Google’s latest search algorithm change designed to fight spam and improve its search results went live yesterday. Plenty of people are seeing its impact already. Better or worse? It’s easy to find some examples of things being bad; it’s hard to say overall if there’s been a net improvement or not.
Judging Relevancy Is Tricky
I’ll go through some examples, but let me start with some caveats. If you dive into some forums, you’ll find plenty of people screaming. People tend to scream after any update that things have gotten worse because they’ve lost rankings. Few scream about how things have improved, much less provide examples. In short, relying just on forums can give you a skewed view.
That doesn’t mean you ignore what you might discover through forums, however. Few know the quality of any search engine’s search results as well as SEOs. They might not be happy if something outranks them, but good ones know if something better or worse has moved up. The same is true even for some of the “good” black hat people out there. They might deliberately violate Google’s guidelines, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know search quality.
Time for examples. To get these results, I was used “Incognito Mode” in Google Chrome to help eliminate personalization other than geographic targeting. That can’t be prevented.
Viagra: Missing Official Site & Many Other Problems
One of the first queries I did to check on the new algorithm’s impact was for “viagra,” because that search is a natural magnet for the type of spam that Google seeks to wipeout with this update. If that was the goal, Google had a big miss here:
Most glaringly, Google fails to list the official Viagra site in the top results, something that Bing gets right.
Postscript: John Andrews pointed outafter this was posted that the official site has apparently been gone for 10 days or more, so this particular change seems unrelated to the new spam-fighting algorithm. I had asked Google about oddities with this particular search before posting my article but never heard back.It’s also a good reminder to add that there’s no guarantee that any of the problems I’ll cover with these examples are due to the algorithm change. There’s no easy way to do a “before-and-after” for these searches to know what’s changed. However, you can look at the current state to assess whether they seem to be of good quality overall, which is part of what Google aims for with this current and all algorithm updates.
Almost as alarming, the four sites I’ve pointed at with red arrows have been hacked so that those visiting them get redirected to some place selling Viagra online. Three of these, Google even knows they’ve been hacked, because it shows a warning to searchers. Why it allows things to rank with those type of warnings makes no sense.
The two blue arrows point to two university web sites that have nothing to do with Viagra but which rank. Chances are, they were also hacked recently and fixed their problems. But if so, they’re still not relevant for Viagra and shouldn’t rank.
Bing: Better For Viagra
Here’s Bing for viagra, for comparison’s sake:
As mentioned, Bing gets the official Viagra site listed tops as you’d expect good search results to do. Bing also lists several informational sites, such as Drugs.com, How Stuff Works and Wikipedia. But all of these are also listed by Google, so there’s no big difference there.
Where Bing really pulls ahead is that instead of all those hacked sites, it lists a lot of online stores and affiliate sites. That’s certainly better than rewarding companies that have hacked other web sites, so it had the edge over Google. But whether these are legit online stores that require prescriptions is another matter.
Postscript: As noted in the comments below, one of these sites Bing lists seems likely to have been hacked.
Make Money Online: Google Has Very Slight Edge
One query I’ve seen go around in discussions, and which was tipped to us through email and in a comment, is for “make money online.” Is Google falling down here?
Honestly, it’s pretty tough to know what should rank well for that type of query, given that it’s so broad and so heavily filled with various schemes that purport on how you can earn money online (the answer, of course, is to create an online sharing service that makes pictures look old and has no income, then sell for 1 billion).
Still, let’s make the attempt. In this case, I’m going to put Google and Bing side-by-side, Google on the left, Bing on the right. I’ve removed the related searches from Bing’s listings and slightly spaced out the listings to even them up with Google, but the order is exactly as originally appeared:
The damning thing some point to with Google is a site on Blogger that has no content at all ranking tops. Yes, that’s terrible. It’s also exactly the same thing that happens on Bing, though Bing ranks it lower on the page (sometimes, Google also ranks it lower). Certainly it would be better for Google if its ranking algorithm wasn’t returning a useless site. But pick any search, on either search engine with any update you care to name. There’s always some weird outlier.
I’ve also seen some call out Google for having two older articles ranking. The same thing happens with Bing, for one of these. It’s easier to notice on Google because it lists dates for these articles. Bing has some outdated information but doesn’t show dates.
Google is heavier on listing blogs about making money, though many of these really just seem to be blogs about blogging. Bing is heavier on places that overtly pitch some “make money” type of courses. If I had to choose what’s better, I’d go with listing the blog sites over the course sites.
In the end, I’d give Google the slight edge here over Bing. None of the results are really that great, of course. But I guess that’s what I expect for that type of search, knowing the flood of “get rich online” content that’s out there.
Overdose Advice? Bing Beats Google
Another example from a comment on our original story was about “how many pills does it take to overdose,” where Google is taken to task for featuring Q&A sites, places like Yahoo Answers, where anyone rather than an actual expert can give advice.
Here’s the side-by-side, Google on the left, Bing on the right. Again, I spaced things out a bit, but the ranking order is the same:
As you can see, both Google and Bing favor Q&A sites. I’d agree, that’s not optimal for this type of search. You’d rather get information from respected medical web sites, and not information on how to commit an overdose but what to do if you suspect you’ve accidentally done that. Neither deliver.
One of the biggest reasons for this failure is probably that the medical web sites simple don’t have content written in this type of plain language. If there’s nothing but garbage out there, garbage is what you’re going to get back.
Still, Bing gets the edge because Google has three completely irrelevant answers coming up, pages with nothing to do with the search topic. It was also disappointing not to see Google kick in the special suicide prevention information that it does offer for some searches.