2013-03-02

What is going on with the search results?

When I see googlers in online forums defending the search results they often ask for data sets showing the problem. This isn't a data set but here should be some reproducible test cases that fails horribly for what was once the undisputed place to go for relevant search results.


Example 1: "sublime text 2" "focus group"

Query: "sublime text 2" "focus group"
Expected result: Documents including the word groups "sublime text 2" and "focus group".
First result: http://www.sublimetext.com/2
Problem: Irrelevant
Possible explantion: Extensive linking using  "focus group"as link text? (Doesn't prevent it from being utterly irrelavant.)

Example 2: cisco "anyclient"

Query: cisco "anyclient"
Expected results: A list of documents containing something like cisco + the exact word "anyclient"
First page of results: All results are for "AnyConnect". Which seems to be the correct product name but was not what I was searching for. I was searching to see if anyclient was a common mistake, if there had been a product called anyclient etc so I would not embarrass myself.
Problem: Silent rewrite of my query. I'm all for usability features like suggest, "Did you mean" etc. "Showing results for <something else>, did you mean <what you searched for>?" is a pita to me but I can see it being useful for less technically inclined people and people who hasn't developed the same kind of tunnel vision as me. Silently rewriting counts as bug or arrogance in my book.


Trying to get around these issues

Report the problem

This is obviously a bug so lets report it. Done. Months ago. No change yet.
Image showing Googles error reporting interface. Trying to report the problem is an exercise in futility. They may or may not fix it but on one point they are very clear:  They will never inform you. The only way you will ever know is if you see a change sometime.

Activate the "verbatim" search tool

 Turns out Google has thought of this. Here is the verbatim ("ordrett") search tool. Good idea, one minor flaw: It doesn't work!

No, "Backup Exec" is not "Shopify". And this is hardly what I'd call verbatim.

Using another search engine

I love competition. So I tried with a couple of other search engines.

DuckDuckGo also insists that BackupExec is relevant when searching for Shopify.

3 comments:

  1. Obviously a comparison of search results is difficult due to the various signals used to alter search results, but as of 3/14/2013 I get what appear to be 'reasonable' results for both of your example searches:

    "sublime text 2" "focus group" : http://i.imgur.com/4LpuUYq.png

    cisco "anyclient" : http://i.imgur.com/kptK8HO.png

    Again, doesn't necessarily detract from your issue, but just giving search terms isn't reproducible!

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    Replies
    1. Just tested and yes, it seems to be fixed at least for the anyclient case. On shopify deduplicate my rants are now the highest ranking results which is at least more relevant than backup exec I think. I might be biased however ;-)

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