Random Ranking: Why Are Google Maps Results so Arbitrary?

I started with this search for “restaurants, Calgary” which returns something like this:

Google Maps Search for Restaurant in Calgary

Is there any rhyme or reason to the choices in the tiny subset that are highlighted for my viewing pleasure?  Oh, I realize many people have spent a lot of time reverse engineering the algorithms and that understanding these algorithms is important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) if you want to find your business in that anointed list.  But, I mean from a USER’s point of view – it just seems arbitrary doesn’t it?

(The only that actually makes any sense is the Earl’s e – I know they are there because they paid to be there.)

Then Sebastian Provencher suggested changing the query to “category:restaurant, loc:calgary”.  Nominally, the same thing right?  Uh, no:

Another search on Google Maps for restaurant in Calgary

A different, equally arbitrary, set of results.

Now, in fact, there really isn’t enough information in a broad query like ‘restaurant, calgary’ to give me anything very meaningful.  The answer almost has to be arbitrary.  So, here’s my beefs:

  1. The results are presented AS IF they have some sort of authority or relevant ranking.  Why not provide the user with an indication or explanation on how the results have been ranked?
  2. If they are essentially arbitrary, why not make them truly random or semi-random?  Change them up.  This would drive the SEO guys crazy but seems like it would be fairer.  Why not just give me the ability to shuffle the results?

Now, the folks at Google are pretty smart.  They certainly know a thing or two about ranking things.  So, what’s up?

(Aside: the results today seem different from the results yesterday – at least somewhat.  So, I’m thinking they might actually be randomizing the ranking somewhat.  Does anybody know?)


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