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March 28, 2008

From Search Results to Content Creation

This may come as a surprise to some webmasters, but Google doesn't have any obligation to send traffic to their sites. People can already learn a lot of useful information from the snippets and they will find even more information as search engines become smarter and learn how to anticipate users' needs. Surprisingly, the mission of a search engine is not to send its users to the best sources of information, but to provide the best possible answers. Since search engines are still far from their mission, they only answer trivial questions about weather, facts, word definitions, unit conversions, while for complex questions they guide you to other sites that could include helpful information.

Google is already experimenting with other ways to visualize information (on a map, in a timeline, highlighting dates or measurements), where search results are no longer important. What's important is the list of information extracted by Google and displayed in a clever format. This is also visible in Google's glossary search engine that displays definitions collected from the web or in Google's facts search engine which shows sources for a certain fact.

Google can also recognize a site's navigation links and place the most important links under the snippet (they're called sitelinks). This way, users don't have go to the homepage of a site just to a link that sends them to another part of the site: Google wants to send users directly where they wanted to go. This is the same reason why Google added site search boxes, causing some controversy. "Google is probably trying to get additional usage out of their product and monetize those page views," was the the explanation of James Spanfeller, chief executive of Google actually wanted to send people to their intended destination.

Where webmasters see less pageviews, Google sees a more efficient way to serve its users. After all, if you're able to use the information available online to deliver a great answer, why not deliver it? Google's search results pages could become actual content, the simple facts collected from the web could be used to infer intelligent answers, while the snippets could include exactly the information we needed.


  1. This is great little article. It's clear to see now you have pointed it out. I saw a site search today for the first time, very interesting.

    Why wouldn't Google do more to deliver answers to questions from their own pages.

  2. Not fully agreed with your observation. Even in a worst case scenario, Google still has to at least abide to the Mafia ethos; "we'll extort you, but we'll offer the benefit of protecting your business." The Mafia knows that just extortion without any benefit to the extortee will likely have them lose support among people, which the Mafia needs. And Google knows that if they just extort servers without taking care of the webmaster's business... then webmasters will utilize their robots.txt to exclude the Googlebot, and Google loses its power.

    So yes, Google (unless they're really good-natured) may not have any intrinsic motivation to send traffic; but it seems they very much have an extrinsic ones. At least for now -- at least until the day they develop an AI so smart that it is capable of not only duplicating the world's knowledge in "fair use" ways at once (by reformulating every page's sentence, repainting every picture in new ways, recreating the whole world in a unique near-copy to which they own the rights to)... but also to expand on this knowledge to take it towards areas yet undiscovered by externally stored information.

  3. This is a little specious. If the search results become content, and that content is generated by a third party who copyrights it, then Google is monetizing someone else's copyrighted material.

    That's not a problem when Google is just delivering search results intended to send people to the source of the answers, where the owner of the content can monetize it.

    But when Google appropriates it for themselves that is, to my mind, and issue. Google is no longer a search engine, but a thief.

  4. The title "From Search Results to Content Creation" might catch eyeballs but is a bit misleading.

    Google started from collective intelligence and keep selling collective intelligence to customers directly or indirectly.

    With current AI science and technology, it is still far far away that any engine can create content. We also need to expect what sorts of contents -- information or knowledge.

    In addition, I agree with Philipp Lenssen's analysis.

  5. Google can already answer a very complicated question by it self. I wouldn't mind if Google could answer everything. However than it would get easier if we could just upload text files to the Google server instead of making webpages or filling in Wikipedia.

  6. Thanks for this article! I think as the notion of SEO has been developed more intricately, many business owners are scrambling to keep up and figure out how to make themselves and their valuable information visible on the Web in a world where the most comprehensive or best answer to a question is not always what comes up first in a search result, which can be pretty frustrating to both those looking for good information and also to those creating high-quality, "real" content. Hopefully as we all “grow into” the SEO concept, we’ll all be able to figure out better ways to share space on the Web and get the right and best information out there in better ways.


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