Turns out I’m not the only one who has been noticing the decline in quality search results from Google lately. And, like Jeff Atwood of Stack Overflow, I’ve tended to blame it on other factors first:
Throughout my investigation I had nagging doubts that we were seeing serious cracks in the algorithmic search foundations of the house that Google built. But I was afraid to write an article about it for fear I’d be claimed an incompetent kook. I wasn’t comfortable sharing that opinion widely, because we might be doing something obviously wrong. Which we tend to do frequently and often. Gravity can’t be wrong. We’re just clumsy … right?
I have, for over a year now, used DuckDuckGo as my primary web search engine, and I attributed the lack of good search results I was getting from Google to me being accustomed to using a different search engine. But seeing other people write about the same problem has confirmed my suspicions: Google is not doing well in the fight against spammers at the moment. Jeff Atwood’s post above is a good start, and so is Alan Patrick’s post ”On the increasing uselessness of Google” - accompanied by two Hacker News threads, here and here.
The main problem for me at the moment is the amount of spammy sites in programming related queries. Sites whose main mission is to scrape the excellent Stack Overflow for content and display it alongside as many ads as possible. If I wanted to be conspiratorial, I could agree with the following comment, in response to someone wondering what was causing the problem:
it’s not an AI problem. It’s not wanting to hurt the bottomline. Sites with more ads than anything else are banned from DuckDuckGo, for example. And that is a search engine run by 1 person only, if I am not mistaken.
I have a hard time believing this cynicism, but the fact remains that you clicking onto these sites and maybe even having to click back and forth a few times to find the site you actually wanted, is lucrative for Google. The sites are often laden with Google Ads, so it’s not just the Google search results themselves that make money for Google, each site you click into is another ad impression for them.
Could it be simply that these sites are useful enough to Google’s bottom line, while at the same time good enough for users to click on them and get something out of them so they stay off the blacklist? That they lie exactly in an equilibrium of useful information vs. ad-driven pages, for enough users? To be specific: for me, these sites are difficult enough to read compared to for example Stack Overflow so that I get annoyed when I click into one of them by mistake.
Anyway, it’s more just a feeling rather than hard facts but as I said, seeing these posts from other credible sources has served to somewhat confirm my suspicion that Google is not doing well with their web search engine at the moment. That, coupled with new alternatives (Blekko and DuckDuckGo for example) that for the first time offer credible alternatives - alternatives where you actually get useful, no: better, results.
That, coupled with the new alternatives Blekko and DuckDuckGo for example, makes the choice simple for me. They offer credible alternatives, alternatives where you actually get useful, no: better, results.