Shifting Fortunes of the Big Three

Heads up! This post was written when Metric Marketing was known as Canada's Web Shop.

Under The Hood

In July 2004 a billboard appeared in the heart of Silicon Valley posing a complex mathematical problem. The billboard was completely anonymous and read: "{first 10-digit prime found in consecutive digits e}.com." The answer was which led the mathematically minded to a Web page posing another equation to solve. Solving the second equation would lead someone to a page on Google Labs which stated:

One thing we learned while building Google is that it's easier to find what you're looking for if it comes looking for you. What we're looking for are the best engineers in the world. And here you are.
As you can imagine, we get many, many resumes every day, so we developed this little process to increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

The point is, search engine algorithms are unbelievably complex, written by eggheads and understood by eggheads. Under normal circumstances using a search engine is a bit like driving a car - you don’t need to know what’s under the hood to get from point A to point B. Nor do you need to be a member of Mensa or hold a degree in mathematics to realize that a search engine is ‘misfiring’.

A Caffeine Injection

In December of 2009 Google launched Caffeine. Caffeine was Google’s new indexing system geared to meet rising user expectations and to better cope with a web that had evolved to include much more than text documents. While indexing did increase, huge amounts of low quality pages, spam and scraped content made its way into the index and some of it ranked prominently.

In an interview with top Google search engineers Amit Singhal and Matt Cutts published by, Amit Singhal had this to say about the situation:

“So we did Caffeine [a major update that improved Google’s indexing process] in late 2009. Our index grew so quickly, and we were just crawling at a much faster speed. When that happened, we basically got a lot of good fresh content, and some not so good. The problem had shifted from random gibberish, which the spam team had nicely taken care of, into somewhat more like written prose. But the content was shallow.”


The Panda Farmer

This resulted in heavy criticism about search quality being pointed at Google. To address the problems created by Caffeine, Google rolled an algorithmic update named Panda. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land later renamed the update to “Farmer” because it targeted content farms.

Note: Panda is different to previous updates in that pages that are judged to be of poor quality or ‘shallow’ are not punished on their own, the entire domain on which they are hosted takes a hit as well.

Panda was specifically aimed at sources of low quality content i.e. content farms and open publishing platforms. The general shuffling of results has seen winners and losers as far as rankings are concerned, but as far as quality goes, nothing has changed. Spam, scraped and spun content are still prevalent. Furthermore, while sites like eHow and HubPages have taken a big hit, Google’s own open publishing platforms like YouTube seem to be real winners.

Running the Numbers

Matt Cutts insists that things are much better than they were, well that might be for the benefit of shareholders more than anybody else. No matter how you try to slice and dice it the hard facts are that Google users are switching allegiances to Bing and Yahoo. Google’s market share is down 10% from August 2010, when it owned 71.59% of the search market. Microsoft which powers Yahoo and Bing now control just under 30% of the US search market.

Yahoo! Search and Bing achieved the highest success rates in February 2011. This means that for both search engines, more than 81 percent of searches executed resulted in a visit to a Website. Google achieved a success rate of 66 percent. The share of unsuccessful searches highlights the opportunity for both the search engines and marketers to evaluate the search engine result pages to ensure that searchers are finding relevant information.


Further Reading

Is it any wonder that Microsoft powered Yahoo and Bing are gaining market share when only 66% of Google searches result in a visit to a website? The lowly number is a direct result of the poor relevance shown in Google results these days and a major reason why more and more users are switching.

Try Bing For A Week And Tell Me What You Think

For those of you who never look past Google results, try Bing for a week or two. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Like what you read? Sign up for our Newsletter.