content from this site the first time, I want to see something new. I searched on "whirlpool s20d." Lycos.co.uk and householdappliances.kelkoo.co.uk both come back. Give me the best page from a domain once, then give me some variety, not these second chances.

3. You confuse people by changing UIs (define). Google keeps testing and testing various UIs. If I had the time and energy, I’d take all the screenshots people have posted and put them into a single "Google of the future" page. Then again, it probably wouldn’t commit. Enough with the testing!

Decide on something and go with it. Change it later if you need to. The constant UI testing over the past year has had people wondering if they’ve been hit by AdSense and recently, whether you’re questioning their sexual orientation. If you’re going to test, do what I suggested and tell the small number of people who care, to save us from a billion people having to blog about the "discovery" of something new. But do commit, so, as I’ve written, your lack of consistency doesn’t put you down the path that killed AltaVista.

4. Where are the related searches? Back in 2000 or 2001, Chris Sherman and I asked Sergey Brin during a lunch visit why Google lacked tools to help people better narrow in on what they’re looking for. Why no "related searches" option? His response was that unless a lot of people use a feature, Google didn’t want to devote space to it. Fair enough, but query refinement is important. It can help people, and Google oddly still lacks it. It pops up as part of the UI tests. Get it out there. There’s more on why this would be helpful here.

5. You don’t offer easy access to all your tools. Life at Google is more than Web, images, groups, news, Froogle, and local. Maybe I want to switch to mobile search, book search, catalog search, or blog search with an easy click from my existing query. I can’t. Even if I use your toolbar, I can’t. Many of these services remain in "visit directly" mode. Please fix that. Yahoo lets me add new tabs. Ask lets me, plus I can move things around. Awesome. Do the same, please.

6. Google.com doesn’t show the same results regardless of country. You have country-specific editions. They allow people to choose if they want a country skew. Given this, don’t automatically skew if someone has chosen to search the entire Web. It’s confusing when people in different countries compare results.

7. You don’t offer an RSS (define) feed for Web search. I know the results don’t change much, and I know the RSS feeds of Web searches that Yahoo and MSN are hardly winning over mass numbers of users. Still, why not? Since you offer RSS for news search results and other things, let me monitor Web search the same way.

8. You use Open Directory titles and descriptions. Plenty of Webmasters don’t like having their titles and descriptions replaced by Open Directory material. Give them the option to tell you no on this front. Push ahead and make it a reality.

9. Stop caching pages. I was all for opt out with cached pages until a court gave you far more right to reprint anything than anyone would have expected. Now you’ve got to make it opt in. You helped create the caching mess by assuming it was legal to reprint Web pages online without asking, using opt out as your cover. Now you’ve had that legally backed up, but that doesn’t make it less evil.

10. Give us paid Web search support. Folks still obsess about being listed in Google. They worry they’ve been banned and any number of other problems. Give them a guaranteed support mechanism. Poor Matt Cutts -- his blog is going to collapse under the comments of Cuttlets flocking there in lieu of other alternatives.

11. Advertisers can’t pick and choose in search. It took you years to almost grudgingly give advertisers the ability to pick and choose what content sites they have their ads appear on, despite their wanting this from day one. We had lame excuses that you didn’t want to "confuse" or "overwhelm" them with options. OK, now you’ve done good by giving them choice. Let them also decide if they want to pick and choose in the search ads space, too.

12. You aren’t responsive enough to click fraud complaints.I’ve heard from too many advertisers who have felt over the years as if they’re making something up when they come forth with click fraud concerns. You’re promising to do better. Please deliver. Make them feel supported. Work with the third parties. Help them help you to be successful, not sued again.

13. AdWords doesn’t link ads to keywords for advertisers and publishers. AdSense contextually places ads, and DomainSense puts ads on parked domains. Having AdWords as the program that puts ads into AdSense for Search/Content/Domains is confusing. Also, make DomainSense a third channel that can be purchased independent of the other two. It’s not necessarily bad traffic there. It might even be better. But it should be a standalone choice.

14. You don’t break out search revenues from other types of ad revenues. We can’t know the state of actual search advertising -- when an ad appears if someone’s actually entered a search term -- if it’s lumped in among AdSense for content revenues. Please don’t contribute to the contextual pollution. It’ll hurt you down the road if one channel starts to weaken while the other remains healthy. Failure to break out means people will assume all "search" is having trouble.

15. Self-serve AdSense creates too much junk. We knew AdSense was replacing Amazon’s affiliate program for generating crap content when the first "earn millions on AdSense" guides came out. A search for "adsense" on Google returns an ad for someone selling over 100 "adsense ready" content sites people can buy. Is this what you want to fund? An economy where everyone and their brother and sister shoves up the same content, which you then index, which is essentially the same thing? I know the self-serve program has helped you dominate the contextual space. But you fuel so much junk! Can’t you be more selective? Give more money to the people who really work to produce information rather than just ad revenues.

16. Blogger is free. It’s just full of junk. If you let anyone have it with no barriers, some will take it and do bad things with it. You’ve reinvented the free home page spam that sucked in the ’90s. Why are you allowing it again? Charge people even a token amount ($1), and it will be a big barrier. Who’s going to ding you for charging a $1 start-up fee you can levy through Google Payments? If you must give it away for free, find a better, more trusted mechanism to partner with schools or others. Or ban all Blogger blogs from being spidered for the first 30 days, then open them up on review. If that’s not perfect, figure something else out. But do something.

17. You don’t act fast on copyright infringement at Blogger. The worst thing about Google Blog Search is it makes it even easier for me to see who’s stealing my content. And many do it via Blogger. If I have time later, I’ll document the Byzantine process it takes to inform you of copyright infringement. Then after a week, you eventually ask that a lengthy Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) request be filled out. I don’t have time to do one of these every five minutes when you allow someone to infringe on my content with no barriers on your service. Have some humanity. Use some common sense. Have someone actually look at what you’re told. In about 30 seconds, you can generally tell the crap site reported for stealing is indeed a crap site you should remove. Shut it down under a terms of service violation rather than running for cover and helping no one on the DMCA route.

18. Gmail’s "custom from" is a problem. If you’re going to let me send things as if I have my own mail server, then ensure people believe I have my own mail server. Your "Custom From" problem is causing people to think they have to now send to both my "real" domain and my Gmail address. I have my own SMTP (define) server. I use yours because I want to archive my outgoing mail. But I can’t do this if you don’t fulfill the promise that I’d have my own domain in the sender field. Charge me if you have to, but fix it.

19. Gmail doesn’t display more than 100 items. After archiving 50,000 messages 100 items at a time, I really wished for the ability to view more than 100 items per page. I still want that when I’m having to review about 300 spam items per day. This can’t be that hard. Can’t we have it?

20. Gmail doesn’t have customized blacklists. You do a good job catching spam, but you’re not perfect. I have no way of filtering out what you miss, to help you get better. Work with Mailwasher, and I’ll especially think you rock.

21. I don’t have a list of all my referring pages in Google Analytics. C’mon. WebTrends has offered stuff like this since, I dunno, WebTrends 1.0? But in Google Analytics, I have to go to Referral Conversion, then see individual URLs rolled up under sites, then cut and paste things if I want to go to the page that sent me traffic. It could, and should, be much easier.

22. You open products to everyone, then you get overwhelmed. The story is getting tiring. Everyone’s invited to use Google Web Accelerator, then you pull it down. Come get Google Analytics, then you shut it down to newcomers. You offer Google Page Creator, then it closes (missed out? Just go use Yahoo GeoCities). You know whatever you roll out is going to get overwhelmed. Figure out another way to open it up. The demand is no longer making it seem like your products are hot. I was in an Apple store the other day with a huge line. It’s making it seem like you are lame and can’t anticipate or handle the rush.

23. Everything is free! Charge for things. Seriously, I’m getting frightened. I love that anyone can get free analytics, email, you name it, from you. But I’m fearful people also can’t get support when things go wrong. I think this guy’s still trying to get an official response on what happened to his lost Gmail account. Meanwhile, I worry companies I want competing with you to keep you on your toes can’t do so when you use advertising to underwrite everything. It just feels anticompetitive. Aren’t you kind of sick of shoving ads at us everywhere? Don’t I have enough ads on the floor of my supermarket already? Can’t part of Google’s mission be to help reduce advertising in places where I don’t need it?

24. It’s not about selling. Google Video started with searchable TV content. That got dropped when the new video sales began. OK, the official line is you’re working with providers about bringing back the TV content. The unspoken truth is you can’t cut those deals to sell TV entertainment shows without dropping the taping. But do work on ways to bring it back. Yes, there’s a reason video search is closely related to video shopping. But being able to keyword search across things like news shows or popular references in entertainment content was informational. And that’s your mission, right? Organize the world’s information, not just sell TV shows. Similarly, as you begin to sell books or build out the Google Base content, don’t just become an Amazon or eBay alternative.

25. Your philosophy is broken. I’ve written before about how your philosophy page has a big disconnect with reality. It feels even further disconnected these days. You’re doing 100 different things rather than "one thing really, really well." As for "you can make money without doing evil," you know that’s not so when you yourselves created an evil scale to decide just how bad bowing to Chinese censorship would be for you. Give us a realistic philosophy, one that doesn’t give you so far to fall from lofty heights. We’ll like you more for it, rather than excuses and spin when you can’t do what you say you should.

Meet Danny at Search Engine Strategies in Toronto, April 25-26, 2006.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

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Danny Sullivan

Danny Sullivan left Search Engine Watch as of Dec. 1, 2006.

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