Google has been doing a lot of spring cleaning lately and generally seems to be on a mission to revamp everyone of its services and bring them all closer together. My attention is drawn to this most recently after Google (frustratingly) cancelled their Checkout service forcing users to turn to Wallet or other providers, but it’s no secret that for several years now they’ve been fine-tuning their search algorithms and upsetting a lot of bloggers in the quest to improve the experience for users.

The big question then, is has it all been worth it? When all is said and done, have Google actually improved their various services? Or were they better off before? Let’s take a look more closely…

Search Performance

Webmasters might understandably be calling Google every name under the sun right now, as the ‘permaflux’ state of their search engines continues to take more victims and kill off sites that once performed incredibly well.

Of course what those site owners need to remember though is that Google isn’t for them, but rather for the user. And when you look objectively at what Google Penguin and Google Panda did, you can understand the motivations even if you don’t like the method. Whether you were a culprit or not, a lot of people have previously been gaming Google in order to get to the top of the rankings, and that’s why our search results would previously bring up a whole lot of spun content and other low-quality results that we didn’t want. Do you remember when every other result was from eZine articles? Or some spam-laden site? Did you actually like that experience as a user?

In this regard then Google’s overall search performance has definitely gone up, but those aren’t the only changes that they’ve made and I would argue that they haven’t all been as successful even from the consumer’s point of view.

Take ‘semantic search’ for instance, which attempts to second guess the meaning of your search term rather than just looking for matches in the content. It’s a nice idea in theory, but in practice it often just makes it very hard to look for specific things. Try looking for a quote and you’ll often be brought to sites that write about the literal meaning of that quote, and from that perspective it’s kind of annoying…

The question is which would you prefer – the old Google with lots of spammy results, or the new Google that’s too smart for it’s own good? (Wouldn’t it be amazing if Google would let us use the old search engine algorithm when we wanted to?)

In terms of other services it’s once again a mixed bag. Ask any Android developers how they feel about the recent switch to Google Wallet which seems clearly un-ready for the transition and you’ll once again hear some choice words. Likewise other items in Google’s repertoire seem to have shown little development in a remarkably long time – still no multiple channels on a single YouTube account? That said though, Googlemail still remains the undisputed king and Google Keep has made a nice recent addition to the family.

Competition

So that’s the state of Google themselves, what about the lay of the land in general? Well while Google has taken two steps forward and one back, Bing has quietly been creeping up. Microsoft is now finally seeing growth in every industry, and with Bing built into Windows 8.1 as an integral part of the operating system this could understandably be starting to give Google cause for concern. Fortunately they still hold the largest share of the mobile market with Android, but again this is something that could change in the future.

More interesting is Google’s reputation currently. Of course we all know that Google’s name is muck as far as webmasters go largely, but they’ve also upset the general public to a degree too. In the UK Google have recently been in trouble for dodging taxes for instance, and privacy concerns have been an ongoing issue for some time now. While none of this is serious enough to get anyone to change search providers on its own, combined with the sometimes changeable performance of the service and Bing may just start looking like a tempting offer.

Or then again it might not, what do you think?