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Published on March 29, 2011
We wrote last week about the Google Farmer / Panda update; changes to the Google search algorithm that’s had an impact on around 12% of searches since it was launched in the United States, lowering the rankings of low quality sites and ‘content farms’. First analyses show that the Farmer update has been largely successful, with improved search results and the impact falling where it was intended to.
This is all great and it bodes well for when the update is rolled out in the UK and across the rest of the world over the coming weeks and months. One issue, though, has made us think a little bit and has got us wondering what might happen if some, shall we say, ‘unintended consequences’ occurred as a result.
That issue is the Google Chrome Personal Blocklist. You are no doubt aware that Chrome is Google’s web browser, launched to challenge the likes of Internet Explorer and Firefox. The Personal Blocklist is a recently introduced enhancement to Chrome, which allows users to download some software that then, as the name suggests, lets them block certain websites from appearing in their Google search results. So, if they were to do a web search through Google but the top results turned out to be low quality sites such as content farms, they could then block those sites so they wouldn’t appear in their search results again. Any blocked sites are also sent to Google for analysis, and Google admits they may be used as a ranking signal in the future.
On the face of it, this is a really useful tool and it seems to be working well so far. Google says that people have benefitted from better search results, which really should be the ultimate aim.
Another thing to note is that the sites most affected by the Personal Blocklist are largely the same sites that have been impacted by the Farmer update.
Google says that it didn’t use Personal Blocklist data to inform the Google Farmer / Panda update and they can most likely be trusted on this – the Blocklist hadn’t been around long enough to be incorporated into the Farmer update and is still in an experimental stage. So it does appear to be a coincidence that backs up the success of the Farmer update, which seems to have been based around analysis of user click data and web content quality (such as sentence structure and keyword placement). If both web users and Google are coming to the same conclusions about websites, then something must be going right.
But some evidence still shows that those sites most commonly featured on Blocklists then fell down the Google rankings as a result. So, we were wondering… what if everyone decided to block Google? Admittedly, this is a far-fetched possibility and would never actually happen as it would be foolish to abandon one of the best and most extensive search engines out there. But if everyone did do it, what would happen??
Scenario 1: Nothing at all. But, it’d give the Google engineers something to smile about in seeing their technology in action.
Scenario 2: On a personal level, searching for Google on Google wouldn’t show any results. But, on a global level things carry on as normal.
Scenario 3: On a personal level, searching for Google on Google wouldn’t show any results, and on a global level Google’s Page Rank is reduced algorithmically and it receives a +100 positions penalty (we bet there’s about 12% of US web sites right now wishing this was the case!).
Scenario 4: You can’t access Google via Chrome at all.
Scenario 5: Google sulks decides it doesn’t like people anymore, and targets the primate market instead. After all, according to the Infinite Monkey Theorem give enough monkeys typewriters and they’ll reproduce a work of Shakespeare, so give enough monkeys access to Google and who knows what our genetically close cousins could come up with…. so Google Monkeys anyone? (Please Matt Cutts of Google – can the next update be codenamed Google Monkeys – after all we’ve just had Pandas!)
OK, so we’re speaking in jest here, but it does raise a real point: should you just block websites because they’re low quality, or for other reasons too? For instance, should people take a moral stand against certain companies by blocking their sites through Chrome’s Personal Blocklist and punishing them through reduced search rankings?
After all, for all the good that business has bought the world, it also has its darker side and barely a week goes by in the news without some report or other about underhand dealings and morally suspect happenings. The internet has proved to be a useful tool for protest before: what if blocking websites could be used in much the same way; to lodge a protest against a company or even Government?
It might not make much of a real impact on businesses just yet – if people were to block sites en masse for reasons of moral or ethical nature, it would most likely be big business bearing the brunt and so they’d be able to withstand any action, especially as Chrome is still a minority web browser (sorry Google – we love it, but it’s still true). Additionally, it would be unlikely to make it into a ranking signal unless the site being blocked was suspect. But on a personal search level if the site no longer appeared in any of an inpidual’s results, and if done en-masse, it might just make a point. This could be true noticeable if the site in question used Google Webmaster Tools and the owners saw a drop-off in page impressions.
Of course, the most likely scenario is that all will continue as before: the Farmer update will roll out across the rest of the world and improve search results by weeding out low quality sites, and people will continue to do much the same thing with the Chrome Personal Blocklist. It does raise the issue, though, that sometimes technological advances have more potential than we can ever realise at first. It’s certainly one to ponder.
If you’ve any thoughts on this article written by Ampheon Web Design London, we’d be delighted to hear them. Why not post your comment, or alternative scenarios below!
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