Are Google’s Search Results Getting Worse? Maybe
Ever find yourself perplexed by a string of bad Google search results? It might be by design. As a federal antitrust lawsuit against Google heads to trial, prosecutors have filed dozens of exhibits that include eyebrow-raising internal communications about how Search works. Apparently, it’s not all algorithms and data science running the show, but a team of salespeople trying to hit their numbers.
For example, in late 2018 Google rolled out an update that allegedly improved the user search experience while at the same time inadvertently decreasing the number of search queries and ad revenue. What to do? An Ads team exec floated the possibility of rolling back the update and a discussion was had to make Search worse for users just to boost queries and ad clicks.
“The question we are all faced with is how badly do we want to hit our numbers this quarter?” the ad exec said. “We need to make this choice ASAP. I care more about revenue than the average person but think we can all agree that for all of our teams trying to live in high cost areas another $_redacted_ in stock price loss will not be great for morale, not to mention the huge impact on our sales team.”
Though these communications do not conclusively establish anything in terms of how Google ran its business, it’s impossible to avoid wondering if a string of bad results might have less to do with whether or not Google’s algorithm is working and more to do with whether or not a Google sales guy is trying to hit a search query quota so that he can pay his mortgage this month.
On the flip side, bad results might have nothing to do with ad sales at all, but are rather a consequence of the proliferation of bad websites with misaligned incentives. Google’s 20th employee, Marissa Mayer, who also served as CEO of Yahoo for five years, explained in a podcast last year, for example, that websites themselves are what’s getting worse.
“I think because there’s a lot of economic incentive for misinformation, for clicks, for purchases,” she said. “There’s a lot more fraud on the web today than there was 20 years ago.”
Still, in the Google communications referenced above, it was obvious that Google was faced with balancing user experience with revenue expectations.
“All these little things ultimately add up to retaining Chrome users – if we lose them, we will see far greater [Sales Quantity Variance] loss, and I won’t have any way to get them back,” wrote a Google manager to the Ad team exec.
One’s search experience will surely be impacted even more now as Google is forced to contend with AI personal assistants, a Q&A experience unlike anything that’s ever been seen on the web before. All of which means Google might have to get better at answering your questions if it wants to stay competitive, but not be so good that it hurts morale for the sales team.Last modified: October 3, 2023