5 Suggestions for Google Suggest
Posted by Rhea
This post was originally in YOUmoz, and was promoted to the main blog because it provides great value and interest to our community. The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not reflect the views of SEOmoz, Inc.
I love using Google’s Suggested Search feature for spell check and to find answers to nifty questions like these:
Wait, what were those suggested searches? I just spewed Theraflu onto the Mac. Who am I kidding, those queries aren’t helpful at all! In fact many are horribly offensive. If you want to replicate those searches today, you might not find them because Google has since refined their autocomplete algorithm and in some cases perhaps applied an offensive filter. If I lost anyone with that last sentence, take a minute to head over to Search Engine Land and read Danny Sullivan’s enormous post on how Google’s autocomplete suggestions work. Or you can read the 60 second overview here:
From what we’ve been able to determine, the following are the primary contributing factors to Google’s Suggested Search algorithm:
- SEARCH VOLUME – There’s a minimum threshold for popularity and once reached the suggested search will be triggered. How "sticky" a suggestion is depends on whether the popularity is long-term or short-term.
- PERSONALIZATION – IP address is definitely being pulled, as well as, the user’s own search history, the country of the search engine itself (e.g. Google.fr vs Google.com) and the language.
- QUERY DESERVES FRESHNESS (QDF) – This is the short-term popularity filter, which can pop within an hour as seen with Osama bin Laden’s death and on Monday, news of Meredith Vieira’s departure from The Today Show, which showed a massive surge in popularity for her name immediately after the announcement:
What followed were two new suggested searches for a search that starts with just [meredith v...]:
- MISSPELLINGS & VARIATIONS – Google will display common misspellings. This can be seen in recent news on the discovery of [Rita Chretien] and her missing husband:
- AUTOMATED RESULTS – Google displays automated results often for queries like flight status, local time zones, area codes, package tracking, certain answers, definitions, calculations, plus currency and unit conversions.
- BLOCKED SEARCHES –
Q: Does Google exclude any users’ searches from autocomplete? A: The search queries that you see as part of autocomplete are a reflection of the search activity of all web users. Just like the web, the search queries presented may include silly or strange or surprising terms and phrases. While we always strive to neutrally and objectively reflect the diversity of content on the web (some good, some objectionable), we also apply a narrow set of removal policies for pornography, violence, hate speech, and terms that are frequently used to find content that infringes copyrights.
It looks like Google (and the other search engines with autocompletion) have a lot of secret sauce behind this feature and it sounds pretty nifty. What could possibly go wrong?
According to a lawsuit Google lost in Italy for libel and an appealed ruling in France for offensive language, there are some very unhappy campers about suggested searches. When the plaintiffs’ names came up in Google with "fraud" or "scam" attached, this feature went from convenient to libelous and costly.
They’re not alone.
Take a peek at Google’s own Webmaster forums where you’ll find a number of cries for help and frustrated threats of litigation. I can personally attest to the fact that 40% of the clients at Outspoken Media come from online reputation management and in many cases the business or individual has been harmed by a competitor, a single crazy customer, a crazier ex or worse a well-optimized negative review on a "consumer advocacy" site built solely to extort money and/or generate income through AdSense.
Many reading this post will adamantly believe that if a negative review was resolved positively then what is there to worry about? The problem in my eyes (and those of our clients) is that potential customers are alarmed when they see [company name scam]. In industries with a high level of competition and little brand awareness, customers aren’t going to take the time to investigate further. When clients have followed Google’s own advice for reputation management and that can’t turn the tide of suggested searches, there’s nothing left to do but see their business get damaged or resort to other means. More frustrating is that Google isn’t publicly addressing concerns. They did temporarily block [scam] and [ripoff] searches at the end of March, but after two weeks of hesitant celebration they were back.
SEOs are getting more vocal about the need for change. Not because we’re spammers, but because we’re fighting on behalf of clients and those who can’t afford our services, but read our blogs everyday looking for guidance and a way to solve a very real threat to their livelihood. So, without further ado:
5 Suggestions for Google Suggest
Note – Some of the following may be controversial. These aren’t meant as a to-do list, but a start to a much-needed conversation. Let’s try not to get into the tired black vs white hat debate or gangsta-style snitch threats. Please do take a minute to share your recommendations and findings in the comments below.
- Develop a support area – This might be a unique area under the Google Webmaster Central forums or something as simple as more actionable advice than the previous post on managing your reputation through search. It could be even simpler by taking the form of a public response to the many questions already being posted.
- Prompt a Google Webmaster Central message – Setup an alert for webmasters similar to the malware alert and other automated messages in GWC that triggers a message like "Google has detected that your website is ranking for [your name scam]." Link this message to the aforementioned support area or the tool mentioned below, so that webmasters can take necessary actions to report or repair the findings.
- Provide a reporting tool – I know this is going to be controversial, but hear me out. This already exists in Google Places as a feature for reporting spam in a listing. Google says the tool should be used if a:
– Listing contains incorrect information or spam
– Place is permanently closed
– Place has another listing
– Place doesn’t exist or is private
– Some photos, reviews, or details belong to a different place
This report would be subject to abuse, but I’d like to think that by placing it within Webmaster Central there would be less so, especially if Google invested in the upkeep of the support section. I don’t know that I would personally even use it, but it would make a lot of clients happy to feel like Google was listening.
- Rely on reputable third party partners – Instead of making small businesses spin their wheels with fruitless attempts at a resolution with a dozen scraped "consumer sites" give more value to the reputable advocacy sites. I know, another controversial topic! Everyone has their opinion of the Better Business Bureau or Yelp, but when it comes down to it, those are real businesses with contact information, clearly established resolution guidelines and public representatives. I’d much rather focus my efforts there and I already know they have more effective filters for *real* reviews.
- Improve the algorithm – This may seem simple, but if it was the post would be moot. I’m not a genius, so I’ll let those guys figure this one out, but there has to be more consideration for what the actual search results pages look like, less value placed on popular search volume and more consideration for the sites causing those searches.
Those are my suggestions for Google Suggest! There are only so many ways to write [company name scam] content with a positive spin or tempt fate by turning to other solutions. Leave your ideas in the comments and while we’re at it, maybe we can find a way to solve world hunger.
Also, in case you haven’t already signed up, Rand, Jen, Avi Wilensky and I will be presenting in New York THIS Thursday. If you’re in the city, come out for some fantastic insight and company.
About Rhea: Rhea Drysdale is the CEO of Outspoken Media, which specializes in SEO consulting, link development, social media strategies and reputation management. When she isn’t fighting trademarks for the SEO industry, she is She-Ra on Twitter.