Google search is not broken

 Posted by on January 14, 2011 at 00:19  search  Add comments
Jan 142011

Google search is not broken.  And, Google search is broken.  Let’s start with the not broken. 

Google search is not broken because Google users are not motivated enough to move off Google:

  1. For how most people use Google, it meets their expectations.
  2. Most people don’t believe the grass is greener on the other side.

So when you read the “broken” blog posts, keep in mind that broken is in the eye of the beholder, and mainstream Google users don’t write many posts.  This is an obvious point but it is important to keep this context when we discuss how Google search is broken.  I’ll write about how Google is broken in future posts.  I’m not a search expert but have encountered signal to noise challenges while working on algorithms in other fields.

Back to not broken.  Why don’t mainstream Google users see Google search as broken?  I’d love to see a histogram and analysis of use cases for Google search but here’s a crude estimate:

  1. 20%: As a global bookmark (see data below)
  2. 20%: News
  3. 15%: Images and videos
  4. 10%: Entertainment (sports, movies, music, celebrities, TV, etc.)
  5. 15%: Commerce-related
  6. 20%: Everything else

Google is clearly not broken for the first three categories (better alternatives for subsets, but Google’s results are very good for mainstream queries in those categories).   See appendix for data on #1.

Entertainment and commerce are in the worse shape.  That’s for further discussion.  But suffice to say that Google search is not broken for that entire category.

Category six can’t be painted with a broad brush.  However it is maybe the most interesting.  A part of it is long tail search.  Google, while not great, is better than any other engine for long tail type searches – simply Google indexes more sites faster and ranks them better.  The rest of this category needs to be broken down to be properly analyzed.

So, bottom line, Google is not only not broken, but is the best choice period for at least 60% of broad brush use cases and maybe 80%.  So even if you crudely divide up the remaining 20% to 40% evenly amongst Google, Bing and niche/vertical search engines, then Google is likely the best choice for 75%+ of all searches.  Hardly broken.

Appendix data for the global bookmark use case category #1 because it is surprising if you don’t have firsthand knowledge of it.  Experian Hitwise data for 2010 searches to quantify how Google is used:

  1. Getting to Facebook and other popular sites represents the top 10 Google search queries.  3.5% for search queries like “Facebook” alone.
  2. Facebook had 8.9% of total web visits and 3.5% of the search queries, while YouTube had 2.7% of the visits and 1.1% of the search queries.  Long-tail websites see similar – I was shocked to learn this from LocalReplay (more of the startup learnings here)  – showing that when a user wants to get to a known site, he Googles the site name somewhere between 20% and 40% of the time.

So, Google is used heavily just to get to a site that the user already knows he wants to get to.  It could be around 20% of Google’s total traffic.