I read an interesting/alarming Associated Press article by Dibya Sarkar, AP business writer, in the local paper yesterday. Four states, including Arizona, California, Utah, and Virginia, have agreed to “free consulting services” provided by Google. Essentially Google is going to help these states make searching and finding online public documents much easier. While I am the first to admit the Utah state web site needs some serious help, I have been frustrated more than once looking for items which should be much easier to find then they are, I am not totally okay with the planned partnership. I will admit there have been occasions I have been navigating around utah.gov to no avail, not finding what I needed, and actually have attempted to use Google possibly find a page indexed in their SERPs, but with little success there either. Turns out states really haven’t done a good job making these documents truly public, there are those tax dollars at work again. But despite the mess, is Google the best way to go as “search consultants?”
There are those in the article who raised some concerns over Google’s occasional privacy gaffs, and the possibility that some private information might make its way to the search public. I think the hesitation is legitimate, none of us wants our Social Security number out there for the ID thieves to pilfer. So I too hope these states will be responsible and keep all private information private, even at the risk of holding some important documents back for now, before they go and throw the vaults wide open to the brutally efficient, ravenous spiders of Google.
From a business/SEO perspective this partnership also raises other concerns. Are we now going to be forced to compete for keywords against state governments and their Gigabytes of content to rank in the SERPs? Some industries will be hurt more than others, but off the top of my head I could see legal firms, business consulting firms, and accounting firms being big losers in search if all this content is indexed and added to Google’s already gorged servers. As more content pours online, competition for keywords is going intensify, and the situation may make search a more frustrating and difficult task if the SEs don’t change. This content boom adds a strong argument to the importance of categorized search ASAP. If the public is without a simple way to categorize search results, many businesses are going to find themselves buried in the SERPs underneath content created by their own tax dollars. How grossly ironic, how patently unfair.