Regardless of what you do with your days and nights, you’d be hard-pressed to never have used Google at some point in your life.
Chances are, as we’re off and running in the year 2020, you’re using the “free” internet database and information machine on a weekly basis – most likely daily – and for good reason.
Google is an information powerhouse, serving up billions of searches a day and many-thousands of searches per second. It is second to none.
Its “hundreds of billions of webpages” that have been crawled and make up its always-expanding Search index are proof of that.
But for all its good, Google still gets plenty wrong every day.
Some problems are worse than others, depending on how often you use Google, how familiar you are with the search engines, and, basically, who you are.
A digital marketer is going to (typically) have a much more extensive understanding of how Google works than a middle-aged security guard, a stay-at-home mom, or even a police officer or a firefighter.
When considering the eight call-outs below, it is mostly considered from an everyday, average Google Search user.
That said, there will certainly be deeper explanations for seemingly basic concepts to show just how wrong Google has gotten it on several critical occasions.
1. Always Testing/Changing
Whether you’re an everyday user, sometimes user, or in-the-trenches search marketer, you most likely know Google doesn’t sit still.
The world-leading search engine makes hundreds of changes per year to its platform through thousands of updates that included more than 3,200 updates in 2018, a number that has increased each year for decades.
It has confused users, angered SEO professionals, and ultimately transformed the way nearly every human on Earth interacts with the World Wide Web.
Thus, there is likely never just one reason for any – or all – of the changes Google makes a year.
But, while many average users can easily illustrate examples of why they were ever displeased with a change Google made, there are plenty of times when those changes worked in favor of the user in terms of a better experience on the search engine.
As a search marketer, we not only appreciate many of the changes Google makes due to their impact on the overall search experience; we also appreciate these thousands of changes per year because it keeps us in demand and employs us – directly and indirectly – every day.
2. Glitchy, Like All Computer Programs
Like any technological entity, Google, too, endures glitches, bugs, broken parts, and pint-sized disasters.
In early April 2019, Google had to fix a technical issue that caused pages to be deindexed.
Later that same month, a Google issue caused the search engine to select unrelated canonical URLs that were sometimes reflected in the breadcrumb trails on mobile. In rare cases, this may have prevented proper indexing of content by Google.
The following month, Google announced it was experiencing indexing issues that lasted through much of a day.
While temporary, it was still a major issue that prevented new content from being indexed in search results and make those results far less useful than they typically are.
Search Engine Journal staff writer Roger Montti pointed out how even though “Google has suffered outages in the past, Google has not experienced so many outages in such a short period of time,” as it did in the first half of 2019, suggesting the series of problems could be tied to a larger issue like an infrastructure update.
In July, Google had to fix a bug that caused search results to not fully render for some people over a span of several days.
Then, in the following month, it fixed another a bug that prevented newly-published content from being indexed again (same issue as May).
And, just as recent as February 2020, Google experienced glitches with Google Search Console and Google Tag Manager that caused some sites to become unverified in Search Console.
Clearly, this isn’t a problem most Google users would even recognize, but it was another issue that had some sort of impact on search, its users, and Google.
3. Never 100% Accurate
No search engine is perfect.
But they have all been impressive at one point or another with the results they serve up, and Google is certainly no exception to that.
While it doesn’t need a specific name or entity title to get the answer you’re looking for, Google is able to connect the dots for people more often than not when delivering an answer with a limited amount of information for many informational-type searches.
Other, more-granular searches that are guided with specific details – like a person’s name – can result in a short, simple answer that usually becomes a featured snippet.
These answers are a work in progress – that is, building out the database tied to the entities referenced in those answers.
More often than not, featured snippet answers are correct, or at least mostly correct.
There are certainly times when the answers, or at least parts of the answers, are incorrect, though.
Like the example below (which is now fixed), Google referenced Ice Cube’s net worth, but then suggested some other similar searches, which include a photo of rapper Vanilla Ice as the representation for (a different) rapper, Ice-T.
Another example involves actor James Earl Jones and an honorary Oscar he received.
A simple search mentioning the two main entities in the query (Earl Jones and the Oscars) brings back plenty of quality results.
But it also says James Earl Jones is dead after a one-year battle with ovarian cancer (an excerpt from his Wikipedia page that is actually citing the death of Jones’ wife, Cecilia Hart).
This is clearly another mistake tied to the criteria used by Google for choosing the extracted data as answers, or part of the answers, to certain questions.
It can and will be fixed eventually, and even though it’s a small piece of misinformation related to the entity in question, the inaccuracy highlights another flaw of Google.
4. Google Does What It Wants (& It’s Not Always Ideal or Accurate)
We know Google loves to test new features and ideas – and they don’t always (or rarely) stick.
This can be both confusing and frustrating.
Changing a brand’s marketing approach and general strategy because of a change Google claims is here to stay is dangerous and irresponsible. (See: Google+ and Authorship Markup.)
Google has a plan and few, if any, outside of the company have any input into the decisions made or directions certain projects, apps, and ideas go — no matter how big or small.
There’s a long list of failures – or at least defunct – products and services Google once offered and no longer does.
This is a testament to Google’s behavior of changing the tide, sometimes drastically, only to revert back or go in a different direction entirely.
It is not necessarily bad to test new ideas in attempt to improve your product. But when you allow, or even recommend, millions of brands to shape their strategies (and dollars) around these changes, only to backpedal, there are victims and there are losers.
Google is never either of those two things.
It may have been a bit of a secret 10 years ago, but it’s not anymore.
Google acquires and uses the personal data of its users regularly, and even leverages that data for its own profitable gain.
It sounds so dirty when we say it like that. And it pretty much is.
Google tracks us and every search we make.
Search history has gotten murderers convicted and it’s also generated hundreds of billions of dollars in advertising profits ($135 billion in 2019, to be exact).
That’s a lot of power for one entity to have. It’s easily the most controversial aspect to the business model of the fourth-richest company in the world (Google’s parent company Alphabet).
And with the growth of in-home Google Assistant products like Google Home and Nest, the “invasion of privacy” is only increasing.
And Google uses that data to sell advertising.
6. You’ve Got to Pay to Play
So, Google sells the data it takes from its users to make its profits via advertising.
And it used to offer some of that data to marketers for organic marketing purposes, too. But those days are long gone.
Now, to access proprietary search data compiled and owned by Google in Keyword Planner, marketers have to spend over a certain dollar threshold in advertising per month (although Google never announced what that threshold is).
Not only is the fourth-richest company in the world invading privacy and compiling data to leverage its business, but it’s also withholding that data unless business partners spend a large amount of money regularly each month.
To make matters worse, Google keeps creeping closer and closer to having paid search engine results resemble organic search engine results, further clouding the ethical space between ads and organic content and how each appears to users.
This is creating a better advertising product for Google (because paid results that look more like organic results will typically perform well) but allowing brands to pay to “rank” well while appearing to be a non-paid result is misleading.
Paid search ads are designed to convert and, while Google does offer a quality score for those ads, they are not organically awarded for the usual reasons (i.e., favorable user experience, quality content offering that is valuable and educational, a user’s best interest in mind, etc.).
7. Google Can’t Do It All
Google knows it’s not perfect.
Indexing all of the content on the web regularly is more than just a daunting task; it’s impossible.
Google has indexed trillions of webpages – but it has not and likely will not index every single piece of content on the web.
That’s a result of the robustness of the web’s content offering, and Google also admits that it cannot crawl all elements of websites effectively.
Written text is easy to crawl and index – images, videos, and certain HTML elements are not so easily crawl and indexed.
This could make it tougher for websites that operate without that knowledge in mind to communicate effectively, eliminating potentially critical content from the eyes of Google, and thus the web’s audience.
8. It’s Just Not What It Once Was
Truth be told, this is the most important reason why Google continues to succeed.
While the search engine operates differently than ever before, it’s also more advanced and knowledgeable than ever before. It’s able to accomplish feats we didn’t expect, delivering answers quickly and easily for users, and only getting better as time progresses.
With its thousands of updates per year and its goal of getting information to people easier and faster than ever before, Google is sending a message that it is not going to stop and sit on its product, probably ever. It will keep adapting it to change and perform at its best always.
Changing to cater to the behavior of humans (i.e., favoring mobile, adapting to new technology, etc.) has allowed Google to continue its impressive growth, and will continue to do so as long as it keeps at it.
Implementing game-changing technology that continues to take its search engine to new heights (i.e., machine learning, artificial intelligence, etc.) allows Google to stay useful, relevant, and always just a pocket-reach away.
Don’t expect any of these Google discrepancies to change anytime soon, either.
You can expect Google to continue its global domination, as well as domination of the search engine market, regardless of it continuing much of what we talked about above.
It’s still the best search engine in the world, and it’s still (mostly*) free.
*signifies the compensation for this free service is personal data that the company uses
- Google Accused of Privacy Gaslighting by University Scholars
- Google Chrome Closes Privacy Loophole – Blow to News Publisher Revenues
Screenshots taken by author, February 2020