Google’s Search Results Have Gotten Worse

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post back in October:

Over the last two decades, Google has made changes in drips rather than big makeovers. To see how search results have changed, what you’d need is a time machine. Good news: We have one of those!

The Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine stored some Google search results over the years. When we look back, a picture emerges of how Google increasingly fails us. There’s more space dedicated to ads that look like search results. More results start with answer “snippets” — sometimes incorrect — ripped from other sites. And increasingly, results point you back to Google’s own properties such as Maps and YouTube, where it can show more ads and gather more of your data.

I’d say Google’s biggest weakness in search isn’t that would-be competitors have gotten better, but what Fowler illustrates here: Google’s own search results have clearly gotten worse. The comparison of how low they sometimes push the top actual result are eye opening. It’s been a slow boil from the Google of old to today, but if you took a Google search user from 2005 and showed them Google search today, they’d think it was halfway to Idiocracy. (Personally, I think it seems clear that the quality of Google search results — or at least the presentation of those results — started its decline when Marissa Mayer left Google to become CEO of Yahoo in 2012.)

This, effectively, is why I’ve been happy using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine for years now. I don’t think the breadth or accuracy of their actual search results is as good as Google’s, but because their presentation of results is better — far less cluttered, often with no ads in the results at all, never with more than two ads — I find the overall experience to be better, even putting aside all my concerns about Google and privacy.

The other thing I wonder about is how much modern web browsers have broken typical users of the habit of “going to Google”. How many people actually go to google.com to search, and how many just type search terms in the browser location field? If most people just type search terms in the location field, a browser that switches from Google to another engine by default will switch those users automatically. How many people would even notice a switch given that nearly all search engines style results in a generally Google-like way?

Thursday, 4 March 2021