An Open Letter to Google on the Subject of Social Search

Sorry Google. We can’t go on like this…

Dear Google,

It’s me, Andrew. I know that we haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, especially when it comes to your muppet fixation and your inexplicable need to give me yet more buttons to click, but I really need to tell you something.

I’m not writing this as an SEO, or as a copywriter, but as a Google user. So there’s no malice here (unless you’re still upset with me using your name as a verb), just something I need to get off my chest.

For fuck’s sake Google. Can you just stop this?

We used to get along fine. I’d ask you a question, and you’d give me what you thought were the ten best possible answers. It was a wonderful time. I trusted you. Damn it Google, I loved you.

And then you started to add things to your SERPs. I didn’t mind the ads; you’ve got to make a living somehow. I didn’t really mind the maps (even if you do think I’m in Fife half the time). I quite liked being able to specify blog searches.

But then you stopped telling me what you thought was best. You started telling me what I wanted to hear. I typed “S”, and before I could even get to the second letter, you were giving me Sky Sports listings. Well Google, I appreciate the effort, but I don’t even watch Sky Sports. You just showed that you don’t understand me at all.

So like a hapless girlfriend panicking on Christmas Eve, you went to my friends for advice. And instead of just trusting your instincts and giving me answers you believed in, you started giving me answers just because my friends had clicked on them.

It was pitiful. Heart-wrenching. Pathetic. But I stuck by you. Because, deep down, I still loved you.

But now, now you’ve decided that rather than giving me fresh, new answers from your algorithm, you’re recycling old content that my friends posted on Google+. Hell, you’re even throwing my own words back in my face! And you’ve not even got the good grace to deny it!

“You should also be able to find your own stuff on the web, the people you know and things they’ve shared with you, as well as the people you don’t know but might want to… all from one search box.”

From the Google Blog

Google. Unless you can believe in yourself again and go back to giving me results you’ve decided are important, it’s over between us. Stop relying on my useless friends (and the strangers in my Google+ Circles) for information and at least give me the option to have it like it used to be.

Just you and me, Google. My questions, your results.

You can make it happen.


Because I don’t want to have to start seeing Bing.

Yours Sincerely,

Andrew Nattan


29 Comments comments for "An Open Letter to Google on the Subject of Social Search"

    • Andrew at 12:54 pm

      You know the reason. Because I’m lazy. Just like most people. I use my browser bar as a search bar, and that defaults to Google.

  1. Tom Albrighton at 1:28 pm

    Even if you can opt out, the point remains that Google is putting all its efforts into misguided ‘added value’ offerings when it should be developing the core offering. And, as Andrew so vividly illustrates, it’s polluting one of the web’s purest, most fundamental experiences, and arguably its most important: Googling something. A search box and ten results – that’s why I use Google, not for some mutant social stepchild of MSN.

    Great post btw.

  2. Amy at 1:55 pm

    YES! I was thinking the same thing and have been shouting at my computer all day whilst reading comments on blogs from people who like the idea. I very much do not.. They are just trying to force us to use G+ and to be honest I hate it – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn do me just fine.. If they link all of those and not just G+ it’d be better..

  3. Matt Rhys-Davies at 3:02 pm

    Nice rant Andrew, and on some levels I agree. Then I saw that you have the +1 button at the bottom. Emotionally conflicted? 🙂

    I personally enjoy the way that Google collates data from everywhere and provides what it believes to be the most appropriate results. Loads of people love laying into Google and seem to forget the state that search was in just a few years back.

    Anyhow, well-written article, and like the style of copy.


    • Andrew at 3:21 pm

      Just because I think social search is ludicrous doesn’t mean I don’t want it to deliver traffic here! 😉

  4. Dan at 3:21 pm

    Nicely put. If I wanted advice from my friends, I’d ask my friends for the information I’m looking for. If I want a more scientific approach, or a more “official” word on a subject, I use to rely on Google or Bing. Google’s new search involving my friends is just making it tougher to find information on [certain] topics.

    My friends aren’t Experts in most subjects, so their content really shouldn’t be ranking above authority domains on most my queries, yet they do. This new “search Plus Your World” is just going to add more noise to my searches.

  5. Bill Marshall at 3:35 pm

    Here here! The whole concept of combining stuff I already know and social signals (half of which are probably people you don’t really know and have only partial reason to trust) into search is totally misguided. I’m using search because I want to find something I don’t know about – I want the best, most authoritative sources. I don’t want recycled opinions, I don’t want brands, I don’t want dubious encyclopedias.

    By all means offer an additional social-based product for those that do nothing but consume products and watch celebrities, but don’t pollute the key means of accessing the genuine information out there.

    I’m beginning to think that if I wasn’t an SEO I wouldn’t use Google at all.

  6. Fran Irwin at 3:51 pm

    You’d prefer they continue to rely on links, which can be gamed, as a real-world authority signal? We’ve all seen how that’s worked out, right?

    • Andrew at 4:05 pm

      And Google +1s can’t be gamed? I must’ve imagined the eBay listings offering hundreds of +1 clicks.

      Links aren’t perfect, Google+ social signals aren’t perfect either. But links don’t give me SERPs based on the TV shows my friends watch, or the political preferences of my colleagues.

  7. Tom Albrighton at 4:15 pm

    Rubbish links can be gamed. Decent links – i.e. spontaneous, one-way backlinks from reputable sites and blogs – are hard to game. And that’s what Google values these days.

    The fact that social results are flagged as such says it all. It’s a disclaimer, an excuse. Google is saying ‘this might not have any value, but one of your friends likes it, which is why I’m showing it’. When social results are silently integrated into SERPS, like location data, their value will have been proven and accepted.

    In my opinion.

    • Andrew at 5:38 pm

      It always makes me feel incompetent when people entirely miss the point of what I’m trying to say…

  8. Barry Adams at 5:46 pm

    Yes it is like seeing your girlfriend change in to a paranoid obsessive-compulsive psychotic straight in front of you. Google used to be all lovely and well deserving of the adoration it received from the geek community. Not so much any more.

    It seems all Googlers are living in their own little reality-bubble that is rather vastly different from the real world, from which they make decisions that they genuinely believe are best for users but are in fact wildly misguided attempts at forcing their distorted reality-bubble on the rest of us.

    It’s time for more people to break up with Google. I’ve done so years ago – it’s liberating.

  9. anon at 9:49 pm

    Go use Bing if you hate it so much. Google provides a free service that is of the highest quality. btw, you should read your open letter to yourself out loud. you sound like a fucking pussy.

    • Andrew at 9:59 pm

      Thanks Anon.

      I’m always flattered when someone’s so incensed by an argument I put forward that instead of putting forward a rational rebuttal that they’re happy to put their name to, they are instead forced into a frothing anonymous rant.

    • Tom Albrighton at 10:16 am


      The point is that the ‘free service of the highest quality’ is being degraded through redundant additions and augmentations that don’t add value. Did you read the article?

      Oh no, you didn’t, because if you had, you might have noticed what the writer was trying to do: raise issues while entertaining his readers.

      The Bing experience is not comparable because its algorithm is super weak. Note how this point again highlights Google’s key strength, which is search rather than social integration.

  10. Jonny Ross at 1:04 am

    I have to agree with matt! love the letter, but also love the +1 button!!!

    this can only help from an SEO point of view, so i dont see it as a bad thing, and when i want standard search i just sign out!


    • Andrew at 10:28 am

      It’s not the +1 button I have an issue with (any more). It’s the fact that Google are now treating the sort of pillocks I knock about with as authorities.

      Here’s an example. In my Google circle is an old schoolfriend of mine. We’ve spoken maybe twice in ten years, but she’s still wound up on my radar. She’s a rabid anti-vaccine nut, who thinks that preventing TB actually gives you HIV, and she’s constantly linking to that crap on her G+ page.

      I do a search on “vaccine side effects” because I’m worried about whether or not getting a flu jab will give me the flu. Google decides that I don’t want all the authoritative, Peer Reviewed studies on .ac and .edu domains, and instead I just want things that’ve been shared socially. So I get a SERP jam packed with nonsense that’ll lead me to make the wrong decision. All because my friend is a bit mad.

      Yes, that’s not an issue for me or you because we’re SEOs. We know why Google is showing a certain result. We know we can sign out.

      But the casual user in a situation like the one I’ve outlined? Do they know all this? Or do they just take the SERP at face value?

  11. Rahul Chowdhury at 5:43 am

    Well Google is getting more and more advanced and sophisticated, and its helping you get the right websites you are searching for. I don’t have any problem in using Google Search.

  12. Sam Osborne at 10:37 am

    I dont really see what the problem is, as an internet user, this could turn in to to something useful, it will take some time but its a step backwards in the right direction. The next iteration of it would likely be better and so on and so on.

    As someone that works in digital marketing, Google does what Google does so you have to adapt, review and carry on, this is what our industry has been and will continue to be!

    If you dont like it please either:

    A) Change your preferences (search settings -Do not used personalised search)
    B) Write a SEO is dead post as we love those 🙂

    • Andrew at 11:20 am

      Have a look at my response to Jonny Ross above for why “change the settings” isn’t a great alternative.

      As for it being great in the future? Why? Will my friends become authoritative? I’m not looking forward to a search where people who aren’t friends with Professor Brian Cox aren’t able to get decent results when they search for information on particle physics.

      • Sam Osborne at 6:07 pm

        hello again Andre, Im trying to look at a much bigger scope of things to come. Google must evolve as do we. If I can come home from work one day and Google or any other search presents me with a Synopsis of what I searched for that day within, for example, entertainment then I would be able to go over or watch something I may have forgotten about already.

        This I feel is trying to push into that realm, albeit poorly, taking what social information Google has and displaying it back to you within search results is a bad idea. A social dashboard would more likely be suitable or the homepage of Google+ being a aggregation of everything me for that day, week or month.

        There are lots of positives to take from this in a business oriented sense, you just have to put up with the crap from a personal point of view.

  13. Larner at 11:25 am

    Yep, Google is getting more advanced, but isn’t that the crux of Andy’s whole argument. You can get waterproof TVs for your bathroom now (somebody tried, in vain, to flog me one, yesterday) but do I want to gawp at shleb-fest drivel while I’m trying to have a bit of me time? No. Do I really need a ‘climate’ in the passenger seat of my car that’s different from the driver seat, a mere ten centimetres away? Not really. Do I want Apple’s Lion to open up all the previous windows I last had open before my mac decided to have a little lie down – just ‘cos it’s clever enough to be able to?

    No, I blummin’ well don’t. Time and time again we see products and services strive to offer users everything they dreamed of; they get there; reach a peak of nirvana and then surpass that peak by striving to offer us all even more and end up rolling all the way back to the bottom of the curve in a big snotty heap of everything we DON’T want.

    It’s Google’s ashtray on a motorbike. And a great article, Mr. N.

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