There’s something off about Google search results, isn’t there? It didn’t happen the last time you looked up your favorite restaurant or your local mechanic. It might not happen when you search for specific regions or keywords, but you’ve undoubtedly noticed that Google search results have gotten different. Possibly...worse?

It’s not just a figment of your imagination, Google search has been changing for years. An extensive study on Google’s search engine that was conducted in Germany revealed just how much search results have been impacted, and changed, by growing internet and website trends and practices. Results are no longer as refined as they once were, as the algorithms used to determine them can now be easily manipulated and used for the benefit of corporations who want you to see their product before you get your results. Even then, result pages are now filled with marketing and oddly worded articles designed to pull you away from the authoritative and data-driven results generated from the search.

And I just want to apologize as someone who offers search engine manipulation optimization as a service. It's not ALL my fault...

The Study

Conducted in Germany, the study was completed by 4 researchers whose hypothesis revolved around the degradation of Google’s search results. In layman’s terms: they think search engines are getting crappier. The team’s initial idea behind the study was that “Google is getting worse,” and they set out to test that.

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To complete the study, the team measured the results and purchase recommendations from 7,392 product review queries using the dataset platform ClubWeb22 on 3 different search engines: Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo.

The Data - What Does It Mean?

Simply put, it doesn’t look good. The findings from the team’s extensive research show that search results have become greatly affected by many internet practices, trends, tools, spam, and other forms of advertising. Some factors are having more impact than others.

SEO, affiliate marketing, and AI-generated content are all being used to muddy search results. There are no longer clear, authoritative voices or brands at the top of search results. Instead, you’re now given results filled with marketing and links that are potentially irrelevant to your queries. Why are these kinds of articles, websites, and products leaping to the top of search rankings? Let’s take a look.

Search Engine “Optimization”

Even SEO, the acronym for search engine optimization, is one of the culprits in this internet crime. It may be a free way to optimize your website, but it’s also wreaking havoc on our searches. By using keyword optimization to move websites up the rankings, the results of searches are muddied and don’t always provide the best or most accurate results. Legitimate sources and websites are falling by the wayside simply because their SEO score is lower than the alternative. So make sure the links you’re clicking are addressing the exact subjects of your search.

Too Much SPAM!

We’ve all clicked a link on a search only to find that the clicked article or product has absolutely nothing to do with what we searched. Spam has grown up from the pop-up ads of old, they’re now sophisticated and clog up nearly every query made on a major search engine. Low-quality content is flooding your search results, and there’s not much anyone but Google can do about it.

The study showed that nearly every product review query they made produced some form of spam result, usually due to clever SEO practices. Other than very basic spam detection, search engines have never made spam removal a priority, and that’s not likely to change.

A Flood of Affiliate Marketing

Have you noticed just how many Amazon products are at the top of your search results? You undoubtedly have, and there’s a reason for it. Affiliate marketing is a major revenue stream for sites like Google. If you didn’t already know, the top of the search results you get aren’t actually the accurate results for your search - they’re ads. Just because you searched “blue reusable water bottle” and the perfect Amazon option appears at the top of the page does not mean that is the top-ranking result for the search you made.

During the study, the researchers found that nine perpetrators were responsible for nearly all affiliate link spam campaigns. The biggest names on that list include Amazon Associates, eBay, Ali Express, and ClickBank. Amazon is actually at the very, very top of the affiliate marketing list, especially with product reviews. As product reviews have now become a monetized form of marketing, the study found that if a product review page uses affiliate links it’s most likely spam.

In Conclusion - Yeah, Google is Getting Worse

Though they’re excellent ways for businesses large and small to increase revenue and sales, there’s no doubt that the growth of SEO and affiliate marketing are affecting Google search results. The study shows that search results are filled with potentially irrelevant content shows that not every corporation or business entity on the internet has good intentions.

The study’s findings have already led to some changes. Google was even forced to address the data in a different piece on the subject, though they basically blew it off by suggesting the metrics only looked “narrowly at product review content.” While the study was indeed limited to product reviews, this is just their way of trying to discredit findings that partially discredit the effectiveness of their search engine.

Affiliate marketing and spam links aren’t going anywhere. Though Google and fellow search engines may be making small changes to address them, the truth is that it’s more in your hands than in theirs. Marketing campaigns are how those corporations get a lot of their revenue, so chances are they aren’t putting all available resources into addressing an issue they’re benefitting from.

Google search is not the same as it once was. Now, it’s arguably filled with as many spam links as it is with genuinely generated results, so it’s up to you to decide which is which.