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Posted at 12:36 PM ET, 01/14/2011

Is Google becoming less useful?

By Michael S. Rosenwald

Consultants, gurus, and all manner of pitchsters have made fortunes manipulating Google search results for clients, but now a quiet backlash is brewing. Users report that their searches often turn up meaningless results and that real information is harder to find. Do you find Google more difficult to use than it used to be? Do your searches turn up spam? Have you switched to Bing, Yahoo, or tracked down the Yellow Pages (physical copy)?

Tell Post reporter Michael Rosenwald about your search experiences and whether your search habits are shifting...
via email, Twitter or on the comment boards below.


By Michael S. Rosenwald  | January 14, 2011; 12:36 PM ET
Categories:  Build-A-Story  
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Was Google ever exceptionally useful?

Posted by: Wallenstein | January 14, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Not sure how one could ask if 'Google was ever exceptionally useful'? Go back 10 years and compare Google to searching with AltaVista. Google search revolutionized the web by making all the 'stuff' accessible.

That said, I've noticed certain kinds of searches are useless now on Google. For example, the word 'review' combined with some TV model numbers turns up dozens of useless sites that have enough content to rank high, but not enough to be useful. These sites exist to run ads (google ads, ironically) and not do much else.

Just one example.

Posted by: billbasey2 | January 14, 2011 2:56 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree with billbasey2. In general, Google works well. But, for some specific uses, of which retail product reviews are one, Google ceased to be useful several years ago due to "spam"* results.

* not really sure what to call those sites that rank high despite a lack of content. Spam is close enough.

Posted by: HerndonBiker | January 14, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I used Google as my home page since day 1...but no more. Page is slow to load, takes off searching for stuff before I'm done typing in the search and tells me I'm loading too slow a connection. All of this started last few months. Other sites are still the same as always. ??? Seems they may be 'fixing' Google the same way the powers at EBay fixed it! :^)

Posted by: gunnysgt77 | January 14, 2011 3:13 PM | Report abuse

gunnysgt77, you likely have an older computer or a slow (dial-up?) connection that is bogging your results down. Google lets you turn off the instant search results. Go to Settings and select - Do not use Google Instant. Should help you with your searches.

Posted by: MStreet1 | January 14, 2011 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Precisely, I recall the days when you could conduct a search from say lycos, and you would get information that was relevant to your search. Nowadays Google and to a lesser extent others stack the top of the data set with irrelevancies . If you pay money your search string will show at the top regardless of whether a user is looking for that info. That means users have to sort through pages of useless data to get to specific data that they are looking for. That defeats the purpose of using a search engine in the first place.

Posted by: biggy3 | January 14, 2011 5:22 PM | Report abuse

As long as it's the best available
it will continue to be the most useful.

But how useful can it be if instead
of ranking at the top of a search
because a site is the most popular
it's placed there by Google because
that site pays Google to be listed
first?!? Then what you're looking at
is not a summation of the most
pertinent search but a breakdown of
which ads create the greatest revenue
for Google. And that's not very useful
at all.

S D Rodrian


Posted by: sdr1 | January 14, 2011 5:43 PM | Report abuse

The most annoying change is Google Instant.

Since it was inaugurated, one can no longer turn off query suggestions. (I've been all over the message boards; there is no way to do it.)

And search preferences now seem to re-set on a daily basis to "use Google Instant", "moderate filtering" and "10 results per search". (To say nothing of the fact that the number of results has to be saved twice in a row before it will stick.)

It happens that I am a rather fast typist, so whenever Google Instant comes on, letters get dropped from my search as the system tries to keep up. (I have a fast cable modem, too, so please nobody suggest that I need to upgrade from dial-up.)

I am not sure whether there are more "junk results"; most of my searches tend to be rather arcane. But it wouldn't surprise me if there were; it would be consistent with the rest of the "improvements" Google has made.

Posted by: Itzajob | January 14, 2011 7:28 PM | Report abuse

Itzajob, I agree with you 100% about Google Instant. I still maintain Google as my home page, but it is incredible that Google thinks the Instant is an improvement. I just found advice online (thanks btcreative!) that appears to restore the original Google and keep it in place. Set this as your homepage:

I did that. I exited the browser, reset and cleared everything, went back in, and it remained the old unirritating Google instead of the new what-were-they-thinking Google. I hope it continues to work. Sure it isn't as elegant as, but if it is your home page, you can get there easily anyway.

I think I have noticed more junk results. But I really try to fine tune my searches.

Posted by: Leila1 | January 14, 2011 8:58 PM | Report abuse

@ gunnysgt77

Why don't you replace that 15 year old computer.

Posted by: GBED989 | January 14, 2011 9:45 PM | Report abuse

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Posted by: zhengee01 | January 14, 2011 10:49 PM | Report abuse

Certainly seems useful to the author of this piece:

"Powered by Google Docs"

I probably use Google Maps more than the search thing at this point. But certain searches, mainly for products to purchase, are fairly useless with Google. Haven't tried other search engines, though.

Posted by: mateo_md | January 14, 2011 11:10 PM | Report abuse

Google is still helpful.

No doubt some politicians despise google.

Is spam in and of itself a bad apple? No. Depends on the content.

Political parties,Limbaugh,Palin,Beck and Wal-Mart spam the airways daily. As I said depends on the content.

Wal-Mart calls it advertising I call it manipulating spam. Then again I have not shopped Wal- Mart for years. I shop locally with those who cannot afford manipulating spam.

Is spam in and of itself a bad apple? No. Depends on the content.

Posted by: rheckler2002 | January 14, 2011 11:27 PM | Report abuse

My experience seems to be different than the posts I see above here.
1. I use Chrome so I don't need to get to a specific page ( i.e.) and saves me time that way. I can start typing in the address bar itself.

2. A whole bunch of times, if I have a rough idea of what I'm looking for but not the specific query (example lyrics of a song), auto-fill / prediction / whatever has been incredibly useful in getting both the query "right" as well as the result. The 2-3 words of a song is often all I've needed to type in to get the song name + "video" filled in the address/search bar.

3, (I've not needed to) but from the looks of it, instant preview can be turned off... for me that's definitely a plus and tells me I can stop typing when I see a relevant result.

I must add, I don't search for items to buy on Google (without a brand/specific product in mind). I usually have a rough idea of which store I would begin this kind of search (example electronics on Amazon, outdoor gear at EMS / REI / whatever).

I think with changes in the search technologies PLUS addition in amount of content created and therefore indexed PLUS searching becoming bigger business (thereby people trying to game the system), one might have to slightly alter the way we went about looking for things.

That said, of the providers available, Google in my mind, seems to be doing a better job than others in making this process faster and making more information available.

In terms of time gap, between the thought of a search coming to my mind to getting the result... has def reduced. Bing (the few times I have tried it, doesn't even come close)

Posted by: sreeb | January 15, 2011 9:51 AM | Report abuse

Google this: mike siwek lawyer mi.

Then try it with Bing and Yahoo.

This why Google is still very useful.

Get it?

Posted by: hahahaha1 | January 15, 2011 7:53 PM | Report abuse

I agree with second comment about use of 'review' which I use with films and books. Too often a promising hit turns out not to include an actual review.

Posted by: Bartolo1 | January 16, 2011 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Google has a bigger search index than the competition because Google ads are everywhere. So Google gets paid to index and Google gets called to index new pages rather than have to crawl everywhere. The downside is that the spam sites with lots of Google ads get the best ranking.

As for Google instant, it is truly horrible, like being interrupted mid-sentence repeatedly. Of course, the benefit is solely to Google, since "instant" causes many more ads to be shown at each search.

Posted by: beastlet | January 16, 2011 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Google seems to return the information I need on most occasions. I extensively use Google to find retailers, products, and product information.
The only real "junk" I get is when the site has loaded "hidden" words to fool the search engine and the info I need is nowhere to be found. No search engine is going to solve that issue, especially one from Microsoft.
My only other complaint is that it seems to ignore phrases in quotes so that if I am looking up "James Jones", I get lots of hits on the individual words.

Posted by: pjohn2 | January 16, 2011 12:44 PM | Report abuse

The "location" feature, which can be broadened but not turned off completely, has made Google less useful when looking for something outside the US, for example, when shopping for a gift for someone located in another country.

The efforts of computer companies to decide what I "really" want, based on feedback from "average" customers, is making software in general less useful to me. I don't want to be "average," and I'm not often terribly interested in the destination favored by the herd.

When Bing was the designated search engine for my browser (by default), it wouldn't let me use the browser to "ping" my router; it kept going off to find pages about the router address instead of hunting for the router itself.

Posted by: Erasma | January 16, 2011 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I turned off Google instant search too. That feature should not be the default setting.

Posted by: 123home123 | January 16, 2011 6:08 PM | Report abuse

I know you're trolling for unhappy Google users, but you need to recognize that Google is the world's favorite search engine for a reason. Their hits, as prioritized, are more helpful than anyone else's. All sponsored links are clearly identified. Links frequently used by others are placed higher in the results.

I am very happy with this free service.

Posted by: TandemCaptain | January 17, 2011 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Google used be useful earlier turning up relevant search results. But these days it turns up irrelevant sites and you have to look through the pile of junk to get what you want. I think it needs a better algorithm for turning up the correct search results and a very much needed upgrade to the user interface to be more useful in the future. Otherwise it may just end up being another lycos or netscape search engine which fell by the wayside a long time ago.

Posted by: jgj123 | January 17, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Google just seems "cold".........BING is "warmer".

Posted by: jckdoors | January 19, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

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