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My week without Google (well, sort of...)

Gareth Cartman

So, earlier this week, I said that I would be abstaining from Google for a week, and I can safely report that I have, indeed, tried to abstain from using Google. I kind of failed at the task. Sorry. Well, no, I'm not really sorry as such - I've got some takeaways or learnings, as the consultants would say, and I thought I'd share them.

DuckDuckGo - looks good, but...

For a search engine that is effectively run by one man, you have to say it’s well put together. It looks good, it runs quickly, and it’s not personalised. Therefore, everyone gets the same rankings wherever they are in the world.

Then again, those rankings... they’re not very good are they. In my short time on DDG, I found a handful of new resources, but equally I found several hands full of sites that would have been bombed by the latest Google updates. I’ve found irrelevance a common theme, and equally, I’m not based in the US, so why would I want American services? Even when setting my location in DDG, I was still overwhelmed by US websites.

DuckDuckGo quickly DuckDuckWent.

Searchers.co.uk - we might be getting somewhere

Searchers is a UK search engine which looks pretty good. It claims to be the only dedicated UK search engine, which is why we should take this site to our hearts. Really, it is.

The problem, though, is not relevance, it’s quality. If, for example, I search for ‘wedding planner’ on searchers, I get theweddingplanner.co.uk - it’s not very nice, is it. Sorry, whoever designed this site, but it’s not very pretty. It needs a total refresh, from top to bottom. It needs a strategy, it needs a UX expert to have a look. It needs to get rid of those awful boxy adverts that are so last century. It should not be number 1.

And this is a common theme. Searchers seems to rely heavily on on-site signals such as URL, domain name, headers, page titles, and therefore pushes relevance. But that’s easily gamed. Where is niemierko.com? By far the web’s most experienced and heavily referenced wedding planner... he might not have it in the URL, but he’s hugely popular. it’s a quibble, and even Google has seen fit to demote niemierko over recent weeks, but not to the extent of searchers.

However, Searchers does have ‘local’ and ‘social’ search, although the social hasn’t worked since I’ve been trying it. The local search doesn’t seem to know where I am, which is an issue (I’m not in Derbyshire, thanks), and social search may be the next big thing...

Which brings me to Topsy

We have a variety of intentions when we’re searching. For example:

  • We want products & services (e.g. cleaners in berkshire, iPad 3 deals)
  • We want information (e.g. iPad3 reviews, what services do cleaners offer?)
  • We want news (e.g. sports news, Vladimir Putin, Rihanna news - yes, it is a common search term)
  • We want distraction (e.g. Facebook - the biggest search term by the way - download music, jokes, Britney Spears pictures, etc.)

What Google has been trying to work out (for a long, long time) is where your search fits within these intentions. Are you looking for Britney Spears news, or are you looking for Britney Spears pictures? Or do you want to buy a Britney Spears CD? Sorry, download. I don’t know, I’m over 35.

Increasingly, though, search engines are a mish-mash of everything. There’s some news, there’s some information, a few pictures, a few shopping links. And often, a lot of that information is out of date. While Google claims to love freshness, its search results often contain news articles from several years ago.

So meet Topsy.com - and this is completely different. Let’s take a search for ‘teachers’, for example - as teachers are in the news this morning. Searching on Google, we get three news items, buried within information about a TV programme called teachers, a Wikipedia entry in case I ever wanted to know what a teacher actually was (thanks for that, everyone), a Wikipedia entry about the programme called Teachers (it must really be popular, as it outranks the entry on real teachers), the NUT and some teaching resources.

We also get a handy sidebar about the TV series. Wow, it must really have been popular.

On Topsy.com, we get the following:

This is pretty good - seeing as my intention was to catch up on all the latest news about teachers, seeing as they are in the news today. Topsy is collating tweets, blog posts, articles and (for some reason) Google Plus posts and it’s exclusively about what people are saying right now. It seems to be pulling through the most influential people in search and presenting them in a search-engine style. I like this.

And what of Google?

So I did go back to Google within 24 hours, despite saying I’d abstain from Google. Why did I do this? Well, two reasons: quality and relevance.

Google may be morphing into some sort of information engine based around providing me with adverts, but its investment in organic search is unparalleled, and it shows. I don’t like the increasing personalisation, but I do like the fact that a lot of the rubbish sites that are still present on Bing / Yahoo / DuckDuckGo / Searchers have been ditched.

There are two things at play here: trust and speed. If I want a product, a service, or a piece of information, I know that Google can provide me with what I want quickly. Its competitors can’t, and I end up wasting time.

However, if I want to know what’s happening, Google fails me. Its estrangement from the world of social, and its failure with Google+ has left it trailing in immediate relevancy. Topsy.com has streaked ahead in this respect, and I’ll be using it a lot more to find out what’s happening and what people are saying.

And could this be the future scenario? We refer to different search engines for different intentions? I might go to searchers.co.uk for very specific UK searches. I might go to Google if I need some information on a TV programme about teachers, or a service provider such as a cleaner. And I might go to Topsy if I want to know what’s happening.

So there you go... I’ve broadened my horizon a little, and while I haven’t burst that bubble just yet, at least I know the way out.