I find google search (honestly, I infrequently use any other, so while I think these comments apply to search in general, my experience is with google) more and more to be ineffective yet an essential starting point to getting things done on the internet.
I’m an avid cyclist, and it’s mid season here, so I’m getting out and riding fairly frequently. This year however in my area it has been very rainy, which finally did in my bikes shifters. I did my best to clean them out (sometimes they just gum up preventing the hammer and cog from connecting, but taking it apart I could see the hammer was loose, the spring holding it in place having broken). My first step was local. I called my local shop, the shop in the town over and then the regional chain, but no one had a replacement available (at least search allowed me to quickly get numbers and hours for these shops).
With nothing locally available, I then went to a few online sites I’ve shopped at (performance bike and competitive cyclist for example) but they also didn’t have an exact replacement. Now we get to the bigger failures…
Using google, it kept pushing eBay and Amazon (wasn’t ready to get used parts, so eBay was out). Looking on Amazon it seemed like it might have something, but as much as it attempts to be all things, it simply pushed all sorts of ‘shifter related’ items, and shockingly had no cycling specific filters to narrow down to actual findable items (like a simple filter for 11 speed vs 10 speed). So Amazon was a failure for ‘niche’ products, simply because it doesn’t bother to understand what is important in the niche. And really, cycling is a niche?
Google itself wasn’t doing much better. I will give credit that most of the links had sufficient information that I could see ‘out of stock’, but others were deceptive. They contained information on the brand or version I wanted, but in practice didn’t have the product. Or they were sites that talked about the product, but didn’t sell the product. Totally useless.
Thinking about it, ideally finding sites that actually carried the product and had it in stock would be best, but I also realized that most locations that would have the product are not likely to be good search candidates. Search cares about the traffic to your site, not about the actual value you provide. So if some regional store says ‘yes I carry that’, but has little to no links to other sites, search doesn’t even consider it.
It feels like niche products and services are left out in the cold with respect to search (and by extension the internet). The claim that people like to make that the internet allows you to connect with a large audience and an audience that cares about what you provide, is a fallacy. In practice search is good for generic and common things, but speciality areas continue to be poorly served.
By extension the search engines feed their own. That is if a site becomes large enough that search is accessible, it will continue to grow whether or not it provides really value to the consumer. Similarly the small locations “die on the vine”, sitting out there with information and real value, but the larger group of consumers won’t find them.