Google just released a new extension for its Chrome browser. Initially I wasn’t sure what it is called, as it seemed to be “block sites from Google’s web search results”. On closer inspection, it is “Personal Blocklist” and here is the official description:
The personal blocklist extension will transmit to Google the patterns that you choose to block. 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.
The underlining is my emphasis.
Each time Google offers a way to denote your dislike for a website in the search results, people want to punish sites that annoy them. The early commenters on the extension page have targeted Experts Exchange, a pay-to-ask/view site that has answers supplied by volunteers who are paid in points. Once upon a time you could read it for free by scrolling down past the pitch, but now you don’t see the answer unless you subscribe or have accumulated enough points by answering questions.
I don’t know what Google will make of this blackballing of Experts Exchange. After all, their content has relevant answers that Googlebot can see, but so do other pay-to-play sites that require at least a login to view.
Is relevance the only goal?
I had to pause for thought. Is relevance of a search result the only goal for a search engine algorithm? If lots of users find this annoying and they have to move down the SERP to find a good solution for free, albeit “less relevant”, then should Google demote play-to-play sites?
When Google launched its Toolbar many years ago, it had a thumbs up/down button and there was never any confirmation of what use it had. Initially some people used it to punish their competitors or sites they didn’t like, but eventually people stopped talking about the toolbar. I haven’t installed it for a few years.
Later, Google introduced SearchWiki, which displayed a little faint cross that you could click to hide a result. It was replaced by a star, to denote a site you liked. This would move it to the top of the search results.
What’s the difference? Stars in Search requires you to log in, just like you did with SearchWiki. The new Chrome extension does not require a login, which is a backward step, IMO. We’re going to see a new generation of website owners who will try to punish sites rather than use the tool to hide irrelevant results.
You can’t block a subdirectory URI – you block the whole domain. That’s not so good, as I don’t want to block Twitter just because I don’t find one URI relevant. It’s better with subdomains such as blogspot.com where each blog is a subdomain.
For the next extension update
If Google is listening, here is what I’d do to the extension:
- Require a login to block a site.
- Ask a few tick-the-box questions why they are blocking the site.
- Compare this submission with previous ones from the same user.
- Ask your human evaluators to mark some bad results in various popular SERPs and compare with those from punters.
- Give punters a quality/trust score to eliminate the ones who are trying to skew results.
As for what will happen to Experts Exchange, I suggest that people store a search in their Favorites that has EE as the first result, such as: firewall blocking igoogle. Check it from time to time to see if EE has been pushed off the first page. I am not making any predictions on this one.