A debate has surrounded Google for a few years now regarding the quality of their non-paid a.k.a. "organic" search results. One side of the debate has presented the argument that the search engine results pages (SERPs) are receiving increasingly large volumes of spam due to companies gaming the system through SEO techniques - as such it has been suggested that the quality of the search results has largely de-valued over the years. On the other hand however Google have strongly opposed this view, arguing that the current search results are better than they have ever been. Back in January, Matt Cutts stated on the Google blog:
Google's search quality is better than it has ever been in terms of relevance, freshness and comprehensiveness. Today, English-language spam in Google's results is less than half what it was five years ago, and spam in most other languages is even lower than in English.
Cutts however stated that they have seen "a slight uptick of spam in recent months". Testament to that, Google announced today the new Personal Blocklist extension for Google Chrome. Once installed on the browser, the extension allows users to block a website from appearing in their search results through a new link presented under each search result listing:
The user is also presented with a button top right of the browser allowing them to "unblock" and "edit" any domains which have been selected for blocking:
A further extension for personalised search results
This extension presents a further step towards personalised search for Google users and Google have certainly wised-up further to the fact that search users can act as extended employees of Google, now with the ability to filter out the spam/irrelevant results for them. Google already collects data about websites 'favourited' by users signed in and undertaking Google search queries, and now they have the further ability to collect data about what are essentially 'rejected' websites appearing in the search results. Alongside the "you agree to the terms of service" link, the description of the extension by Google states:
When you choose to block or unblock a pattern, the extension will also transmit to Google the URL of the web page on which the blocked or unblocked search results are displayed. You agree that Google may freely use this information to improve our products and services.
Google will therefore be able to not only identify what websites search users class as low quality/irrelevant but also what queries the websites are irrelevant for. For search users this presents another step in the right direction for the removal of spam from the search results and provides an even stronger way for Google to identify link building schemes/farms that go against their code of practice - talk of the hour being that of JC Penney.
An open door to game the SERPs?
What this could present however is further gaming of the search results by those "black-hats" out there that seek to manipulate the SERPs. If, as Google states above, they intend to use the information to improve products and services, this could provide a negative signal to Google to determine how sites are being ranked in the SERPs. Anyone with a bit of programming knowledge could therefore create automated programmes to fake Google queries and click on these "flag" links, potentially to the ill-effect of that website. This is of course speculation however I certainly wouldn't rule the behaviour out entirely.
Google's webspam team are the experts of controlling the spam within Google so why therefore hand the reigns over to simple search users? A sign of weakness by Google having to rely on its user base perhaps or is this a clever initiative by Google to gather increased volumes of data for the algorithm? I imagine a bit of both.
As an SEO, there is however one very clear benefit that I can see - the attempt to remove Wikipedia from their reserved top spot within the SERPs!.. well removing it from view makes me feel better at least for a few minutes!