Reviewing Some Bad Google Search Results With Sergey Brin

After today’s Google search press briefing, where I raised the issue of some poor quality search results in Google at one point, Sergey Brin asked me to demonstrate a few. My pleasure! Below, what we reviewed and comments from Google’s cofounder.

First, I showed him the results for search engine on Google that I joked about yesterday at our SMX East search conference. Seriously, Dogpile ranks first? Followed by AltaVista, Ask and Lycos? Google’s the world’s most popular search engine, yet it doesn’t rate itself as the most relevant result, into number one?

He laughed a bit at the results and agreed they probably aren’t so good though countered reasonably that people who search for “search engine” on Google itself probably don’t expect to find Google. They’re already there, so putting it tops isn’t relevant.

I disagreed, a bit. We know plenty of people go to Google and search for “google,” so why not show them what’s commonly accepted as the best search engine for a search on search engine?

Sergey then said, unprompted, that Search Engine Land really should be showing up in the results for a search on “search engine.” Hey, I won’t argue with that (are you listening search quality team?). But I then noted that when searching for search engines (in the plural), you get a different set of results — more sites about search engines than search engines themselves. Well, at least that’s how it used to be. When we looked today, you still got back individual search engines.

The results illustrates one of the issues I raised during the press meeting, that much of Google’s algorithm seems to reward sites that have gained trust over time, regardless of how relevant they seem to a particular query.

Then I went on to an example I showed yesterday in a session, for california car rentals. I won’t name specific sites that surprised him, as they did me yesterday. The point is that in general, brands you’d expect to see like Hertz weren’t there.

Sergey pointed out that this contradicts my earlier point, that aged, trusted sites with authority seem to win in the search results. I agree, this is a case where “little” sites are winning — but how they’re winning is a mystery, but some certainly don’t feel among the most relevant results out there.

I also ran a search for car rental california where some big brands appeared but there was still a seemingly strange selection of results. On the second page of results, Google pointed to a listing from Expedia for car rentals in Orange County, California, that surprised me. I know it’s on the second page, but it’s content light and specific to one region, not all of California.

Don’t get me wrong. Google provides great results for many queries. It’s just that it’s very easy to find these type of exceptions, and I think many are wondering how do you move past links in a way to address better results (this came up in the press conference).

Finally, I talked to Sergey about often terrible experience with local results. He was well familiar with locksmith spam, but I pointed out other examples such the incorrect police phone number I found or reports of people getting wrong numbers for hospitals or any number of other weaknesses we’ve seen with Google Local listings that occupy the most prized results in Google’s search pages.

Some of this I covered in a keynote address (it’s short) at Where 2.0 that you can watch here:

YouTube Preview Image

Talking with Sergey today, I said that after reading how Google pays people $16 per hour to rate the relevancy of its results, how about paying some of those to review and improve the third party local information that Google depends on?

Sergey was thoughtful about it and said Google might move more that way, highlighting how today, the company has announced its own maps in the US.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Features: General | Google: Web Search | Top News


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • chiropractic

    A bit surprised that “car rental california” does not include ten box in results and I have looked to see how popular the search term is. Appears that “car rental san diego” and “car rental newport beach” returns results I’d expect to see (map, brands, luxury cars, etc).

  • mregan

    I wrote an article on a local pizza parlor having a better SERP than the local Pizza Hut. And, while it is easy to ‘blame’ G oogle for the poor SERP of major players in geo-targeted searches – the sites themselves are much to blame.

    Many of the ‘big boys’ (Hertz, Pizza Hut, et al) direct traffic through a corporate home page. In the case of Pizza Hut – there was no easy route to a page on the local outlet. There is little or no attempt at SEO other than getting links for the home page.

    On the plus side – it sure makes my job easier.

  • christof

    Gosh – All this time and I thought Google was using DMOZ volunteers to check the quality of websites – which in turn leads to more trust and better SERPs for those included! I suppose DMOZ is just too slow reviewing sites and getting them into the directory.

    “Talking with Sergey today, I said that after reading how Google pays people $16 per hour to rate the relevancy of its results, how about paying some of those to review and improve the third party local information that Google depends on?”

  • Shadab Malik

    “..that much of Google’s algorithm seems to reward sites that have gained trust over time…”. Lately I have noticed that its the only thing that works for Google. Take a look at any keywords related to ‘ecards’ for instance – birthday cards, anniversary cards etc and you will see for yourself. Sometimes I dont find any quality content or enough back links on a site which is still ranking. This becomes frustrating at times that while I have been wearing white hats, dear Google ranks only black hats. Do a search on ‘goa hotels’ or ‘delhi hotels’ and you could easily explain a layman what ‘keyword stuffing’ is and how it helps.

    Which makes me think if there are more factors that help a website rank except Keyword based URL and Domain Age!

    I hope this post serves as wake-up call for Google.

  • Michael Martinez

    The California Car Rentals query could certainly benefit from a mix of big brand and local rental agency sites. The results do look rather odd today.

    However, when it comes to local restaurants versus national brands, or local merchants versus national chains, Google too often favors the national chains/brands over the local businesses.

    Eric Schmidt doesn’t really get search. People will search for brands specifically but when they want truly local results they often have to dig dip past all the brand spam to find what they are looking for.

    Brands are just as much a part of the Google spam problem as the made-for-adsense spam sites. The local businesses don’t have the know-how or resources to compete with all the search-savvy sites.

  • les madras

    Excellent writeup. I think page rank as a way of measuring importance is all but broken.
    The original insight behind pagerank came from academia, where the importance of a paper can be measure by the citation index, i.e. how many other papers refer to it.

    The problem now is that there is a lot of automated and semiautomated sites that are cranking out questionable content designed to maximise rank for carefully selected keywords, and then monetized with Google Adsense. Googe makes money all the way but the user is poorly served.

  • propswest

    Don’t most people search for “SFO car rental” or “john wayne airport car rental”? If I’m in San Diego, I’m not going to search for “california car rental” knowing I could get stuff in Sacramento.

    Searching for those kinds of city or airport terms, the results are actually quite good.

    Not saying they’re always good, they’re often not. But local results are many times better than they were 2-3 years ago.

  • Danny Sullivan

    Dunno, searched for “john wayne airport car rental,” and I don’t see many trusted brands in there. The description for one of the gives me a quote in pounds, rather than dollars. John Wayne’s in fairly conservative Orange County, where I live — but the area isn’t so conservative that it has reverted back to British rule. Many of the sites seem to be places that simply send your query to a back end clearing house. My experience with these types of sites has been pretty poor, to say the least.

  • les madras

    google backs a return to british rule! man thats funny.

    but actually not. a lot of these sites are just adsense farms. heck, search for arthritis on google, and the top ranked listing is from, why, Google!. since when did they become an expert on health?

  • Flubert

    With all due respect to Sergey Brin, as head of an IT department myself, I have it on good authority if you type ‘Google’, into Google you can break the internet, so please no one try it, even for a joke

  • danielrluke

    I’ve noticed these kinds of anomalies quite frequently as well. Glad to see that someone else is finally noticing and writing about it.

  • aburt

    “countered reasonably that people who search for “search engine” on Google itself probably don’t expect to find Google. They’re already there, so putting it tops isn’t relevant.”

    I’m not sure he knows his customers then. I know many people, just ordinary folks, not techies, who don’t really use or know the terminology “search engine”. They just use Google as a browser location bar. (I recall there was an article recently illustrating how people at large don’t really use or know the term “browser” either.)

    It’s thus NOT a “reasonable” counter argument… and truly does illustrate how Google often doesn’t present good search results.

  • smanhays

    I think your point about national brands struggling for local result penetration are echoed by the weakness of GOOG-411. There have been so many times I needed a national phone number, but alas, there is no way to secure a national phone number (yes, I am the guy without an iphone or blackberry).

    The GOOG-411 system is based on providing a city/state and business, similar to the Google Maps system. Well, what is the city for “AAA” main line? Or “PNC Mortgage”? Or “TiVo Activation.” National businesses have no local results.

  • billmarshall

    Should have shown him the results that Barry Schwarz just found for Google New Zealand when searching for Google Ireland ;-)

  • sbyholm

    I think Google puts too much emphasis on large sites and old sites without regard to the fact that a site can become old fashioned and some sites aren’t always maintained having mostly outdated information.

    Simon Byholm
    SEO and founder,
    Secret Search Engine Labs

  • Snow Mann

    You are right Google not filtering result from Spaming  sites  specially in Arabic language
    I saw many creative sites shutdown (who have original contents ) becaouse google put their  result after that Spaming and RSS sites …the stupid google serach engine looks at the size of the site ,how many threads and replies…….. without any review from google lazy employees at all …
    I have Test Big and they filtering result very well …I thing MS done more professional job in this field ..which surprise me after years using Google

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