Thursday 18 January 2024

Google is getting worse as search loses the battle against spam?

The news, today, in The Times, is that "Google gets worse as search loses the battle against spam". This story not only refers to Google, the search engine that dominates the Internet with 90% of the market, but other search engines such as Bing and DuckDuckGo. The story is that there are online websites selling products which are dramatically over-optimised to beat the search engines so that they are listed on page one and high up in order to attract purchasers.

Image: MikeB

Google does not like to prioritise in their search engine listings websites which use "black hat" principles i.e. jammed full of keywords and using spamming techniques. Google wants to list on the first page of their search engine the best websites with the best content and the best products et cetera. It genuinely wants to find the best. Nearly everyone who uses the Internet and who uses Google click on websites listed on the first page i.e. 10 websites. And of those the first three get nearly all the clicks.

That's why unscrupulous people do all they can to be listed on page one and at the top of page one. But it appears that Google's algorithm is being tricked by these websites to be listed highly. 👎

The Times reports that a study concluded that "the top results were low quality reviews, filled with paid for links".

And therefore, if it's true, customers looking for products and using Google to find are not being served up with the best websites. And on a slightly separate but linked topic, we have to add in the fact that a lot of retailers pay for their website to be listed at the very top, in the first four places. 

These are websites which have not been ranked by Google but which have paid for the right to be listed in the top four. They might not be the best websites for the best products but people will click on them. I nearly always avoid the top four listings on Google for that reason.

This study on which this report is based, is titled: "Is Google getting worse". The report from that study says that "search engines seem to lose the cat-and-mouse game that is SEO [search engine optimisations] spam".

The researchers are based at the Leipzig University and the Bauhaus-University Weimar and the Centre for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence. They added that Artificial Intelligence would make matters worse by reducing the cost of producing spam content.

Barry Adams, a search expert at Polemic Digital, said: "Google continues to improve its systems to combat spam but it is a constant arms race where generative AI now means spammers appear to be gaining the upper hand. Having said that there is no current alternative to web search engines for finding accurate, reliable information online."

The search engines mentioned were approached for comment by The Times.
Our findings suggest that all search engines have significant problems with highly optimized (affiliate) content—more than is representative for the entire web according to a baseline retrieval system on the ClueWeb22. - Quote from the study

Full title of the study: Is Google Getting Worse? A Longitudinal Investigation of SEO Spam in Search Engines. Link: bevendorff_2024a.pdf (

Advice: Don't ignore page 2 and 3 of search engine results. There is some better stuff on those pages sometimes.

P.S. please forgive the occasional typo. These articles are written at breakneck speed using Dragon Dictate. I have to prepare them in around 20 mins.

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