Are You Buying The Answers Google Is Selling You?
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):
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.
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”.
— Ben Cook (@Skitzzo) October 28, 2013
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.
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.