Google Blog Search loses its bearings

Many serious bloggers rely on Google Blog Search to provide regular reports on who’s linking back to them. The blogging tool I use, WordPress, even uses Google’s blog search to feed a little window on the blog dashboard. (This is the listing it shows for this blog.)

The Google Blog Search results have generally been the fastest and most useful tool of this kind (Google displaced Technorati, which had long served in this role, some time ago). But a couple of months ago Google Blog Search started becoming pretty much useless. Instead of only reporting links from the “main” blog content, it reported all links on a blog page, including the so-called “sidebar” or blogroll, where many bloggers place a lengthy static list of blogs they read. So this means that, for instance, every time JD Lasica adds a new post to his blog at Social Media, which includes Wordyard in its blogroll, I get a new listing in the Google Blog Search for Wordyard, even though the post has nothing to do with Wordyard. This completely messes up the utility of Google’s search for me — and, from what I see posted by other serious bloggers, many other users.

Google’s whole expertise and reputation lies in the sorting of search results, so I’d hope and think that the company would pay close attention to this issue. But so far the only public comment I can find from Google itself about this problem is this post by Jeremy Hylton last month. Apparently Google Blog Search used to index only the content in the blog’s RSS feed, but now indexes the whole web page. Hylton says Google ” may have underestimated the impact on searches using the link: operator or where the query matches a blog or blogger’s name.” Since (for instance) every installation of WordPress uses such a search this is not a minor issue; it is, for many of us, the central use of the service.

Hylton says Google’s working on a fix. In the meantime, the company might do a little more outreach so that it doesn’t face the general perception that its service is simply broken, which is how it feels now.

UPDATE: Danny Sullivan in comments below suggests that Google has focused on serving users doing general subject searches rather than bloggers searching for “who’s linking to me.” I’m sure that’s right. But the bloggers are the ones creating the content — they ought to be served well too. See Danny’s Searchengineland post for more info on the changes that Google made that resulted in this situation.

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  1. Hi Scott,
    I hope you’ll turn on the Technorati flavor of WordPress 2.7′s incoming links dashboard (I understand its a configuration option in 2.7) and let me know how that goes.
    thanks,
    -Ian

  2. Scott Rosenberg

    Hi, Ian! I’d be happy to try that. But it turns out not to be easy. Here’s the deal: 2.7 lets you plug in any feed URL you want for that dashboard widget. Default is Google blogsearch. Switching to T-rati requires that I get a feed URL from T-rati to replace the default with. I thought, OK, I’m not an idiot, I can do that. I went to Technorati to find the feed URL for the incoming links to Wordyard.

    Well, it beats me how to do this these days. Long ago Technorati called this my “Cosmos” and it was the main feature. Today, I know, Technorati has many other things up its sleeve. Fine. But why is it so hard to find what used to be the heart of the service?

    I used the advanced search page, found the section titled “URL search,” and figured that would work. But,when I plug in the URL “http://www.wordyard.com” in the URL search, what’s returned is a “tag page” — and of course nobody has tagged my pages with the URL. This is totally bizarre, since there’s *another* option on the advanced search page that’s for “tag search.” The URL search seems to be just a “tag search” on th URL, which is, you know, sort of useless.

    Maybe there is some totally obvious way to find what I actually need here, and I’m just missing it. But I’m sorry to say it is wild goose chases like this that have, over the years, led me to stop using Technorati very often.

  3. First time I saw it, I was surprised. Second time, annoyed. Now, I Google Blog Search just creates too much noise and it’s one of the last things I check out. There’s a lesson there…

  4. Anonymous

    You know, wordpress has started to report an “incoming link” whenever someone who has me on their blogroll posts anything at all. Annoying!

  5. I’ve only recently been paying attention to Blogsearch with some pretty hysterical results. It’s quite clear to me that on the small scale you can see they are playing with their criteria/algorithms and can’t quite figure out how to adjust rank/display. For example, even just a few weeks back, my name brought up a fake MySpace page obviously w/ associations to that other person with my same name.

    My guess is they are also feeding in results of those use Google Reader, those who add suggested blogs to their reader, etc. –not just a Technorati style ranking. It will be interesting to see if they make this a more useful search tool.

  6. Scott, I have a long post on the full-text indexing that went up last week:
    http://searchengineland.com/google-blog-search-now-with-full-text-post-indexing-15722.php

    Covers how they’re still working on the backlink solution, among other things.

    But when you say this:

    “Google’s whole expertise and reputation lies in the sorting of search results, so I’d hope and think that the company would pay close attention to this issue.”

    Backlink reports aren’t likely the main thing people are doing. Instead, they’re searching for content on particular topics. The shift to full-text is the right move in that direction, even if it’s causing pain among those of us backlink tracking.

  7. Scott Rosenberg

    Danny, thanks, that’s good info.

    On backlinks versus basic content search: In terms of numbers of users, yes, I’m sure far more people use Blogsearch as in essence a “silo” of regular Google, searching for text that’s only “on blogs.”

    But the people who use it for backlink search are hardcore, heavy-duty users. They’re also the people who *create* all that blog content that’s being indexed. So serving them well — or at least serving them attentively and responding to their concerns — surely makes good sense…

  8. Scott, have you heard of Lijit?

    Besides our useful WordPress plugin that allows you to override your default WordPress search bar and have the results powered by Lijit, we offer you many detailed stats including a list of other bloggers who have listed you in their blogroll.

    Our search makes all of your online content searchable, including Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Additionally, we give your readers trusted results from your blog, content, and your network–meaning other blogs you trust and link to in your blogroll.

    Sorry for the pitch, but if you’re looking for a better blog search, I think Lijit is the way to go. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have…I’m tara at lijit dot com.

  9. FairShare is another service that will help here. It’s not yet open for public beta, but it will give bloggers visibility to where else their posts are is appearing, if there is a link (or not) plus a bunch of other stuff based on the Creative Commons license you assign.

  10. Scott,

    Here’s what you do:

    Go to http://s.technorati.com/

    Type in your blog URL (www.woodyard.com) into the search box. Don’t put in the http:// in there.

    You’ll see your cosmos.

    Click on the subscribe button on the upper right hand side.

    http://feeds.technorati.com/search/www.wordyard.com

    You’re done.

    Of course, alternatively you could just type in:
    http://feeds.technorati.com/search/URL-YOU-ARE-LOOKING-FOR

    Dave

    P.S. Sorry I’ve been so busy of late that I haven’t responded to your pesonal email recently. I promise to get on it soon, I’ve just ben so busy with the Launch of Offbeat Guides…

  11. Hey Scott, I wouldn’t misinterpret the change in Google Blog Search as a step backwards. Indexing the full-text of blog posts (not just the partial post from an RSS feed) is a big step forward for Google blog search. It’s true that as a result of doing a full crawl in response to pings, we do index the whole page now, which can lead to this behavior with the link: operator in blog search. But as Jeremy Hylton mentioned, folks at Google are looking at this and I expect it to get better with time. So while link: is temporarily less useful in Google Blog Search, the main part of Google Blog Search (normal searches) can give many more documents now, which is overall good for users. And I expect that we’ll get link: working like the power-bloggers such as yourself want as well.

  12. Scott Rosenberg

    Dave, thanks, that’s great information. Obviously the question is, shouldn’t that be easier to find on Technorati’s site? Since I’m sure you know that, I’ll leave it at that.

    Matt, that’s all good to know. I guess for me the plain-vanilla Google always seemed to do a great job of full-text indexing of blogs, and I’ve never had the urge to segregate the blog search from the rest of the web, so the real utility of Blog search lay in the link tracking. I’m glad to know you guys are working on making it useful again.

  13. There are many ways to do this without having to rely on Google to do our backlink research for us. Is it really Google’s job to tell writer’s, marketers, and SEOs us who links to us and when? link: is a gift, not a right.

  14. Indeed it will be interesting to see how it pans out. linking is pretty important to bloggers and I for one want to now who is linking to us.

  15. Here is a web service that provides RSS results for Google Search

    http://www.ecubicle.net/gsearch_rss.asmx

    Since the returned XML is RSS 2.0 compliant, the web service can also be called in a feed reader like this:

    http://www.ecubicle.net/gsearch_rss.asmx/GetSearchResults?searchPage=0&gQuery=tutorial+asp+net&numOfResults=15

    You need to change the searchPage, gQuery and numOfResults querystring parameters to your choice. gQuery parameter accepts all standard Google Search Operators.

  16. I use Google Blog Search when I want to rapidly perform a blog search – it’s less cluttered and far more reponsive than technorati

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