Are Search Engines Facing Extinction?
In a world where you can find anybody you are looking for on Facebook or LinkedIn, where mostly unbiased information can be found on Wikipedia, and where business directories can help you find almost any company you are looking for, does the world really need search engines?
Yes, it does.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the downfall of Google, claims that their search results have gone downhill, and that perhaps the practice of SEO is to blame. Honestly, the claim that the search results have gone downhill seems somewhat baseless. None of the bloggers complaining about this drop in quality cite any studies.
To be fair, what could be referred to as content farms and made for AdSense sites have certainly sprung up all over the web. But are these low quality sites really burying higher quality sites that once existed in their place? This doesn’t seem to be the case. If it were, you would expect to find these quality sites buried somewhere on the second page, but you don’t.
Is it possible that these quality sites never existed in the first place?
One of the hallmarks of successful search engine optimization techniques is to target keywords with low competition. It’s not too rash to suggest that the reason people are seeing these low quality sites more often is because they are searching for more obscure terms. Where they once would have searched for an obscure term and found an unrelated page on an authority site, today they perform the same search and find a related page on a low authority site. Is this trade-off all that terrible?
There are quality sites all over the web but they don’t contain answers to every question that a searcher might ask. Searchers are finding low quality search results not because there is a problem with the search engines. They are finding low quality search results because they are asking questions that no authoritative source has bothered to answer.
There is also a misconception that Google is unique in providing bad search results. For example, a new search engine called Blekko allows users to report sites as spam and claims to have better search results. But a search for “loans,” a highly profitable category that attracts spam, doesn’t support the case.
The top result in Google is GovLoans.gov, a database of government loans. A search in Blekko yields a page on a site called “My Journey to Millions,” and the first thing you can see on the site is a giant AdSense advertisement. The title of the page is “Tax Mechanics of Intra-Family Loans.” It’s not an MFA site and the content appears useful at first glance, but it certainly isn’t the first thing that a user is looking for when they search for “loans.”
Social networks, directories, and Wikipedia will never replace search engines. These three types of sites will simply never contain all of the information that a person might be looking for. Wikipedia will never write an article explaining how to throw a pirate-themed birthday party for your five-year-old. Unless business directories start to look more like Google, they are simply too difficult to navigate in order to find the business you are looking for. Social networks can only tell you what your friends or peers are interested in at the moment, not exactly what you need to know right now.
None of this is to claim that the search engines won’t change. They changed when Google was first released and they have continued to evolve since. Google has promised to crack down on spam and content farms, and has made some algorithmic changes and manual adjustments that accomplished just that. The changes may also have had some unintended consequences, and Google will continue to refine its process. They are already asking for feedback from their users through the Chrome browser, and are using this information to tune their algorithm.
Despite all the talk about Google going downhill, 300 million people still use it everyday. If that stops, it will be because they are using a different search engine, not because search engines have gone extinct. Only a search engine can help you find what you are looking for. Anything else can only tell you what you should be looking for.