Google critics say spammy ads and sites are killing search

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Is Google Search Getting Worse? From viral TikTok videos to posts on tech forums, frustrated users seem to think so.

They say Google’s search results are increasingly stuffed with paid ads – and claim spam sites are getting better at getting higher in search results by tweaking the company’s algorithms.

The end result is that Google Search is gradually deteriorating, critics say, becoming less useful and more boring even as it remains the primary tool more than 4 billion people use to search the Internet.

“If you’ve recently tried to search for a recipe or product review, I don’t need to tell you that Google search results went to s—t,” wrote Dmitri Kyle Brereton, software engineer and writer, in a blog. post that exploded to the top of the influential Silicon Valley Hacker News forum in February. “Google is dead.”

Ads and Spam

For example, imagine a person working from home is looking for a new laptop.

If they go to Google and search for “best laptop for working from home,” ads for Microsoft, LG, and Capital One take up the entire screen. Scroll down another ad for Dell and they’ll reach the first unsponsored link to a weird website called corporateshields.com.

Google search results for some queries are saturated with ads.

The article, which is written by a faceless author named Patricia and is inundated with ads herself, appears to have played with Google’s algorithm by repeating keywords over and over again, including the phrase “computer laptop” 155 times, “remote work” 14 times and “work from home” 10 times.

This process — called search engine optimization or SEO — can result in clunky robotic phrases that repeat key phrases.

“Remote work from home is more common than ever, requiring a high-quality laptop,” the article reads. “Their prices range from hundreds to thousands. So how do you find the best laptops for remote work? »

The second, third, and fourth Google search results are also no-name sites that use keywords over and over again. While the products on the sites are real, there is little evidence that the articles are created by real writers with any purpose other than to hoard traffic by playing Google’s system.

“The top non-ad results are SEO-optimized sites filled with affiliate links and ads,” wrote Brereton, the Google reviewer. “To be fair, that would probably be a problem with any search engine, but you would expect Google to be able to come up with a less playable algorithm.”

Additionally, critics have argued that Google increases the number of ads that appear in search results.

“They composed [ads] up recently to squeeze every last penny before their inevitable collapse,” he said.

In a statement to The Post, a Google spokesperson argued that “the quality of Google search has improved significantly over time.”

“Every year, we make thousands of improvements to Google, and our testing clearly shows us that these changes really make search better for people,” the spokesperson added. “Over the past seven years, we’ve reduced irrelevant results by more than 50 percent.”

Google also said it had improved how it ranks search results, including product reviews, and said ads hadn’t appeared on 80% of search result pages on average in the past four months. last years.

Even Brereton admits that Google searches for factual questions – like, say, “what was the population of London in 1700” – is “absolutely amazing”.

“They’ve built the best Q&A system ever,” Brereton told the Post. “But for everything else, like regular web results, that’s where the problem lies.”

Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin foresaw problems with advertising when they created the search engine in 1998.

“We expect ad-supported search engines to be inherently biased in favor of advertisers and away from consumer needs,” Page and Brin wrote in a 1998 paper when they were doctoral students at the University. of Stanford, warning of the “mixed incentives” of the model.

Yet Page and Brin nonetheless began selling ads alongside their search results in 2000, and Google’s ad business has skyrocketed ever since. Ads across Google’s network — which includes YouTube and ad placements on third-party sites — generated a whopping $54 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2022 alone.

Google
Critics say that search engine optimization techniques and ads have made Google search worse.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

Reddit

Some frustrated Google users have found a way around the patchy results: by adding “Reddit” to the end of their searches.

The name of the popular forum often appears in the Google search suggestion box – and a trending TikTok video racked up more than 100,000 likes in April.

“It’s the only way to avoid trying to find the answer in a blog post full of ads,” reads the top comment on the video.

“I thought I was weird doing that,” said another commenter. “I didn’t know so many others had done it.”

Reddit
Some users say adding “Reddit” to the end of their Google searches helps them get better results.
SOPA/LightRocket images via Gett

“It literally gives better answers than Google,” said a third.

Brereton argues that adding “Reddit” to searches helps filter out “fake” parts of the internet, such as spam sites. Google searches that include the word also often have fewer ads.

“The SEO marketers squeezing their way to the top of every Google search result might as well be bots,” he wrote. “Everything is marketed. Someone is always trying to sell you something. Whether it’s a robot or a human, they’re decidedly fake. »

And while Reddit posts may lie, people can at least reasonably assume they’re from real people.

“How to find authenticity?” Brereton wrote. “You add ‘reddit’ to your query.”

Contacted for comment, Reddit spokeswoman Courtney Geesey-Dorr declined to comment on Google, but said Reddit has improved search options on its own site.

Asked about potential Google alternatives, Brereton told the Post that Bing and DuckDuckGo suffer from many of the same issues as Google, such as spam and algorithmic game ads. He said the most interesting new alternatives are sites called Neeva, Brave and You.com.

But Google’s hold on the search market makes it difficult for a competitor to emerge, he added.

“The alternative can’t just be twice as good, it has to be so much better that it’s worth changing,” Brereton told the Post.

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