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:
Here is what they would look like eliminating the questionable results:
Sources for the top ten on Google as returned:
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:
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.