Google has always had to walk a fine line between profiting from search results and giving users more power over what appears in them. They try to make sure that what we see is relevant to us, while at the same time legions of SEO specialists and their clients try to game the system to make sure we see what they want us to. Recently Google announced a new feature that I think does a lot to destabilize the status quo and tip the scales greatly in favor of we the people.
The new capability allows users who are signed on to their Google profiles to easily block results from sites that they don’t find useful. Here’s a typical usage scenario, and one that I find myself in every day: You type in a search term, get back some results, see one that appears to be relevant, and click on it only to find that the link leads to a preview snippet for a pay site, a link farming blog, a redirect to a registration page, whatever. Some SEO guy has worked hard to make sure you see that useless crap, and now Google will let you nuke it. The next time it happens, and you click the ‘Back’ button in exasperation, look again at the entry in the search results. It will look something like this…
The link that I’ve highlighted in yellow is the new addition. Click that, and the offending site is added to your block list and banished forever from your search results. Now I should probably mention that I don’t mean to beat up on Experts Exchange… well I sort of do. I’m sure they are all nice people over there, and I’m sure there are lots of people who use their service, and I’d be likely to hear from a bunch of them if anyone actually read this blog. But let me explain why Experts Exchange is typical of the annoyances that site blocking cures for me.
I’m a developer, and as such I am constantly Googling for technical information, like everyone else in my business. Don’t recall how to resolve a missing link dependency in an MFC app because you haven’t done C++ in ten years? Google. Want to know whether you can call out to a DLL from a Sidebar gadget? Google. Here’s the experience I don’t want: search, get results, click relevant link text without looking at domain, end up on Expert’s Exchange with “Sign up to read this solution. It’s free!” splash covering the page. I don’t want to sign up. I want to find a blog post, or forum entry, or bit of API documentation that answers my damn question. If your link turns up in my results, and I click it and don’t get to see the information it promises without taking additional steps to submit form data, that link wasn’t very relevant. I understand the business model. It’s called trolling. I’m sure it works for some people, but it doesn’t work for me.
So I hope that explains why, although I wish the fisherfolk at Experts Exchange all the best, I’m dancing with glee at never having to see their links in my search results again. And that’s why I wonder whether this new capability will shift the ground under existing Internet marketing techniques. If people can click one link and ban J.C. Penney then all that money J.C. Penney spent may turn out to not only have been unproductive, but perhaps counterproductive as well. Banning J.C. Penney will ban all links in search results, not just stupid ones, so there is now a strong incentive not to behave in a way that encourages people to hit that button.
And of course you can remove the site from the blocked list almost at any time. I say almost because I haven’t yet found a way to go directly to the list and edit it, but if you perform a search that would have returned results from the blocked site you’ll see a message that some results were blocked, with a link to a place where you can lift the ban if you’re inclined to give them another chance. Personally I expect my list to have five or six domains on it in short order, and I don’t see any of them getting a second chance anytime soon. Score 1 for me, 0 for the webshapers.