Are You Buying The Answers Google Is Selling You?

    April 23, 2014
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google is once again displaying some questionable content in its Knowledge Graph-style results, and displaying it as the answer to your question.

Have you personally come across questionable content in the Knowledge Graph? Let us know in the comments.

“We try to take parked domains out of our results…”

That’s a quote from Matt Cutts in Google’s latest Webmaster Help video. These videos are sometimes uploaded months after being recorded, but we’ll assume that this is still Google’s policy.

Google doesn’t have to look much further than its own Knowledge Graph-style results to find parked domains, apparently. Check out what comes up when you search for “What is guest blogging?” (a highly relevant query these days):

This was first spotted by Andrew Steel (via Search Engine Roundtable).

Google’s answer is: “(guest bloggers) Someone who posts an article on a blog that is not their own. Their incentive for doing so is getting backlinks to increase their own site’s search engine ranking.”

OK. A couple things about this.

Parked Domains

The source of Google’s answer here is moneyonlinemaking.com/learn-terms. The link takes you to…you guessed it…a parked domain. I don’t know why I’m surprised given how often we’re seeing questionable content come up in Google’s Knowledge Graph and similar-style results.

We’ve seen Google display inaccurate business information in the Knowledge Graph. We’ve seen inaccurate marital status information. We’ve seen it show a man’s death as occurring before his birth. We’ve seen it confuse Brandy the spirit with Brandy the entertainer. We’ve seen it accidentally display nudity. We know it can struggle with real time. During the World Series last year, some Wikipedia vandalism led to Google displaying information for the St. Louis Cardinals, calling them a “gay butt sex team”.

Since early this year, Google has been turning to websites to fill in its gaps in “knowledge,” when providing the quick answer-style results. That appears to be what we’re seeing in the guest blogging example. As I said last month, when we reported on this, you have to wonder what the potential for error in these types of answers is, considering how often we’ve seen errors in the actual Knowledge Graph. This particular example isn’t so much an error as a biased perspective, but that’s not what these “answers” are for (as far as I know).

How can users expect Google to provide relevantly ranked search results when it has so much trouble getting its alleged “answers” right? These are supposed to be the absolutely most relevant results for queries where they appear. If Google’s unsure, it’s supposed to offer you an alternative. For instance, if you search for “orange”, there are several things you could mean, so Google shows you this (curiously there’s no fruit option for an “apple” search):

Having an absolute answer (as in the guest blogging example) is telling users that Google is pretty sure this is the answer to your query, which brings us to the next point.

Questionable Answer

Google has been sending a message to people engaging in guest blogging for SEO purposes. You know the story. If not, read this. But is guest blogging, in general, the same thing as guest blogging for SEO? No. There are other reasons to write guest blog posts (believe it or not). Not everything is about Google. Matt Cutts even acknowledged as much when he had to clarify his post about it earlier this year – the one he pointed to when announcing the penalization of a guest blog network. That happens to be the same post that Google displays as the top organic result for the query in question.

So why would Google display this SEO-related “definition” from a parked domain in the big box at the top? Is it trying to further its own message by finding a source that matches it? Are there no other definitions out there?

This one at About.com seems reasonable: “Guest blogging is used by bloggers as a way to network with other people within the blogosphere, grow relationships with other blog readers, and increase traffic for their own blogs.”

That happens to be the top result, though not in direct answer style, on Bing. Bing doesn’t have a matter-of-fact definition, so it just gives you the old fashioned organic search results (god forbid), and you get a legitimate definition on the first result. Isn’t that basically how Google used to work? Isn’t the Knowledge Graph supposed to improve search? In fact, I would go so far as to say Bing wins the “Bing it On challenge” hands down on this one, displaying some nice Quora content in the side column to supplement the organic results.

Yes, this is just on example, but as discussed above, it’s far from the only example of questionable content being thrown in our faces as “the answers” to our questions. Also, it could be some coincidence that the answer Google pulled here just happened to fit directly with its own messaging related to guest blogging, but it looks biased at the very least.

Not all guest blogging is about “getting backlinks to increase their own site’s search engine ranking.” Sometimes people want to make a name for themselves. Sometimes people simply want to increase their exposure.

Even Cutts said on his personal blog, “There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there.”

But if you ask Google as of the time of this writing simply what guest blogging is, you’re going to be told that its strictly for search engine ranking, and told by a search engine that tries to keep parked domains out of its search results but is failing to keep them out of their own “answer” results.

Could it be that it’s simply easier for Google to not have to determine the motives behind your guest blogging, and just wants you to not do it?

I’ll be surprised if the answer doesn’t change soon as somebody gets wind of the articles being written about it, but either way, like the St. Louis Cardinals example, this is Google giving questionable “knowledge” at a highly relevant time.

Update: Google has updated the the search results page that is the subject of this article. Rather than drawing from a different source, they’re no longer displaying an answer box. Now the Cutts post is the top result. As predicted, they probably saw this article or another talking about it, and pulled it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t other examples out there in the wild, in which Google is giving people questionable answers.

Generally speaking, do you trust the answers Google gives you with its Knowledge Graph results? Let us know in the comments.

  • wertwert

    Google uses definitions to terms that the rest of the world doesn’t use… especially when define segments of the population it disagrees with. Matt says manipulating rankings with unnatural schemes is “black hat” yet Google integrated plus into youtube in a very unnatural way and against the wishes of their users to manipulate plus’s rankings among social sites. So google is engaged in black hat techniques while punishing others for doing the same….

  • http://www.geneeugenio.com Gene Eugenio

    Google can be as big of a hypocrite as it wants. There’s not much people can do about it. Why? Google calls the shots. It controls the markets. That’s the sad reality of it all. Move on and move up.

    • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk/ BlokeToys.co.uk

      That’s quite defeatist.

      It would be good if Bing created some kind of tool webmasters can use to increase public exposure, something that Google hasn’t done. The webmasters got Google to where it is, using its tools on sites all over the world. Bing hasn’t done the same. Every site has a G+, Facebook and Twitter button these days, but where is Bing?

      It’s about time the public were brought on board and made aware of the alternatives. Perhaps then, with a more informed public, this monopoly might finally start to change.

      • http://www.geneeugenio.com Gene Eugenio

        That’s actually a good idea because non-monopolized markets benefit consumers. The problem is, who will LEAD THE CHARGE?

  • NewWorldDisorder

    Government wants to track the population, but the constitution blocks them from legally doing this. Google, a private company, can lawfully do this and hand information over to the government. This partnership has not only resulted in the loss of privacy, but also has given Google the government’s blessing to exercise their monopoly to expand into and takeover new markets. At no point in history was one company given such freedom to destroy other businesses. But because Google is the government’s data collector, they can do no wrong.

    Google’s war on links is also an extension of their anti-competitive practices. As the fear of linking to each other increases, fewer links are available for people to find information outside of a search product. Through policy, Google has engaged in a practice that will leave consumers and businesses more dependent on search.

    The knowledge graph will likely grow into a tool that diverts fewer users to external websites so that Google can retain this traffic for increased paid advertising clicks and possible e-commerce queries for users.

    Google is not organizing the web. Google is consuming the web.

    • Bob Teal

      Nice way to put it but I think Google owns the web already I mean look how many people will wait in line for google glasses at $1500.00 a crack when millions of people are homeless. Speaks for itself huh.

      • wertwert

        I’ll pass on getting a pair of nerd goggles.

  • http://phillipjamesfinancial.com/ Phillip Christenson

    Google provides more value then not. Sure they have their biases but overall I think they do a great job of providing search results, the best in the world actually. If you don’t think try some other search engine. Anyone heard of Bing?

    • wertwert

      It’s getting harder and harder to find the organic results among the ads and content widgets.

  • Derek M

    I think too that despite Google creating new algorithm updates to stop certain behaviors that that they deem to be unsavory practices, regardless if Google in fact uses that tactic themselves or not, they don’t ALWAYS work as intended for ALL content. Subsequently you see some of the after-the-fact, reoccurring issues that Chris brings up happening with parked domains, guest bloggers, etc, etc.

  • http://doodleddoes.com/ Doodled

    Google seems to have got much worse in the case of “how” and “what” type queries. I’m finding myself using Bing for these searches since late last year when Hummingbird was supposed to have started making things better.

    If Google keeps up the kind of gaffs reported in this article I see more and more people voting with their feet and turning to search engines which offer better results. Right now, in certain fields, Google is giving users a pretty bad experience….

  • Steve Warren

    Way to go, Chris. I’ve read your articles for years and they are one of my “top reads”. Is Google getting above itself ? Well, it’s a corporation so why not, And if it generates the kind of hate levels (and litigation) that Microsoft did in the nineties, well, as long as the share price doesn’t suffer, why should it care? Let’s hope the Community can convince them that “doing no evil” isn’t such a bad thing :-)

  • Jon

    Interesting comments, but like the many of you out there I think that Google has made a total hash of search. Not only the fact that paid ads are always above organic results and often nothing to do with the search you are looking for, but also the organic search results are always poor and sometimes amazing to view.
    This for example: type in google.co.uk “does putting ice in wine make you drunk faster”
    The top result is: gizmodo.com/…/seven-insane-ways-to-get-drunk-without-drinki…‎
    But the text underneath (readable by anyone):
    6 Jul 2012 – You get ****d up faster, with less alcohol. So, why is it so … If you put alcohol directly into your bloodstream, there is no way to puke that out. As a result … Among other methods, dry ice seems to be the most common. There’s
    Am I really reading this right …….. You get ****** up faster!! What sort of language is that to have at the top of the results!

  • http://www.bloketoys.co.uk/ BlokeToys.co.uk

    To put it bluntly, Google only attacked Guest Blogging because it’s another method of limiting our scope and reach as businesses. When will people understand that Google is not some mythical fluffy and noble company that wants to hug everyone? It is a corporation, and all corporations HAVE to have increasing profits constantly, and they will do whatever it takes to make that money, including attacking every other method of traffic generation which threatens the dominance of Google Advertising.

  • Chris Reich

    Google has built a monopoly on the internet and has a stranglehold on marketers. We can break free if we do what we used to do: focus on the offering. If we get our messages right, short of being ‘black listed’, people will find us. We need to get over the Google and Social Media propaganda machines.

  • Mark

    Who really cares about the Knowledge Graph? Google’s latest spin on its decision to exit the search engine business and become a spammy ad platform is insulting to our intelligence.

    Google’s index contains a vast number of incorrect link references, dead pages, long-dead domains, and other effluvium that Penguin relies upon for ranking. It is clear that Google does not take search results seriously.

    Remember the response to Panda? Google left webmaster twisting in the breeze for months (eight, if I recall correctly) with zero information on why we disappeared. But we saw plenty of low quality sites take our place. We turned to SEOs, and their solution was to engage in the same link spam Google was rewarding (while telling us they were writing articles).

    A big part of generating those desperately needed links was using diigo and blogspot. Have you tried getting Google to remove its diigo or blogspot spam? You’d have better luck trying to get a member of Congress not to waste tax dollars.

    Google loves spam, because each spam page is yet another it can count in its index of pages. So it’s not going to remove spam. Why it won’t clean up its badly-outdated, grossly inaccurate link index is something you can discern easily enough if you think about it. It answers the question, “How can we rank big advertisers well above better quality small sites?”

    If Google actually cared about organic search quality, it would take care of the basics. I don’t know what the Knowledge Graph actually is, and I don’t care. It’s probably the ignorance graph or disinformation graph in reality. Whatever Google does, you know it cannot be good. No amount of lying by Matt Cutts changes the fact that Google is now a spammy ad server rather than a search engine. Once Google gained a monopoly position, it stop caring about search engine quality.

  • http://www.gaptekupdate.com/ ebokalsel

    I’m desperately said, google worse than what i’ve seen a decade ago.

  • Steve Gardner

    they just suck

  • nielpet

    Concerning guest posts, you can still post them and get branding and traffic benefits. What is different now is that the guest posts should be “no followed ” so that posters don’t use guest posting as some sort of link scheme.

  • FrankLuska

    Google sells bridges to no where

  • Nielpet

    You can still do guest posting and get branding and traffic benefits. However, you have to “nofollow” the post so that it is not treated by Google as a sort of Link Scheme.

  • guruHurur

    Ok, but I don’t see why do you pick on Google when we all know it is all the same. Those data is colected and that is, no doubts after… It is just how is it used, just look at people that work at the police, could you trust to all of them, or those highly trained profesionals, you know those files could end up in mafia hands as well. It is out privaci that is ruined at all times, and ti simes like no body rally cares. Just look at the heartblead… who knows how manny of those are around the world.

  • Dave

    “Google is not organizing the web. Google is consuming the web.”
    Spot on. & the best quote that has resurfaced recently was…….
    “Appendix A: Advertising and Mixed Motives
    Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines
    is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always
    correspond to providing quality search to users.”
    “we expect that advertising
    funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers
    and away from the needs of the consumers.”
    Wake up people, Google is a sell out. Nothing more nothing less. Only the share holders & fan boys see their results as better than a few years ago.

  • http://www.sbwebcenter.com/ Steve B

    The parked domain used to be a website, and it could’ve recently went offline. With so many references to guest blogging from more authoritative sites, I don’t know why they would have used that site to pull the definition.

  • http://www.admain.co.uk AdMain

    Yep, Google sucks. Has done for 3 or 4 years. They’ve shot themselves in the foot. It’s plain as the nose on your face that Bing results are better. Google have put so much emphasis on penalising geniune businesses, whether fairly or unfairly, they’ve opened the door for their results to be spammed to death.

    People are spending that much time keeping track of who links to them, asking for nofollows to be added or the links to be removed, any half assed spammer can pile a load of links to a brand new domain, and as long as it’s not too many keyword links, get a site ranking for 2 or 3 months and enjoy lots of traffic.

    By the time Google have caught up wit the site and dropped it, the spammer has built another site and within a few days of the first site falling, their 2nd site is there.

    And this is possible because geniune businesses have been scared witless by threats from google to have people linking to them for fear of losing the minute amount of traffic they still get from Google.

    People need to stop whingeing about how unfair Google is, vote with their feet and move over to Bing and be vocal about it. Tell everyone whenever the conversation turns to the Internet that you now use Bing.

    When people break the habit of only Googling, and start Binging, they will see for themselves that Bing does actually have better variety of search results, not just the same companies dominating whole industries.

    And that is what made google so good in the beginning. The variety of results that it offered. All you needed to do was slightly alter your search keywords and you would get 4, 5, 6 and sometimes 7 different websites from the same business sector.