Via Google Weblog comes some screenshots of Google’s new look. It does look good, and certainly makes the search engine look more modern than it does as present. It also takes the minimalism that partially made Google popular in the first place a step further.
One notable exception, however, is the Google Directory. If you look at the screenshots, there are no direct links to it, nor any categories shown in the search results, although I imagine the ‘More >>’ links would lead to it should you click on them. You probably know by now that the Google Directory uses data from the ODP, so as an ODP editor (albeit a somewhat less active one) you might think I have an opinion about that. And that I do.
It’s not, however, an instant damnation of Google. Obviously, Google has played a major part in the ODP’s success in recent years, and without it we wouldn’t be nearly as popular as we are today. But this association with Google has brought us problems, and you only need to like at either the ODP Public Forum or any other webmaster forum to get an idea why.
Firstly, there’s the obvious misconception that we are Google. We’re not. Google, like around 500 other organisations is merely a downstream data user. That said, we don’t help matters by including the ‘green balls’ on all category pages and suggesting Google if our search facility returns no results, but that’s because as editors we sometimes find those useful. But after the ‘Florida’ update we were accused of all sorts of things, merely because Google had changed their algorithm, even if we had nothing to do with it.
Secondly, there’s the belief that an ODP listing will give you an instant dramatic PageRank boost. It won’t. It may help, but if your whole SEO strategy relies on an ODP listing then you have been seriously misguided. There’s also the belief that you should submit your URL to the category which has the highest PageRank, so that the PageRank would pass onto your URL – while that may be true, all you do is make your submission take longer to process as it gets moved to the correct category.
Then there’s the association with Yahoo, which is completely ficticious. The ODP was set up because our founders felt Yahoo was failing the internet with its directory, which was full of dead links and submissions took too long to get processed. At the moment, Yahoo uses Google for its fallback search results, should it not find any category matches, so the theory is that an ODP listing boosts your site in Google which in turn affects Yahoo. As far as I know, this isn’t the case. And anyway, Yahoo now owns Inktomi, along with Altavista and FAST thanks to its acquisition of Overture, and it is widely expected to adopt Inktomi as its source of search results instead of Google.
Note: While I’ll agree that some submissions can take a while at the ODP nowadays, I tend to find that ODP categories are much less prone to link rot.
The ODP’s profile also makes it a constant target for spam. It’s reckoned that up to 75% of the submissions in a category will be spam, and although this does vary, typically at least 10-20% of submissions to a category will not be listable. Should Google drop us, our profile will go down, and so will the junk. Admittedly, the number of legitimate submissions may also fall but in turn that could well reduce the backlog.
You could call me a cynic but trust me, a number of senior editors would probably agree with me, and have said so in various public forums. We’ll have to see whether Google really does drop ODP categories (or just relegates them to being a minor feature), and what effect that will ultimately have on us. I doubt, however, that if Google did drop us the ODP would go away. I think we’ll be around for a while yet.