Jean Véronis

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mercredi, juin 09, 2010

Google: Trusted sites get pride of place

For a while now, webmasters have been sweating bullets at the sight of their morning statistics. On the forums (see for example  WebmasterWorld), desperate comments speak of falls of 30, 50 or even 90% of the traffic brought by Google. Several days ago, the affair hit the media when  Matt Cutts confirmed an update with the highly appropriate name of Mayday, which specifically affects long tail queries. This is only the cherry on the cake however: the upset started at the beginning of the year and does not seem to be finished. Google has manifestly declared war on opportunistic websites, who are placing themselves between users and sites displaying real content. Everyone has noticed that for some “competitive” searches (namely merchant), the search engine has become almost unusable: pages and pages of false comparators, doubtful forums and other parasitic sites ready to jump on the band wagon — which in the best cases land on pages full of Adsense and in the worst some absolute swindles. Everyone is putting forward hypotheses in the SEO forums about the modifications made to the algorithms. It’s quite a futile exercise; Google secrets are the best kept on the planet. One thing is certain: Google has called the end of play time.

Whatever these modifications, the result is rather paradoxical. While the Web is growing every day by thousands of sites and millions of pages, Google’s first-page results (roughly the only results that users click on) are showing fewer and fewer sites. Below is the result of a benchmark of 1500 searches (in French) that I regularly apply to follow changes in the search engine. In June 2008, these 1500 searches returned more than 5800 domains on the first page. In 2009, around 5100, i.e. 12% fewer. At the start of June 2010, only 4837 domains are returned, a fall of 17% compared to 2008.

Number of domains on the first page out of a set of 1500 queries

Another interesting phenomenon: the presence of Wikipedia in the results. In June 2008, Google returned 8.2% of first-page results in the encyclopedia, and 24.5% as a first link (after reaching a record of 27% [fr] in 2007). The encyclopedia marked a significant drop in results last year, as its presence fell back to 4.5% in all first page results and 14.5% as first link. It’s up again, with 6.9% of results and 24.8% first links.

Presence of Wikipedia in the results.

These data clearly show that Google is narrowing results to sites it trusts, usually major established sites (in France:,,,, etc. -- and of course  This notoriety bias does give rise to some collateral damage. It is increasingly difficult for small, newly created sites, which are perfectly legitimate, to appear in the first page of results, not to speak of the famous first place. At a time when whole parts of the economy depend on a presence on Google, this is a worrying phenomenon.

It remains to be proven whether major sites that have the trust of Google can provide pertinent answers to surfers’ searches. Like me, you have most likely been alarmed by the emptiness of certain forums that obstinately turn up in many of your searches...

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