We talk about search quality a lot these days, particularly since the rise of content farms, and Google's efforts to improve in light of them. While the quality of a search result isn't always life or death, results for certain kinds of queries can indeed provide life-altering experiences for the user, depending on how they absorb the information that they're given.
Now, I'll be the first to acknowledge that it is the user's responsiblity to use critical thinking when searching the web for information. It's often a good idea to look at multiple sources for a more complete takeaway. But the web is as good a place to spread misinformation as it is good information, and the search engines just can't always tell the two apart. Unfortunately, humans can't always either.
This week, we looked at a new strategy Quora is taking in adding new legal and medical disclaimers, new policies for legal and medical questions/answers, and a new addition to its terms of service aimed at providing protection for doctors and lawyers who write answers.
The move should encourage real professionals and experts to participate in spreading good information. This is the kind of content that should surface in search results - authoritative, with that authority made clear to the user.
Experts contributing to Wikipedia could help too. Wikipedia, as you probably know, turns up high in Google results very frequently. It's for this reason that Cancer Research UK is having its specialists conribute to Wikipedia to spread accurate information from people who truly know what they're talking about.
Wikipedia said it had more than 3.5m page views for cancer-related content in January 2011.
Henry Scowcroft, scientific communications manager for Cancer Research UK, said: "It has been our intention for a long time to be involved in the online discussion outside of our own website."
"Wikipedia is nearly always at the top of an internet search for cancers. It's not always that easy to understand and sometimes it can be inaccurate or not completely up to date."
"Wikipedia is the 12th most popular website in the UK and accounts for just under 1% of all visits to websites made by UK Internet users," says Robin Goad for Experian Hitwise. "In the last 12 weeks there were over 65,000 different search variations that included the word 'cancer' typed into search engines monitored by us here at Hitwise. Over 4,500 websites received traffic from those 65,000 cancer-related search terms, of which Wikipedia was the fourth most popular, receiving 4.38% of the search clicks."
"Although Cancer Research UK actually receives more clicks than Wikipedia overall for all searches relating to cancer, this doesn't take into account the fact that some of those searches will be navigational searches for ‘cancer research uk’ or similar terms," adds Goad. "On top of that, Cancer Research UK receives 40% of its clicks from paid links, whereas Wikipedia receives its traffic almost exclusively from organic clicks."
Google still has work to do in the search quality area (probably why they're hiring). They still have an old eHow article written by someone with no clear authority on the subject ranking number one for "level 4 brain cancer", as we discussed well before the Panda update was even rolled out.
Google and other search engines can only do so much though. Getting the real experts to contribute content is important. In fact, that's why content is the most important part of SEO.