Why Google search appears to be getting worse

There has been an influx of junk content on Google search engines, according to a new study. German researchers from Leipzig University, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and the Center for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence have been looking at whether Google was getting worse at providing spam-free content.

The research entitled “Is Google Getting Worse?” analyzed 7,392 product review queries on Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo for a year. It reported that “a torrent of low-quality content, especially for product search, keeps drowning any kind of useful information in search results.”

The writers described the situation as a “constant battle” with search engines, but highlighted that Bing and DuckDuckGo had “substantially improved their results.” However, the overall picture was that SEO spam was constantly entering and leaving the results as engineers attempted to keep adjusting the parameters.

When Google intervened, it resulted in a “temporary positive effect,” they explain. Although ultimately, “search engines seem to lose the cat-and-mouse game that is SEO spam.” The study reveals that while 80% of web pages employ search engine optimization, this strategy has had an unintended consequence. It made sites appear as though they were created by non-experts in the subject, leading users to have reduced trust in Google.

Hence, the analysis observed that there was “an overall downwards trend in text quality in all three search engines,” and warned that generative AI could make matters worse.

The researchers concluded that “dynamic adversarial spam in the form of low-quality, mass-produced commercial content deserves more attention.”

Google search spam issues

In its 2023 core update, Google strongly emphasized the concept of E-E-A-T to enhance quality. The acronym stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness, which is a component of Google’s Search Quality Rater Guidelines. The additional “E,” which represents “experience,” means that Google now values firsthand or life experience on the topic a page is about.

Nevertheless, Search Engine Land reported that Google was still affected by a spam attack in December. It explained that “the most important reason for the success of the spam is that the search queries the spam sites are ranking for are low competition, which makes it easier to rank.” SEO specialist Bill Hartzer said that Google’s emphasis on links rather than content was contributing to the issue, as Google URLs were redirecting “to other sites (and possibly malware).”

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Suswati Basu

Freelance journalist

Suswati Basu is a multilingual, award-winning editor and the founder of the intersectional literature channel, How To Be Books. She was shortlisted for the Guardian Mary Stott Prize and longlisted for the Guardian International Development Journalism Award.

With 18 years of experience in the media industry, Suswati has held significant roles such as head of audience and deputy editor for NationalWorld news, digital editor for Channel 4 News
and ITV News. She has also contributed to the Guardian and received training at the BBC As an audience, trends, and SEO specialist, she has participated in panel events alongside Google.

Her career also includes a seven-year tenure at the leading AI company Dataminr, where she led the Europe desk and launched the company’s first employee resource group for disabilities. Before this, Suswati worked as a journalist in China for four years, investigating censorship and the Great Firewall, and acquired proficiency in several languages.

In recent years, Suswati has been nominated for six awards, including the Independent Podcast Awards, International Women’s Podcast Awards, and the Anthem Awards for her literary social affairs show.

Her areas of speciality span a wide range, including technology, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), social politics, mental health, and nonfiction books.

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