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Google SERPS – Does Reality = Perception?

August 12th, 2010 : · 36 Comments ·

First, thanks to the folks over at webmasterworld for planting the seed that prompted this post.

Perception: Google is by far the most advanced, most sophisticated, most relevant, and most accurate search engine.

Reality: Let’s find out…

Let’s compare the SERPS of the 3 major search players, Google, Yahoo, and Bing.

Let’s use a very simple single word search term. “Apples”

Now if I ask you for a defintion of  “‘Apples”, do you think you will struggle to find an answer?

Let’s see how the big 3 fared.

First up, Google.

Google scores 6 correct results for the search term “Apples”
And only 1 in the top 3.

Let’s discount the map stuff, they only hit 1 out of 2 there, and the News, as I doubt anyone searching for Apples is looking for news on Apples.

Ok, Now let’s Look at Bing

Bing scores higher than Google getting 7 relevant results, including the top 3, plus their 4 recipes in the SERPS which we are not even counting are all dead on.

And finally, let’s take a look at Yahoo.

Well, what do you know, Yahoo nails 9 relevant results for the term “Apples”.

If you look at just the SERPS of the 3 major players, Yahoo comes out  a clear #1, Bing # 2 and Google #3.

If you factor in the other related items on the page, it would be pretty difficult to argue against Bing having the most relevant first page, though a strong case can be made for Yahoo, based on 9 of 10 relevant SERPS.  Google misses the top 2 SERPS completely, and just gives us results that are less relevant than either Bing or Yahoo.

One of the problems here is that Google thinks they know what you want, but it’s quite evident they aren’t really very good at it. They do a pretty poor job of trying to discern the difference between “Apple” and “Apples”.

Is this single search conclusive? Of course not, it’s one search. But try it on your own with other words. You might be really surprised at what you find.

In this one specific case, perception is a far cry from reality.

Your thoughts?

- Dave -

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36 Comments so far ↓

  • David

    Hi Dave
    A very interesting article about SERPS.
    I honestly think that Google are trying to be to clever in their fight to strive as number one search engine.
    Whats your thoughts on the new google caffeine algo?
    Will it make it harder to rank on google?
    Thanks
    David

  • Faye Herl

    I have found for relevant searches that Bing is getting hard to beat. Plus with the alliance of Bing and Yahoo, Google is going to have to rethink its infamous algorithm.

  • Matt

    Interesting post. While I am not counting Google for dead just yet, without a doubt there are chinks in their armor. It will be interesting to see how the next few years play out as I think we can see a major shift in the SE marketplace.

  • Mac X

    Face it folks, this line says it all:

    “Perception = Reality”

    Maybe for your personal use, go for Bing or Yahoo. You can even get a warm a fuzzy feeling when you actually find what you want.

    But if you want to keep making money (or start)… stick where the traffic is.

  • Travis

    Love your post. Fact is google’s second guessing is only trying to pigeon-hole how we *should* be thinking, and as a free thinker, this irritates me to no end.

    I use google by default, but find myself going to yahoo and bing when google just can’t figure it out.

  • Carol

    It is pretty obvious that Bing is far better than google for relevant searches. But with most people still using google for their searches, we still have to compete for the top spots there, and I do not worry much yet about yahoo or bing. It’s a shame, maybe this will change soon.

  • Dustin

    Awesome post.

    Perception is almost never the reality.

    I perceive that Amazon.com would have great converting product pages (considering the billion a year they do in revenue – or whatever the huge number is)

    In reality Amazon.com is usually one of the worst converting monetization strategies I’ve ever used.

    Google no longer HAS to be the most relevant.

    Their product (search results) is powered by their demi-god Brand status.

    A LOT like Amazon I’d say…

    Thanks again,
    Dustin

  • Cindy

    And all this time, I thought Google was the ‘be all to end all’. This has really opened up my eyes!

    Thanks!
    Cindy

  • Danny

    I’ve been very disappointed with Google’s search results on a number of occasions. They are taking this whole, “Big Brand” thing way too far.

    As Eric Schmidt so narrow-mindedly puts it:

    “Brands are the solution, not the problem… Brands are how you sort out the cesspool.”

    In this case, results that are talking about “apples” the fruit are the cesspool, and results talking about “Apple” the company are the solution. Relevant or not, Google [thinks] they know what searchers want better than the searchers themselves.

    It’s a shame that people continue to fuel this arrogant company. But like Mac X said, as long as that is where the masses go, that’s where the money is :/

    …unless you have something clever up your sleeve, Dave?

  • Jason Kendall

    I’ve felt that over the last 2 years, the quality of the Google search results has seriously declined. It seems that they really only want to rank corporates and ‘warm & fuzzy’ companies.

    When I go to search for something, I actually want to find a wide variety of results, including lesser known (or unknown) sites. I want to be able to research and test my opinions and have my eyes opened to new options.

    The Bing/Yahoo results have produced a better quality and more ’rounded’ search from a consumer perspective for quite a while now.

    I agree it’s a shame that Google is perceived as the main place to search. Hopefully, MS will dump some serious money into promoting the new Bing/Yahoo alliance and we’ll see a shift.

    Anyone who use the ranking loophole etc would welcome a shift towards Bing as there is no doubt that it’s easier to get yourself ranked with good SEO. Let’s just hope that Bing doesn’t go the way of Google and self-proclaim themselves as judge and jury on what their consumers want to find by manipulating their algorithm to the point where results are tainted.

    Jay

  • Paul -

    Nice, but one example does not tell the whole story. How about trying 10 different searches, then we could see an average and compare “apples with apples” :)

    Paul.

  • Mark

    Google search results are biased towards search volume. They figured out that more people are searching for Apple gadgets than for Apples so that’s why their results are skewed.

  • ECS Dave

    @Mark

    Google search results are biased towards search volume. They figured out that more people are searching for Apple gadgets than for Apples so that’s why their results are skewed.

    I could not have said that better myself. Now, whether that’s right, or wrong, I can’t say. It appears though, that what the masses want, the masses get…

    Be Well!
    ECS Dave

  • Maria Mekus

    Google can do no wrong so it must be us that is looking at this entire thing incorrectly. One thing I would be interested in seeing is what the total number of searches were for each search engine.

  • Mike

    Bing is using the Wolfram Alpha technology which obviously knows it’s apples, so to speak. I was shocked but secretly very pleased that Yahoo took the award in this test though. Google is just BIG.

    Here’s an interesting fact though, if you type Search Engine into Google, Dogpile comes up first, followed by Bing and Altavista (remember those)? Google takes sixth position in it’s own search engine.

  • Fast Track Cash

    I think one of the reasons Google is so popular with IM-ers is because it’s the easiest to manipulate. Almost everyone who owns a webiste knows if you get enough inbound links and page rank your site can be #1 for any keyword you want. That is Google’s Achilles’ heel. Google (for the moment) has the public fooled. AOL was once #1, then Yahoo. Google will eventually be no longer be King of the Hill. And with the way they’ve treated us IMers, with quality scores, slaps, $1 PPC minimum bids, I can hardly wait util they eat crow and fall by the wayside.

  • Robert D Blackburn

    While Google’s search results may have diminished over time, one still can’t argue that they are NOT the clear number one. The truth of the matter is that as long as people continue to search Google first, they will continue their dominance. Based off what I see in my sites traffic stats, people search Google upwards of seventy percent of the time.

  • Mark S

    Hi Dave, Gonna hafta agree with some of the others above me. Bing and Yahoo are fixing to lay the smackdown on Google with their alliance. For me and my rankings, this news could not be better.
    BTW, it’s SO funny that you mention that. I ran the EXACT same test a few weeks ago, but only for Google, and for somewhat different reasons.
    -M

  • Mike

    Great post Dave. I agree..I think that Google follows the money and they favor the brand names. Perhaps Eric Schmidt has stock in Apple :)

  • Larry Long

    Dave,
    I find your presentation very interesting. I will certainly opt to use Bing & Yahoo more often to test this for myself. If I get more accurate results that help me find what I’m looking for then I will be happier.
    As for marketing, it makes sense to cater to the source that will produce the best ROI. If that means dancing with Google, then so be it.
    All the best,
    Larry

  • Steve

    @David

    Re the Caffeine algo, we had been testing it since last year and when they rolled it out it confirmed our tests, ALL of our clients web pages that we track climbed up the serps.

    I’m based in NZ where Google search has 90%+ market share. When helping clients get ranked to generate more business we focus on Google. It just so happens that the same strategies work well for Yahoo almost all the time and for Bing around 50-75% of the time. We look at the Bing and Yahoo ranking as a bonus.

    Have an awesome day

    Steve

  • Adam

    Ha ha ha, Google is by far the best search engine and provides the most useful returns by a mile.

    Your example ‘apple’ guess what most people searching that term would be interested in the company apple!!!!

  • admin

    @Adam, your comment would make sense except for 1 minor flaw in your statement..

    The search term was “Apples” not “Apple’. So I seriously doubt that most people searching for Apples are looking for Apple the tech company, perhaps you should do a little more research if you really think Google’s results are the best ‘by a mile’. You might be a little surprised at what you find.

    - Dave -

  • Emma

    Yes I think you are quite right!
    After years of everyone saying google so clever and google knows all I have realised they are not that smart, they just play a game where they advertise their patents publicaly in a disguise of their quite simple algorithm. Really some of the rubbish sites I have on page 1 shocked the hell out of me!

  • Braddas

    Google will always be winning while it’s marketing is the strongest. It’s part of most peoples language now, they don’t say i’ll search for something online they say i’ll google it.

    Until we say we’ll bing it then google will probs always be the most used by most surfers as an i’mer they are the traffic i’m after

  • Curt Snow

    I’ve been telling people for a few years now that Google is clueless when it comes to really knowing what people want when they search the web. Somehow, Google got it into their rock-hard heads that when people search for something, they’re always looking for an encyclopedia of information. When, in reality, the last thing people want is information overload. This is the biggest flaw in the Quality Score system that Google uses with their PPC platform. They think that if someone searches for “car insurance quote”, that person wants to wade through pages of information before they get their insurance quote. This is totally stupid on Google’s part.

    I could go on and on, but I think you get my point. I have said for a long time now and will continue to say that Google is clueless when it comes to really knowing what people want when they search.

    Curt Snow

  • Marcus

    Google is dreadful. Half the time I’m searching for something relevant and topical, I get antiquated blog posts from 2003 topping the rankings…….

    ….ugh

  • Mark

    Dave,

    It’s an interesting observation, but as we all know, Google can change at a moment’s notice, and as they take their #1 position very seriously (if not in their own SERPS, at least in the marketplace as a whole), then if they feel they are slipping, I have no doubt that they’ll do something to fix it (and soon).

  • Greg

    Remember the Pepsi Taste Test, more people when blind testing the two drinks prefered Pepsi over the other brand.

    See you know who I mean and I haven’t even mentioned them.

    Some actions transcend all forms of logic and like it not, Google has hit the top of that stratosphere and is not coming down anytime soon.

    Bad search results mean my keyword was floored and I try again.

    That being said I still love the traffic I get from Loophole ; )

  • Danny

    Here are some more interesting results for you:

    I decided to test out another well known company named after a fruit, Blackberry.

    If you search for “blackberries” all three search engines fail to bring up the fruit for the first result. Bing and Yahoo have results about the fruit at position number 3 and Google fails again with the fruit related result at number 4.

    You can compare all three search results at once here:

    http://blindsearch.fejus.com/

    Makes it much easier. Plus it’s a little fun. See which search engine you like the best.

  • used cars

    A very interesting study. I wonder if all the little tricks that webmasters use to push their sites up the rankings had any effect on the results for G.

  • Kimberly

    It could all shift if people in the movies, and Oprah, and news reporters would start saying “bing it already” or “I yahoo’d it” …we are all really sheep that way, lol -

  • Larry - your promotional advertising guy

    I have to agree with most here and have found that Google makes changes around every 9 months or so. They have made 3 major changes over time and the last being search related traffic.

    I am glad to see MSN/Bing and Yahoo join forces and give Google some competition. What Google has done to IM’s was wrong in my opinion but it will prove interesting to see what the next turn will be for Bing and Yahoo.

    Although, I do have a tendency to agree with kimberly on the humor side of things, but do you remember the Super Bowl Ad that Google did?

    Promotional advertising will never be like it was 8-10 years ago and the corporations will never let us forget it!

  • Zaak OConan

    “Maria Mekus // Aug 12, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Google can do no wrong so it must be us that is looking at this entire thing incorrectly. One thing I would be interested in seeing is what the total number of searches were for each search engine.”

    You’re right!
    The total volume of each is paramount. At least as far as business goes. SEO and search in general, a good insite.
    ZO

  • MLMNorway

    Let me explain one thing:

    When I decided to make Google my homepage for my web browser, I didn’t it because Google finds the best relevant results.

    But I did it because, Google search engine website was very simple, and the searches was very fast.

    In Yahoo and Bing, there is a lot of news, weathers, etc. etc. which slows down the search speed.

    But Google’s is very simple, practic and very easy to use. Just a search box and some alternatives to search.

    I mean I chose Google not because it provided the most relevant matches, but because its search engine was very fast and easy to use.

    Is anyone agree with me?

  • LightScribe Steve

    I have to agree with MacX…

    While the people we sell to still ‘Google it’ and don’t ‘Bing it’ or ‘Yahoo it’ or for that matter anything else it, I know where my traffic will be coming from…

    Anyway, if you rank on Google’s first page you will rank similarly on the other two… So hey what’s the big deal here…

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