Google has done an excellent job of making themselves an indispensable part of internet life. Most of us couldn’t imagine a doing our jobs without it anymore. But this begs the question, why don’t they act like it.
This morning, like most mornings, I did a google search for 3tera looking for a few things; who’s advertising on the keyword 3tera, are there any new entries on the first couple pages, and how many search results are shown. Why do this so frequently? Partially because it helps me track our PR effectiveness. However, the larger reason is that I believe my customers use google to validate 3tera and I want to see what google’s showing them.
You may note that I wrote validate and not research, and that’s intentional. When dealing with a new customer, partner or even competitor I do a google search and look to see what type of links show up on the first page. Are there articles in serious journals or just their web page and some blogs. Plus I look at the number of search results google presents. Hundreds of thousands implies a critical mass of interest. Just a few thousand means I’m dealing with someone nobody talks about. I know others see google as validation as well because I’ve gotten emails when an article about 3tera adds tens of thousands to the google search results.
Having done the search countless times, I pretty much know what to expect. However, this morning I was puzzled, because our search results had dropped from around 230K, to less than 70K. What had happened?
After a bit of research, I noted that several other companies I track had similar drops in the number of reported results. Evidently, google changed the way they count their index. So what? Well, it turns out this isn’t the first shift I’ve had in google data recently.
I got a little shock a couple weeks ago when I logged into Google Analytics to check our web traffic – the reported value for Time-On-Site was half what we normally run. I quickly checked our website to ensure we didn’t have some error on the server, but it was running fine so I went back to Analytics. Pages-per-visit and bounce rate were normal. Only the time-on-site was different. I looked up a couple historical figures and they too were low. Analytics was showing our historical figures at roughly half what we’d recorded before. Evidently Google changed how Analytics calculates time.
This has happened recently with other online services as well and it feels like a trend. It seems google and many other online service companies feel their applications exist in a vacume and that they should therefore be able to make whatever changes they like. The engineers and product managers at Google, for instance, probably updated the Analytics time calculation because they felt it was more accurate, but that shouldn’t be the end of the discussion.
Many companies, 3tera included, use online services like Analytics to track their business. I don’t believe that the number of search results or the time-on-site are precise measurements, but I do expect them to be consistant. That consistancy allows me to view their rise or fall meaningful.
Google and other service operators need to recognize the data being generated by their applications is used outside of their systems and they need to ensure consistancy of their results.
Well, four days later, the number of search results Google’s returning for 3tera are back to where they were last week. Most of the other searches I ran are also back to normal. While I’m glad to have the system running as expected again, I’m still curious what happened.