Could you be wasting your time with Google?

Search logoGoogle could be wasting your time. Indeed, Google could be one of the biggest negative influences on workplace productivity in recent years. Gosh.

There is little doubt we would be in a worse place if we did not have Google. Can you imagine how long it would take to conduct simple business tasks without it? Certainly, Google has helped improve business considerably.

That is true. But our use of Google leaves a lot to be desired.

For instance, in the UK, where Google has over half of the search engine usage, over 90% of our search queries are three words or less. Yet, accuracy of search results goes up significantly the more words you use in your search phrase. In fact, truly accurate results do not start appearing, it seems, until your search phrase is seven words or more.

This is reflected in our ability to actually achieve anything useful in search. According to the latest data, Google – on average – only provides us with a worthwhile result (something we click on) 12.7% of the time – and most of that accuracy is in the adverts, not the organic links.  In other words, the failure rate of Google is 87.3%. Would your business cope with a failure rate at that level? Goodness me, what if you ran an airline and only 12.7% of your flights landed without crashing…! Or what if you ran a bank and only 12.7% of your accounts accurately reflected what had been paid in?

Yet, Google “gets away” with a massive rate of failure. Of course, it is not solely Google’s fault – a lot of the blame is ours for doing poor searches. But poor searches we do – time and time and time again.

The result is we spend about an hour each day going back and forth between searching for things and not finding what we wanted. But because we are engaged in an activity we feel as though we are working. And because we flit from website to website, discovering things we did not previously know about, we think that Google is useful, when in fact all it is doing is wasting our time.

This is a perceptual “trick”; we engage in an activity that is not that intellectually demanding and which rewards us with interesting things. We then feel as though that activity was worthwhile. Hence we do not notice that most of the time we use Google we are not actually getting what we want and that for the vast majority of our searches it is a complete dunce.

But we don’t appear to have learned that we can improve things by searching in better ways. Four years ago, when I first wrote about this issue, Google’s accuracy was 48.55%, some four time better than it is today. Far from search improving since 2009, it has got worse.

Yet, we love it because it brings us new and interesting things – even if they are irrelevant and waste our time, reducing our workplace productivity in the bargain.

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