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Google Search Is Broken… And It’s Only Getting Worse

Broken Google logo

I recently took to Twitter to vent about a growing concern I’ve seen. The problem? More and more, Google is offering results that are often irrelevant, spammed, ai generated, do not answer Users questions, crowded with snippets from outdated forum posts or websites buried in a sea of ads.

Google’s Search Results Are Getting Worse & Non-SEOs Are Noticing

For a long time Google has lived by the “Focus on the User and all else will followphilosophy. I imagine that when you visit any of their offices, that mantra is inscribed right into the yoga mats they use for their hourly thoughtfulness stretches.

So to see such blatant disregard recently for consumer needs… well, it’s hard to sound like anything other than an alarmist. (After all, if Apple — a company focused on selling a beautiful, sleek lifestyle — suddenly started creating cheap, ugly products, the Apple fanboys would be up in arms as fast as their Vision Pros would allow).

People are taking note of how bad the problem has gotten, everyone except for Google.

  • Gizomodo: “You’re Not Imagining It: Google Search Results Are Getting Worse, Study Finds”
  • The Atlantic: “The Tragedy of Google Search” (subscription required)
  • The Week: “Why Google search results have gotten worse”

But how did the problem start? And how did we get here? Lots of reasons, but two of the big ones on my radar right now are their misuse of forum results and the generation & insertion of as many PPC ads per User as possible.

Google Has a Forum Problem

It’s absolutely no secret that people love forums. Sites like Reddit and Quora have remained staples of the internet for over a decade, and even niche communities have their own forums where like minded enthusiasts can talk shop.

Google, realizing how useful these forums are to answer real questions and problems that people have, decided that they’d feature those forum posts on their search engines than risk people deciding to go to those forums first.

For the most part, I think the strategy works well. People still go to Google and Users got the answer they were seeking. Now results from Quora, Reddit and other forums are making there way into some very serious search results and displacing high quality websites with often questionable opinions and information.

Google serp texas bowhunter result

Need a divorce lawyer in Houston? Trust the experts on the Texas Bowhunter forum… from 13 years ago. Really?

Does this Page 1 ranking website really inspire confidence and trust in Google’s search results?

Good Intentions, Bad Execution

The nature of intention and execution are not always aligned — that is, it is entirely possible that Google first started featuring and prioritizing forum results with the intention of providing their Users with a better, more useful experience, but failed to see how using those results could be problematic down the line.

The main issue with forum results is that they are not updated regularly like web pages are. Someone who wrote in a forum in 2010 without having any real expertise could now be featured on the front page of Google 15 years later. Since Google has algorithmically rewarded high authority forums, it’s completely plausible that you may find a post from 2016 by DogFart6969 answering your query about investment strategies on page one of a Google search results page.

It’s one thing to want opinions from a wide variety of sources, it’s a different thing altogether to have it perceived as fact in a Google search result. And in my opinion Google is starting to lose the credibility it’s cultivated as a place to go to quickly find a fact, and that loss in credibility is starting to present itself in loss of search market share. However, most people likely won’t ever know my opinion because I didn’t post it on Reddit a decade ago.

Forum posts are not like web pages — people go back to update content on webpages all the time, but forums are not meant to work that way. They are merely a group of conversations and comments from strangers for that moment in time, not something meant to be used as a guide for years on end.

Aged Reddit posts and antique Avvo forum discussions that are 10 to 15 years old are being featured by Google’s snippets and other rich elements. This is extremely problematic when it is highly likely that legal information and advice from that long ago may no longer relevant.

It is also a huge disservice to the web content creators who spend time creating hyper relevant and, more importantly, accurate information.

“… when you search for ANYTHING on Google, the first page of the search results is dominated by just a couple of things.
1. Google’s awful Al that steals and scrapes content from real publishers – the very publishers they’re suppressing
2. Other Google properties
3. Roughly half a dozen “big media” publishers that publish nothing but drivel, and Reddit, which is a cesspool of outdated, factually inaccurate dross.”
– Michael Dinich; Wealth of Geeks – From a now deleted post?

Google Has a PPC Problem

Google is addicted to PPC (Pay-Per-Click) revenue, and like any addict they’re just looking for their next fix. Google is taking extreme steps to inflate the number of PPC ads they can deliver to an individual User.

As of April 2024 Google has been testing the stuffing of PPC ads into the middle of organic search results, making for a frustratingly Ad cluttered User experience. So now a User may see any possible combination of the following:

  • Two Local Service / Google Screened ads at the top
  • Plus one or two text PPC ads at the top
  • One local ad in the map section
  • Two PPC ads in the middle
  • One or two Local Service Ads at the bottom
  • One or two PPC ads at the bottom

Maybe you’ll actually see more ads than organic results on a results page at some point (?).

Google result 1

Additionally, Google recently added a new Local Service Ad (“LSAs”) option called “Direct Business Search” allowing advertisers to bid on their own brand name. Not only could you run an LSA campaign for your brand name, but you would also appear for competitors if they’re not running the ad… and there’s very little transparency on how this all works.

As you might expect, marketers and law firms are getting upset by the constant squeezing every last dime out of advertisers – see this article titled appropriately “Fuck Google” published by our friends at Mockingbird Marketing.

…Yeah, it’s getting bad folks. Google is literally shaking the couch cushions for change (and admitted as much).

Google Is Littering Results With Irrelevant “People Also Ask”

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about organic traffic erosion and how Google was continuing to take more and more real estate on SERP’s for ads, Featured Snippets, and now Search Generative Experience. Why? Making users spend more time on Google SERPs is more valuable than actually directing people to a website. Many marketers, myself included, are starting to see signs of traffic attrition caused by organic traffic erosion, whereby a website’s traffic from Google Organic is reducing not because the website has experienced reduced visibility, but because of less clicks to the website from search results.

The “People also ask” section is occasionally helpful, but they typically lead the User to do a new search on Google.

Google wierd result

The clever “Search for” link is prompting the User to generate another Google search results page so it can serve up another course of those sweet, sweet PPC ads. Think that’s just a conspiracy theory? Internal Google Emails recently released in Google’s antitrust lawsuit confirm that they were engineering ways to make Users do new searches to deliver more ads. Read the whole ball of wax explained perfectly here including: “These emails — which I encourage you to look up — tell a dramatic story about how Google’s finance and advertising teams, led by [Prabhakar] Raghavan [Google SVP] with the blessing of CEO Sundar Pichai, actively worked to make Google worse to make the company more money.”

Often times the “People Also Ask” queries are outlandishly off-topic with little to no relevance with the actual query. In context with the above-linked article, “People Also Ask” now really just seems like an obvious ploy to deliver more search and deliver more ads.

Google result 1

How do I become a lawyer in USA?

How many lawyers are there in the USA?

Can a non-lawyer be a partner in a law firm in India?

How TF is any of this relevant to someone looking for a business lawyer in Redlands?

Google built the sandbox, invited people to play, and then stole the toys.

Google Is Being Shortsighted

The irony is palpable; Google became the powerhouse it is today because it placed an emphasis on connecting its Users to useful information on the Internet, but today, it is slipping because it has stopped prioritizing that symbiosis and a few different things could happen.

People could stop trusting Google entirely as a platform. People are more tech-savvy than ever before, particularly to when they are being intentionally sold something (like more intrusive PPC results). SEO professional Lily Ray and many in the SEO industry are starting to see a shift:

I know it might seem like I sound jaded, but it’s not just me…

Google wierd result

The people creating the information & content that Google uses to fuel its PPC and other operations might be dissuaded to even create that content in the first place if they receive no traffic. Or, they might just start tailoring content to feed other search ecosystems that are more rewarding.

Either way, Google is still a great search engine in my humble opinion… and “broken” does not mean unfixable. I think they’ve just lost sight of the User focused priority in favor of the investor focused priority. I hope they re-examine their perception of what people use Google search for, and what websites create content for because it’s not hard for people to change their search engine preference these days.

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