Has Google Search gotten worse?
September 1, 2017 12:53 PM   Subscribe

I used to reliably find answers to questions using Google Search, or find articles I faintly remembered reading. That seems to have changed over the past year or so.

To me it seems that the algorithm is now heavily overweighted toward popularity, and underweighted toward relevance, even when I use quotation marks or the "verbatim" option. I also find that results that are supposed to be limited to the past 24 hours pull up stories from 3 or 6 months ago.

Is it just me?
posted by mrmurbles to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It's not just you.

Another problem for me: I input several words for a search, and it just assumes that the least common word or words are not important and ignores them -- when the whole reason I'm searching is to find the common words _with_ the less common words.

I'm really worried that the most valuable content out there is just going to be unfindable. Me, I know I can put quotes around things and eventually sort of make it work mostly, but what I really want is for newbies to find unexpected things, uncommon things, and then build their own knowledge or ideas or products in non-boring ways.
posted by amtho at 1:06 PM on September 1, 2017 [31 favorites]

Google has monetized their search - It is way, way, way less effective than it used to be. If you pay Google your website will be found. If you don't, it won't.

There is a lot of information out there on SEO - Search Engine Optimization, which means how to have your website turn up when people are searching for things, which includes information on how to ensure that your website turns up as a hit when it shouldn't be one.

And there are now a lot more really lousy websites out there that have all the same information copy and pasted trying to intercept search results so that you will click on their link and go to their page and they will get paid for your visit my their advertisers.

Googling information is now a lot more time consuming and a lot less useful than it once was.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:08 PM on September 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

Even putting quotes around phrases doesn't always work anymore.
posted by goatdog at 1:30 PM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Hmmm... maybe it's bad enough now that other search engines will gain share.
posted by amtho at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've not noticed it having gotten worse since the syntax change forced by Google+, but I pretty much always use advanced operators if I'm not using Now on Tap or whatever they're calling it these days on Android, and it seems to come up with relevant information 80%+ of the time even when I do that.

I believe the advanced search page still exists, which gives you nice boxes for inurl, near, and other operators that allow you to narrow your search. (That's not to say that another search engine wouldn't be easier, only that Google can still do what it has always done in one way or another)
posted by wierdo at 1:35 PM on September 1, 2017

It's not just you.

I also have a problem getting non-commercial search results--like it seems to return big brands selling things versus the actual information even when you do the in-quotes thing or use the +/- characters. Seems less likely to surface sites that aren't heavily ad driven or monetizable.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:36 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I switched to DuckDuckGo a while back and it's getting better all the time. Also, it does no tracking.
posted by MovableBookLady at 2:58 PM on September 1, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also finding google results garbage, and I use DuckDuckGo for 90% now with bing (for travel stuff) and google (for image search). Scholar is still better than the alternatives. Sadly searching by filetype:pdf is completely useless.
posted by zenon at 4:01 PM on September 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Google has entirely thrown out the concept of "provide content the user is looking for" and replaced it with "provide popular/monetized content related to the keywords in the search box."

If I'm searching for recent news, articles on a specific website, or items for sale, I use Google. If I'm looking for something with specific phrases or during a particular date range, I use Bing. Otherwise, I use Startpage or DuckDuckGo.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 5:08 PM on September 1, 2017 [5 favorites]

I switched to DuckDuckGo to avoid profiling and the side effect is search is better. And I reduced the echo chamber effect.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 10:47 PM on September 1, 2017

No, it's not just you, I noticed in the last six months at least, Google has gotten much worse at answering or providing links to the most basic search terms. I often now find I have to shift to Bing or Yahoo to find the information I'm looking for. It's really quite frustrating, Google used to be so helpful.
posted by WinstonJulia at 4:29 AM on September 2, 2017

It's not just you.

Google has been downgrading their search service for years.

Used to be, when google was new, you could enter a phone number and Google would tell you who owned that number (if it was a business) on the first page of results. Now, you get three pages of "reverse lookup" services. Again, it used to just work, but google decided to break it.

Same with almost any technical question now. Used to be, the top results were tech forums and actual answers. Now, its a few pages of spam. Again, it used to just work, but google decided to break it.

If it's a popular feature, and there is any hint at all that it can be monetized, then google will break it.
posted by yesster at 1:53 PM on September 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I use Google Search dozens of times a day and I haven't noticed any change. I just did a little Bing searching for comparison, something I haven't done in a while, and my results were way worse than Google Search, just as they always have been.

So it sounds like it's definitely not just you, but it's also not everybody.
posted by escabeche at 2:39 AM on September 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I was thinking about this last night, and it occurs to me that there is one thing that probably sets my experience apart from many people here. I let Google track me. Aside from uBlock stopping AdSense ads on some third party sites, I don't get in the way, so Google's algorithm knows what I've been looking at recently and the type of content I'm likely to be searching for (in depth article vs. one graf blurb, technical details, etc) and most likely to click on and it brings that stuff to the top for me.

The downside to all this, aside from the obvious privacy implications that many people are uncomfortable with, is that Google will surface entirely different things for me than it does for most other people, so I can't really know how effective telling someone to Google a particular topic will be for them even if I only see relatively high quality links. I have no way of knowing how much of that is due to personalization (seemingly more and more every year) and how much is due to a good set of search terms that work for anyone.

Seriously, I find Google both incredibly neat being able to do the data processing at the scale they do and incredibly creepy when it surfaces things I wasn't quite yet aware I was looking for.
posted by wierdo at 2:34 PM on September 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

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