Google slipping? New study finds decline in search result quality

New study suggests Google is losing search quality as low-value SEO spam creeps into top results.

Nishita Gupta
Nishita Gupta January 20, 2024
Updated 2024/01/22 at 8:47 AM

Google has long dominated the world of online search. However, a new study suggests that the search giant may be slipping when it comes to providing users with quality results.


Researchers from Leipzig University, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and the Center for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence recently completed a year-long study analysing search results from not just Google but Bing and DuckDuckGo as well. The study looked specifically at product review searches – an area of increasing concern. The results confirm what many frequent searchers have noticed: the top results for product queries are increasingly littered with low-quality content from sites focused on gaming search algorithms.


The issue stems largely from the rise of affiliate marketing. Online publications rely heavily on affiliate links to monetise their content. When users click on one of these links and make a purchase on a site like Amazon, the referring site receives a small commission. This business model has led to an explosion of quick-hit product review and roundup articles aimed at driving affiliate traffic rather than providing useful information.


The authors of the new study analysed over 7,000 product search terms and found that pages ranked highest by Google and others were more likely to be loaded with affiliate links and lower quality content. Essentially, sites focused on search engine optimisation (SEO) rather than publisher value are winning the battle for prominence.


Google has fought back against these SEO gamers, constantly tweaking its algorithms to detect and demote low-value affiliate content. “SEO is a constant battle and we see repeated patterns of review spam entering and leaving the results as search engines and SEO engineers take turns adjusting their parameters,” the researchers wrote.


However, the study found that these changes only led to temporary improvements. The SEO spammers eventually find new tricks to beat the system.


While the results paint a grim picture, the study did find a silver lining for Google. While losing ground in product searches, Google still performed significantly better than competitors Bing and DuckDuckGo. Google’s product search quality also improved over the course of the study period.

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