I was a bit disconcerted this week to learn that Google is apparently using its position as the only indispensable source of search engine results to cram Web design techniques down the throats of developers. Even though the techniques they want to push are good ideas and even though designers who don’t follow them could be argued to be causing the Web to be less homogeneous than we might like, Google has no right to use adherence to these “standards” as criteria for search engine rankings.
IN the past couple of weeks, it has become clear that Google is beginning to force two ideas on Web designers by penalizing their otherwise-valid search rankings if they fail to adhere to them. These ideas are:
- inclusion of a mobile-only design
- use of the https secure Web protocol
According to reports, Google has decided that any site which doesn’t provide a mobile-specific version or refuses to use https for the secure transfer of data should be denied the search ranking its content would otherwise entitle it to. This puts Google’s prejudices about technology preferences ahead of user satisfaction with search results, which used to be the search engine company’s primary — perhaps sole — criterion.
The Google experts have announced that they’ve been running tests to determine whether the use of https protocol is helpful in search results. They’ve decided that it does, so they’ve begun imposing the presence of the https: protocol as a “ranking signal.” Right now, they say, their use of the signal is lightweight and quite small in terms of impact, but they warn, “we may decide to strengthen it, because we’d like to encourage all website owners to switch from HTTP to HTTPS to keep everyone safe on the web.”
In April, Google announced it was instituting a “mobile-friendly” search signal as well. Google said this is expanding on its mobile ranking demotion algorithm, which it started using in 2013. This new approach will apparently only be used in mobile searches (though there are no guarantees it will stay that way, of course). There is some slight justification for this weighting of search results. If I’m searching on a mobile device, I’ll probably find results that are designed for that device format more usable and returning usable results is within Google’s charter.
Call me old-fashioned but I think Google has the right to write algorithms and impose rules that will return search results that are relevant and useful to their search engine users and nothing more.
The European Union recently filed a suit against Google for using its search-engine dominance to give primary search result ranking to their own products at the expense of competing companies’ offerings. That’s just dishonest. But I maintain that attempting to impose their idea about how the Web should work on any Web designer interested in driving traffic to his or her site — and that includes a substantial number of us — is only slightly less egregious. If they continue to outgrow their britches, they may find Web developers rebelling against their attempt to be the final arbiter of all Web design strategies and techniques.
FWIW, there are apparently at least 200 criteria Google applies to search results to determine which should alter basic rankings. Brian Dean has compiled what he says is a complete list of them here. Be prepared to be quite surprised by some of them.