The quality of the search engine result pages has been on the decline in recent years, reports a new study.
- A team of German researchers assessed the impact of search engine optimization (SEO) and affiliate marketing on search results, focusing on product review queries.
- Webpages with more affiliate links and SEO optimization showed lower text quality on average, with a trend toward simplified, repetitive, and potentially AI-generated content.
Search engines, including Google, are declining in the quality of their search results, found a team of researchers in Germany.
For years now, the results that search engines would give us have felt… incomplete. Information that would usually take you barely a minute to find is now buried under layers of irrelevant content like we’re in “The Princess and the Pea.”
So, a team of researchers in Germany decided to see if our feelings have any merit by examining the impact of search engine optimization (SEO) and affiliate marketing on search results. The study focused on product review queries, analyzing nearly 7,400 search queries on three major search engines: Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo.
Before we go any further, I have two things I want to explain to you in case you are not familiar with how search engines work.
One, SEO is a set of guidelines a website abides by to improve its ranking in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The better the SEO, the better the ranking, the more likely a website is to appear with the first couple of result pages, and the better the exposure. It’s the reason why recipes have this long-winded story about the baker’s grandma’s sister’s raisin cookies. The more SEO-compliant a website is, the higher its visibility.
Welcome to the Internet, darling. We’re all slaves to the algorithm here.
Two, affiliate marketing programs are when a website earns a commission from pushing and promoting another company’s products or services. The website promotes the link, you click the link, you purchase, and the website gets a commission. Kind of like a finder’s fee.
The number of product reviews with associate links is not overwhelming, but these reviews showed up more frequently in the SERPs. According to the study, “[they] also find strong correlations between search engine rankings and affiliate marketing, as well as a trend toward simplified, repetitive, and potentially AI-generated content.”
Instead of quality reviews, what accompanies the affiliate link is an extremely optimized but very subpar review. They want to get to the top because that increases the chance of you clicking on their associate link and helping them earn money. Instead of getting a detailed review of that new phone that you want to buy, you get enough bait to hook you and push you to purchase it through their link.
Google was not happy with this study, obviously. It did the same song and dance it does every time someone even thinks about calling it out on its action. It boiled down to:
- The sample was small and did not reflect Google Search’s image accurately.
- We are still doing a better job than the other guys.
Who’s going to tell the tech giant that just because you are doing a better job does not mean you are doing a good one? Not it!
Here’s what I’m wondering. If the SERPs are not trustworthy and the AI chatbots that have a connection to the internet “hallucinate” way too often for our comfort, how are we supposed to research stuff?
Next thing you know, Leonardo DiCaprio painted The Mona Lisa and The Last Supper and Leonardo da Vinci held Rose atop the Titanic and invaded people’s dreams.
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