Google search change could hamper access to government info

Google has made another big change to its search engine, and analysts say it pushes government content further down in search results.

For the second time in recent weeks, Google has made a major change to its search, a modification that may make accessing federal government content on the web a little more difficult, analysts predict.

The change: Google has started incorporating Google+ photos, comments and other content into search results. The Google+ results are displayed prominently on the right side of the screen. Twitter executives and some observers immediately denounced the move as potentially anti-competitive, claiming the giant search engine may favor Google+ material.

Meanwhile, several analysts said government agency content may become less accessible as a result of the Google change.

“Right now it appears the change will leave less room for organic results in the Top 10. That affects almost everyone, including government,” said Kristine Schachinger, search engine consultant and founder of SitesWithoutWalls.com.

“If you have shared content on Google+, that appears on top. The rest of the content is lower down,” and that includes most government content, said David Jacobs, consumer protection advocate at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Twitter claims that Twitter-based content also is receiving less priority under the change, and bloggers have alleged that Facebook content is not as visible on Google as it was before. Many government agencies actively distribute content on Twitter and Facebook.

A possible solution is for more government agencies to join Google+ and promote sharing of government content through that social service, Jacobs added. Currently, about a dozen federal agencies, including NASA and the Marine Corps, are active on Google+.

“Government agencies may have to work harder to develop their own content on Google+ and promote it through Google+” to maintain top visibility in Google search engine results, Jacobs said.

The search engine giant previously had initiated its “freshness” update in November, affecting about 35 percent of all searches. That change was meant to favor the newest and technologically advanced websites, which was expected to have a mixed effect on government content.

Winners of the freshness update included many brand and news sites, as well as Twitter messages, blog postings and other websites in which content is updated frequently.

Websites with infrequently updated content were said to be losers in the freshness update. That may have included some federal government websites updated weekly or less frequently.

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