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Google Flagging Query Results As Unreliable

14 August 2022 | 0 comments | Posted by Che Kohler in nichemarket Advice

Unreliable queries in Google

Google started out as a nifty way to scrape the internet and associate keywords with web pages; their now legendary search and ranking algorithm have turned the company into a Trillion dollar business and household name, so much so that people refer to internet searches as "Googling".

Google's internet search market dominance has turned them from a tech company to a media giant and sort of public utility; they have become the gateway to the internet for the average user.

As an SEO, my job is to ensure that search rankings quality improves with an obvious bias towards my clients, and we have an obvious incentive to improve quality. The better content we create, the more informed users are, the better their experience and Google rewards SEOs and site owners for this practice; it's an alignment of incentives.

We had a good thing going, but as Google continues to focus on shareholder value by increasing the returns on every search, those alignments continue to fall out of wack.

The big business crowd capturing Google

Ask any SEM marketer, and they will tell you the days of competitive search are long gone; if you're not spending a fortune on search ads, you're not going to get much love from Google, and you're relegated to picking up scraps.

While certain sites continue to get a preference in organic search, be that through rich snippets, featured content or less randomisation of rankings based on certain factors.

The more you keep certain people out and move them around, the more they need to spend to maintain the traffic share they once had, and that's the Google merry-go-round today. There have been soft instances of censorship in search results for years; the chatter grows and then dies among search engine marketers who have to deal with it.

It started with grey niches but has slowly expanded because of specific profit incentives. In Google's continued path to monetising all the search real estate, it cannot make drastic changes, or you'll start to figure it out, so it has to be done gradually.

It starts with subtle changes

Recently, Google has started to flag certain search trends or queries with a note that accessing timely, relevant and reliable information is increasingly important, and current sources aren't up to scratch. Who gets to decide what that is and where the line is? Don't know.

The consumer doesn't get to decide Google wants to be the internet nanny. While Google Search will always claim to serve you with the most useful results we can provide, sometimes they will flag it as unreliable information going forward.

The update is currently focusing on breaking news or emerging topics, when the information that's published first may not be the most reliable or specific topics. While the update is presented as a simple flag, we can all see how this can be abused for certain political or economic gain.

Questionable sources according to Google

Questionable sources, according to Google

Expanding content advisories for information gaps

Google labels these flags as information literacy voids and are allowing their so-called "experts" to decide on these situations as data voids. Google wants to create walled gardens for content by showing content advisories in situations when a topic is rapidly evolving, indicating that it might be best to check back later when more sources are available.

They are even expanding content advisories to searches where our systems don't have high confidence in the overall quality of the results available for the search. This doesn't mean that no helpful information is available or that a particular result is low-quality.

These notices provide context about the whole set of results on the page, and you can always see the results for your query, even when the advisory is present.

The internet is far bigger than Google can police, and flags like this can do more harm than good. We've already seen how political tech companies can be, and moves like this can set a dangerous precedent for search.

What can you do about it?

You can no longer be a mindless casual user of Google if you want to get accurate information. You will have to do competing searches, switch to different search engines and maybe even stay there. The more people who leave Google, the less effective their censorship will be, and market forces will drive them to clean up their results.

Customers have to demand better from Google, there is, of course, a cohort of people already moving away from Google products, but unless that ramps up considerably, Google will see no reason to reduce their over-reach in search and create these information echo chambers.

Please give us your take

So have you noticed a change in search results steering you to specific information? How are you dealing with it? Let us know in the comments down below.

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Recommended reading

If you enjoyed this post and have a little extra time to dive deeper down the rabbit hole, why not check out the following posts on SEO and search updates.

Tags: Google Search, Organic Search, SEO, Guest Post

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