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  • Darshan Pareek

Google search becoming rife with low quality, SEO-driven content, claim researchers



A recent investigation by German researchers indicates that Google search is increasingly infiltrated by low-quality SEO spam.


The researchers aimed to answer the question "Is Google Getting Worse?" by analysing search results for 7,392 product-review terms on Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo.


The investigation took approximately one year and involved researchers from Leipzig University, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and the Center for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence.


The findings reveal that higher-ranked pages have lower text quality, indicating that websites engaging in SEO tactics are prevailing in the search rankings. Interestingly, despite the reported poor search quality, Google outperformed its competitors.


Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is a process that involves use of certain keywords and a writing style to enhance website or webpage visibility on search engines to increase traffic.


The researchers also observed that spam sites engage in an ongoing battle with Google for rankings, with spam sites regularly manipulating the system to rise to the top and then being knocked down.


"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," they noted.


The researchers caution that with the launch of AI-generated spam, the rankings war is likely to intensify, posing a genuine threat to the future usefulness of search engines.


They state, "the line between benign content and spam in the form of content and link farms becomes increasingly blurry—a situation that will surely worsen in the wake of generative AI. We conclude that dynamic adversarial spam in the form of low-quality, mass-produced commercial content deserves more attention."


Google parried the charges alluded to in the study, saying the research was too narrow and hardly representative of its search engine's performance.


"This particular study looked narrowly at product review content, and it doesn’t reflect the overall quality and helpfulness of Search for the billions of queries we see every day," a Google spokesperson said.


The person added that Google has implemented specific improvements to address the issues highlighted in the study.


In January 2023, Neil Patel, Founder of NPDigital, expressed a different perspective over the controversy, arguing that as the internet becomes more crowded it is getting more and more difficult to get good rankings, which doesn't necessarily mean search engines are getting worse.

 

"Search engines are not getting worse. I don't know why people think that. They say search engines are getting worse because it's harder to get rankings, you see less traffic going to your website," Patel said.

 

"But here's the thing: yes, search engines are taking content from your website, displaying it within the search results, and answering questions. That doesn't make a search engine worse; it just means you're going to get less traffic to your website," he added.

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