If Google Tweaked Its Search Results …

What Google Results Could Look Like with Some Minor Quality Adjustments

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Google’s search quality has been a heated topic of discussion in recent weeks – mainly with regard to content farms permeating search results. It’s not only an issue with Google, but Google is by far the largest search engine, dominating the market by a landslide, so it gets the most scrutiny. 

We thought it would be fun to look at what Google’s results could be with a little work. Google does have good quality results for most queries I’ve tested. The problem is that often times they’re letting the less quality results get mixed in, or even in some case outrank the higher quality and more authoritative results. This becomes even more of an issue when you get into the kinds of queries where the ramifications are potentially more severe – things like health, legal, and financial – where bad advice can be costly. Not everything’s as simple as "how to tie a tie". 

Take a query like "how to prevent kidney stones". Look at how different Google’s results would be if it eliminated (or at least dropped the ranking of) content that has no discernible, authoritative credibility. I had to go all the way to the third page of results just for the top ten. 

Here is what Google’s results looked like for the query: 

Prevent Kidney Stones query on Google - Quality results?

Here is what they would look like eliminating the questionable results:

Prevent Kidney Stones query on Google - Quality results?

Sources for the top ten on Google as returned:

1. JustHealthTips
2. eHow
3. WebMD
4. UCSD Medical Center
5. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
6. Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology
7. HealthAndAge.com (by The Swiss Association for Nutrition [SAN])
8. Wikipedia Entry on Kidney Stones with Section on Prevention, well sourced, citing various medical journals 9. University of Maryland Medical Center
10.FoodandLife (no apparent credibility reference or links to credible sources)

Sources for the top ten when you remove the questionable results:

1. WebMD
2. UCSD Medical Center
3. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
4. Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology
5. HealthAndAge.com (by The Swiss Association for Nutrition (SAN))
6. Wikipedia Entry on Kidney Stones with Section on Prevention, well sourced, citing various medical journals 7. University of Maryland Medical Center
8. American Kidney Fund
9. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
10. CBS Moneywatch Report, Citing International Journal of Urology, Global Healing Center, University of Maryland Medical Center, A German study, Journal of Urology, an herbalist, and an herbal patient.

That last one is debatable, but the results appear a great deal more authoritative and accurate. And I’m guessing you can dig deeper and deeper and find other results that could potentially rival these ten as candidates for the best results for the query. 

It might even be useful if Google included news result blocks (universal search-style) in the first page of results for more queries, even when there isn’t breaking news. Using the same example for "how to prevent kidney stones", search Google News, and you’ll find results from last month – news stories about things like "a closer look at the treatment of kidney stones," "Pre-PNL Nitrofurantoin Benefits Some Kidney Stone Patients," and "What’s the difference between antacids?" (which references kidney stones in it).

Even if these articles aren’t breaking news anymore, they are still some of the latest articles to discuss the subject, and may prove useful to somebody searching for how to prevent kidney stones. They’re certainly fresher than many of the organic results returned. Giving at least a small sample of the latest news related to a query can’t be a bad thing. At the very least, the user has a chance to be more informed about the subject at hand. Yes, if they want news, they can search Google News directly, but in many cases (such as this one), it may not even occur to the user that there has been any news on the subject. 

Like DuckDuckGo founder Gabriel Weinberg told us in an interview, many articles like the one you’re reading provide examples, and they’re simply anecdotal. This is just one example, and there’s no question that Google does better on some queries than others, I could dig up more examples (and maybe I will in the future…I already have in the past), but they’d still just be isolated examples.

The big problem is that there are so many examples to be looked at. It’s no secret that search quality is an ongoing battle, and Google has been pretty open about the fact that it is an issue, even if they claim their results are the best they’ve ever been. They’re still talking about improving the algorithm with regard to content farms, and releasing tools designed to contribute to that.

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  • http://rockfi.sh steve plunkett

    good article.. good vision on your spam filter..

  • http://www.rugfirm.com Hans

    I think no matter what adjustments and improvements Google makes to its algorithm, the outcome will still be an imperfect, and sometimes biased, search result for some queries. Or maybe most of us are using Google out of habit.

  • http://seopros.us Shawn H

    It seems that no matter how fast we find a way to solve issues with seo companies using black hat seo, the people that like to stay a step ahead of the search engine algorithms always seem to do so. Take the example of JC Penny back link spam and Google finally catching them and knocking them out of the search results. The seo company wasn’t penalized, JC Penny was. I do believe that reporting tools will help us police the net and allow legitimate business more of an opportunity to show in the search results.

    Chris, you have some good ideas here. I suggest you take a stab at building a search engine.

    • Guest

      Totally agree!!! It is my hope that somebody will develop a true search engine that focuses on relevancy and not money or the Google garbage that proliferates the internet waves.

  • Adsense Publisher

    So after the content farms, when is Google going to remove the useless interjection of their own websites out of the organic results? If I was looking for a map, I would do a query see the organic results, and then click on “maps” to see a map with the very same query I did for Google’s main index. Why is it that Google is playing the game of “if you want to be on top, you have to be in Google maps” game, and the other games as well. Book searches, news, etc.

    I didn’t ask for those kinds of queries, so why does Google give them to me?

    If they truly want to appear neutral in all of this, they can’t be caught gaming the system themselves. It’s information overload. Let the users decide what they want to see results of.
    Just like Google is now allowing us to block certain content from displaying in our search results, they should allow us to choose which products of Google we want included in our searches or omitted as well.

    Google is great at pointing the finger, but not so good when the finger is pointed at them.

  • http://mlivetech.com Guest

    Now Search By Reading Level In Google (mlivetech)

  • http://www.afrofabric.com Therese Coker

    The google quality thing is one other frustrating aspect of advertising with google (hope I do not get into trouble for this). I spent hours and hours picking relevant key words that nobody was bidding onand thought I struck a goldmine. When I tried to get the keywords for pennies I was told my bid was below first page ran yet there were no other ads showing up when you search for the keywords. does anyone know why a bid amount will be too small for a akeyword that no one else is bidding on?

  • vybixa

    Its now getting ridiculous the level of “micro disection” that the relevance of the big G’s search results are. I for one have continuously (over the lastfew years) maintained inthese pagesand elsewhere that the G’s results are no where as good as those from yahoo or indeed MSN/Live/Bing (whateverits know as) on any day. But that is because they are smaller search engines and as such have a smaller index. With Google, they have a LARGER index and the results are bound to include irrelevant (according to the searcher’s opinion) results. But then again, whoever said you should click on the first results that show up? Seek and you shall find! Dig deeper and you’ll get that nugget of gold that you so seek.

    The time is about ripe to move the argument (and discussion) on. WPN should be attempting to highlight the nature of search rather than flogging the dead horse! In my case, though I know the big G gives a lot of “garbage” in its results, being a webmastermyself, I am aware that these show up from time to time. Andguess what, though I do use the other engines from time to time, I use google more often.

    • Chris Crum

      We try to cover “the nature of search” from a variety of angles.

  • http://www.medicalbroker.eu Guest

    Another problem is that if only traditional and conservative results would show up in the serp for medical advice it would also mean that it would be entry barriers for new players to compete. One example is medical tourism where you can buy products cheaper.

    • Chris Crum

      This isn’t about eliminating new players. It’s about eliminating results that have no reason to be considered trustworthy or authoritative – at least from ranking above the ones that do have reason to be considered as such.

  • http://www.BluelightIT.com Amir

    Some good points there, but you are assuming that most users know how to use the search engines I find that most users have no clue. As an example, I was at a customer and wanted to show him something on my website. So he starts up firefox, google is the home page, and in the google search he types www.BluelightIT.com. Then when he gets the result he clicks on it.
    These guys (the majority) won’t be able to discern between news, shopping, places etc.
    That’s probably the biggest reason why Facebook was the most searched term last year. On another note, SE results will always be manipulates by seo specialists. That’s something you cannever stop, and I don’t see a reason why to stop them either.

    • Chris Crum

      I would guess that Facebook is so often “searched for” because a lot of people would just as soon type the word facebook into a box than enter the URL. With Chrome’s omnibox, it makes it even easier to do so (not that everyone is using Chrome). A lot of people have Google as a homepage or use other browser-based search boxes.

  • http://www.rizky.web.id belajar web

    i think google should remove permanently such kind website which spammy search engine result

    nice article

  • http://coinsandmoreonline.com Antiques

    This is similar to the issues faced by the authors of anti-virus software. It’s an ongoing battle that will never be over once and for all. Spammers will always look for ways to feed their bad results into Google and other search engines.

    It does seem to me, one thing that would help the current issue is to put less weight on the domain name. Just because someone has the domain name IKnowEverythingAboutEverything.com doesn’t mean they know anything about anything.

    • Chris Crum

      Very true about the domain names.

  • fat albert

    All results are biased in one direction or another. Your listing is biased toward your point of view. So whose bias rules?

    Personally I would take Wiki out because their articles are highly biased and often slanted toward a particular interpretation which may not be mainstream.

    So there you have it, we all think differently. Leave well enough alone because each tweak just adds another level of bias.

    I now mainly use Bing mostly because I find their results are much more naturally weighted and they are not at all weighted toward Googles primary ranking factors. I get in and out quick, and right to the info sought.

    Google is weighted toward content farms with deep architecture, like Wiki. So naturally their results end up with a lot of crap in it, becuase they rank crap really well. It is their BIAS!

    • Chris Crum

      Fair point about bias, Fat Albert. Still, I think for some terms, there are pretty clearly differences in quality and authority. When it comes to actual medical professionals vs. freelance writers who specialize in toilets, for example, I think most people looking for medical advice would rather have it from the professional.

  • http://www.stayinkerry.com/klh.htm Eamon Moriarty

    What amazes me is that Google gets it right most of the time. It is quite rare to find an irrelevant result for any search query.
    Whether the results are always the best is open to debate but what is sure is that there is no such thing as the correct result. What is correct is subjective and whatever algorithm is used will reflect the preferences of the creator.
    Having said that, if there was a way to exclude the obviously spammy results, that would be good.

  • http://www.9ki.si Vojko

    What if all results are questionable?

    Hello Chris

    Nice article and not so nice idea creator for our reality.
    How do you know, that you didn’t launch your Idea to technocrats at various search engine companies? How do you know that the world is not creating just things we have in our feelings?
    How do you know, that I’m not using google just because this ‘questionable’ results?
    What you would write if everything would be just as your mind is expecting to be?
    And of course. Thank you for your idea not to respond to me by e-mail. It’s ok. This writing is just a thought that you’re beautifull human being. Perhaps you are feeling secure and happy in technology field. Perhaps you don’t want to work with real people.

    What if you had to grow, when you would be encountered to learn differently? How would you do that? What results could that have on your life?

    Wish you all the best.

    Vojko Kalan
    Life Coach

  • http://www.thejerusalemgiftshop.com/ Christian Gifts

    When we are all after that top position in google I guess it is hard not to be biased.

  • http://www.visionefx.net Rick Vidallon

    Just searched ‘how to prevent kidney stones’ in BING. Looks like their results are a little closer to your second list.

    Sorry Mr. Cutts. This is just another example demostrating that Bing does not copy Google results.

    I have been a Google evangelist and cheerleader since late 1990’s but something is really amiss at the Googleplex. I am specifically talking about Google giving page placement to spammy, abusive directories. Bing does a great job for not ranking these sites as relevant to a search query, where Google does the opposite.

    Many people, businesses and organizations have found themselves the victims of negative postings on complaint websites such as Rip-0F-F- Re-p0-rt,
    P1ss-0F-F- C0n$u-mers and others. (I have purposely typed these incorrectly so as to not give these websites or their owners ANY web reference weight by correctly spelling the domain name.)

    I have been following these websites for some time now and have learned two distinct things:

    1) You either love or hate them.
    2) These types of websites are turning the Internet into an information cesspool.

    Let’s talk about point number one.

    You Love Them
    You might love these types of websites because they provide you an online sounding board to vent, rant, whine and complain about a negative experience you had with a product, service, person or company.

    I can relate. Recently my wife had a bad experience with an employee of a local retailer which was part of a national jewelry store chain.

    It would have been cathartic for me to post negative reviews on a website, but I chose to take the high road and keep my complaints between me, the store and the corporate office. As a small business owner myself, making public posts would not contribute to the common economic good as it does not reflect well on all the good employees who work in this store. It would only serve a personal desire to impugn or embarrass this company online.

    Had I not worked in corporate America and received a regular pay check for many years, I probably wouldn

  • E Wyatt

    How about Google using designated keywords or checkboxes in their form to identify queries of certain types like “authority”, “sales”, “informative”, “news”, “ads”, “defn”, “store”,”encyclopedia”, “coupon”, “person”, “corp”, “book”, etc. This could cue Google to throw out other results and rerank according to the query type. They probably actually do this internally, but the user needs to be cued to use those keywords.

    • Chris Crum

      Interesting idea. They do have a lot of search options, but nothing that specific. That actually reminds me of the kinds of options you sometimes get after you perform a search on Bing. For example, if I search a band name, Bing might give options in the left column for videos, t-shirts, websites, merchandise, etc.

  • http://www.bigstadium.com R Davis

    Come on guys – let us call it what it is.

    My experience as a guy with 10 ad agency accounts is the “We Are Not Evil” mantra is almost as silly as how many websites, portals, editorial hangouts, and pow-wow sites are dedicated to keeping Google’s market penetration secure by nature of their existence. I can barely stomach even writing this, as I know it simply helps up prop up the empire.

    Bottom line – Google commitment to quality search results is an oxymoron. They work very hard to numerically adjust their line down. Why? Too many quality organic results means less revenue for their click throughs. It means less rosy shareholder reports. It means adjustments of the indexes on Wall Street causing further financial mayhem.

    As a result, they take a disproportionately high portion of advertising revenue for the role they serve, and they are part of the US problem.

    How about some grass roots campaigns being kicked off that help highlight this? I’m about ready for a reboot myself, and would like to see some new search engines with a bit less greed maybe kick them in the rear end. You can’t count on MSN though. I’d be close to classifying every attempt they have made in the last decade to “re-committing” to search as IPO and Stock fraud, and they simply are impossible of telling the truth.

    At least Google lays it out there. You can spend $500k a quarter with them, and still not get a hardcopy Christmas Card. I still receive letters telling me that if I don’t respond by the end of the month, I’ll miss free opportunities for them to help me spend more money. I’d have fired outsourced ad agencies for far less.

    What a strange reality we have created for ourselves in this roll of the dice.

    • Chris Crum

      There’s no question that the sub-par quality results returned often display Google ads, and if less of those were in the top results, Google would lose revenue. Still, I’ve seen plenty of poor results show up without Google ads.

      • Robert Davis

        That just means they have not gotten around to monetizing it yet lol. Just look at their turnover. No shortage of ad serves.

  • http://ultimatemarketingstrategies.net Peter

    I don’t think Google can ever totally eliminate low quality results due to the huge number of factors that they (and any other search engine for that matter) use to determine the rank.

    Anyway, high or low quality content can be highly subjective.

  • http://www.paputravel.com Barcelona Holiday Apartments

    This also applies to directory sites
    Whilst the directory index’s as an authorty site due to the shear scale of the site – the site results returned for specific search tems can again outrank genuine authority sites.
    I guess its just a case of content vs authorty vs backlinks
    A classic example is amazon – this is a genuine site as we all know – yet its still possible to create less than authouritive listings
    Well thats my 2 bobbs worth

  • http://www.debtsolution-strategies.com cardebtguy

    Maybe someone needs to teach these “auhority”s ties a little SEO – even then your opinion of what is relevant may not be relavent at all. I don’t trust your top 10 picks any more than others.

  • Guest

    This is exactly what Blekko does, and you didn’t even mention them.

    • Chris Crum

      I think I’ve covered Blekko more than most in the industry.

  • poti

    if u actually took the time to read those query results.. you have noticed that you’re wrong!

    Take a look and read the article on http://health.ucsd.edu for example it says “Five Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones: From Lemonade to Surgery” but instead it only lists types of kidneys stones and says we should drink lemonade and eat less salt (only two ways).

    At the end they say “UCSD

    • Chris Crum

      Ok, well, the UCSD Medical Center still shows up as the number 4 result as is, so if the quality is not there, it still supports the overall argument, though even if it is an “advertorial”, I’d still be more inclined to trust an actual “Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center” over an eHow article written by someone with no medical qualifications.

      • http://str82u.co STR82U

        Also, I’d rather read something someone blogged from inside a hospital rather than someone that never worked there. Authority lends credibility.

  • nick

    this weekend I got so sick of seeing ehow and answers dot com turn up in the search results. they just have the question your asking without the answer! how is this usefull to anyone? and what a pain in the arse to have to click on that and search a page you think is going to have your answer! Grrrrrrr!

    • STR82U

      This is what spam reports are for. You find a page that has no useful answer on it and you report it right away https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport, make it go away. I can’t say what Google would do with an eHow or Answers result, but they honor our requests and get rid of anything like you describe from our niche’s results.

      Just don’t abuse it.

  • http://str82u.co STR82U

    Fortunately, I get fresher results for my searches. Our niche makes us competitors with official websites, those that might be more informational, but don’t get to the point we do as fast as we do to the degree we do.

    I do get your point though; if we believe that poor quality sites get bumped for poor traffic then they would weed themselves out.

  • Guest

    I agree. I’m in health and science. I just did a Google search for this keyword phrase: “whey protein, elderly people , muscle”. The search yielded 46,300 results. The top 2 positions on page 1 were held by Livestrong, the 9th position was an eHow article and the 10th result on the first page was an article from the National Institute of Health. So the NIH is less relevant than Livestrong and eHow?? Google is is dangerously close to a MONOPOLY. Seriously, the US Justice Department should step in. Google is doing this not to improve search quality, but to push Direct Media to the top of the list. All this is for monetary gain. Direct Media had the 1 billion dollar IPO and they have Google Adsense on their pages. Google is making money from this – big money. Google definitely is evil. They need to be broken apart, and small business owners should launch a class action lawsuit against them.

  • http://www.hedgehogdigital.co.uk/ SEO Bedford

    Google could start by blocking these content farms that tend to rank for just about anything you search for with regards to DYI and How to….. But then again some of these so called content farms are amongst Google’s biggest advertisers and that is where the subject gets complicated. I think a company the size of Google should care about the quality of their services not about one or two big guns that spend millions of $ in ads every year, it is not like Google is short in cash and really need them to move on.

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