By now the masses are likely done mourning the upcoming demise of Google Reader (slated to swim with the fishes this summer), but some are noticing key Google toolbar features disappearing like a gaggle of phantoms too.
As always, there’s a method to Google’s madness (namely, they say these features just weren’t used enough), but this could very well be a case of quantity trumping quality. SEO experts, business owners, and search influencers alike are frustrated with Google’s willingness to yank once-touted top features, with little to no warning or fanfare.
While these folks undoubtedly represent the minority in terms of sheer numbers, many rank as top experts and consultants tasked with ensuring Google’s results are of the highest caliber. Furthermore, it seems many of Google’s rolled out features go unnoticed because people simply do not know to where to look for new releases, or to even expect they may arrive. Google is playing a numbers game, while many experts wish they would consider quality and communication first; and ultimately, stop taking away functionality that has helped make the web a better place, albeit in small doses.
They Give, They Take Away
Google released a fancy new sidebar in 2009 that came loaded with a slew of advanced search options, including sentiment analysis snippets, longer snippets, timeline, recent results, dictionary auto-linking, SearchWiki, Wonder Wheel, and related searches. Sadly, many of these features are no longer available.
The Wonder Wheel, along with related searches, were both considered top-tier tools, even if only a select few heavily used them. The Wonder Wheel showcased search terms in a visual format to let analysts and business owners discover keywords related to those currently targeted. You’d simply type in a keyword phrase – say, “London attractions,” and a circle pattern would appear connecting “London” to other related keywords, like “Big Ben,” “Picadilly Circus,” and “British Royals.” Handy, no? One year later, the feature was removed, and a chorus of cries commenced, without recourse (thankfully, other tools like the ‘Contextual Targeting Tool’ (http://www.google.com/ads/innovations/ctt.html) picked up the slack.)
Now, the frustrated growls are expressing the loss of the related features tool. Related features enabled users to efficiently eyeball search results for queries similar to the one selected. For example, if you typed in “gifts for mom,” the tool might suggest terms like “Mother’s Day presents” as good alternatives.
For SEO experts, this tool was a goldmine. You could start with a broader term like “gift ideas”, and use related searches to drill down into similar yet more effective key phrases. Why did Google remove related searches? “We weren’t seeing enough usage of this filter to maintain it in the toolbar,” they wrote recently, “but we do display related searches at the bottom of the page when they seem relevant enough.” When they seem relevant enough? That’s not exactly reliable nor overly usable.
Is Google Disregarding Their Heaviest Users?
There is a lot of frustration around Google’s sudden related searches axe. In a recent Google+ thread, SEO expert AJ Kohn stated, “Okay, so is Google then saying that Reading Level and Verbatim are therefore used more than Related Searches was?” Kohn is referring to a couple newer and lesser used options, and rightfully wonders why a tool heralded by Google’s top influencers is gone, when some features that hardly anyone sees value in still remain. Kohn also brilliantly shined a light on why this may be a major misstep for Google. “Just like the decision to terminate Google Reader, Google doesn’t seem to understand they need to address influencers.”
SEO professionals don’t just use their skills to help clients reach top rankings in Google and other search engines, they actually help Google maintain credibility and high user satisfaction too.
Google’s algorithms are built to favor high-quality sites with comprehensive information and intuitive layouts. SEO professionals, at heart, help clients create user-friendly websites and content. Helping these integral web marketers do the very best they can should therefore be one of Google’s top priorities.
Creating tools like Wonder Wheel and related searches goes a long way to achieve this synergy, but taking them away without warning obviously does just the opposite. While there are some new features added in recent times (verbatim, dictionary, and visited pages, to name a few), the list of deleted tools is just as long, if not more so. And with each eradication, Google risks inhibiting the success of people dedicated to helping them succeed. To add salt to the wound, just last year related searches was heralded as a top new feature from Google. Many internet marketers followed suit by loyally using the tool – an experience that was unfortunately short-lived.
Because Google still has a massive search engine market share, their antics are unlikely to improve any time soon. Some remain hopeful, however, that top executives will start to rethink their propensity to add and remove features at will, based solely on popularity, and instead consider weighting the voices of their top influencers. Webmasters and SEO professionals will never outnumber average web users, but if they celebrate a given search tool, Google would be wise to keep it in the mix. Without the tools they need to test and create top-notch sites and keywords, Google results could go back to endless lists of gobbledygook.
Until then, enjoy the tools Google offers, but don’t get too attached.