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Thursday, July 20, 2006

Google restores ad-free search: at a cost to us

Google is testing a new Accessible Search interface that incorporates an accessibility scoring (and filtering) into ordering search results. So far, I've noticed that framed sites don't seem to do too well, but table layouts are not necessarily the kiss of death. At least, I've maintained some top rankings with table layouts but lost rankings with frames.

T.V. Raman says on Google's Blog that
In its current version, Google Accessible Search looks at a number of signals by examining the HTML markup found on a web page. It tends to favor pages that degrade gracefully--that is, pages with few visual distractions, and pages that are likely to render well with images turned off. Google Accessible Search is built on Google Co-op's technology, which improves search results based on specialized interests.

The scary part of this revelation is that they are using Google Co-Op to help order the results. He said "technology", not necessarily "content".

People are already striving to manipulate Google Co-Op (and it didn't take long for spam to show up on Google Pages, either -- their anti-manipulation strategies seem to be about as secure and pre-emptive as a Microsoft operating system).

What I think is good about the Accessible Search is the fact that it helps people get away from the Flash-designed sites, the framed sites (yes, I have a few, but they are largely experimental), and sites that burden the browser with long rendering times.

I do have at least one picture-heavy site that ranked pretty well for its search expression, but the topic is not immensely popular.

Accessible Search will probably be less prone to manipulation for a while for two reasons: first, the criteria have not been disclosed in anywhere near the degree that primary search criteria have been; secondly, the target audience is relatively small.

But if people switch over to the Accessible interface to get away from ads (I am seriously considering doing that myself), Google may find itself transported back to 2000. I doubt most people would make the switch, but frankly I'm sick of ad-laden search results. If Google could give us an option to turn them off in their primary search interface, I would use it in a heartbeat.


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