In a recent study conducted by researchers from Leipzig University, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and the Center for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, concerns have arisen about the declining quality of product search results on major search engines, with Google at the forefront of criticism.
The year-long study analyzed search results from Google Bing and DuckDuckGo, focusing on product review searches – an area that has become increasingly problematic. The findings indicate a surge in low-quality content from websites exploiting search algorithms, primarily fueled by the growing prevalence of affiliate marketing.
Affiliate marketing, a business model where online publications use affiliate links to generate revenue, has led to a proliferation of product reviews and roundup articles aimed at maximizing affiliate traffic rather than providing informative content. The researchers examined over 7,000 product search terms and discovered that top-ranked pages on Google and other search engines were more likely to be inundated with affiliate links and subpar content.
The rise of SEO-focused sites, prioritizing search engine optimization over genuine publisher value, has contributed significantly to the degradation of product search quality. Google, the longstanding leader in the online search realm, has not been immune to these challenges.
Google has responded by continuously adjusting its algorithms to detect and demote low-value affiliate content. However, the study reveals that these changes only bring temporary relief, as SEO spammers inevitably devise new tactics to circumvent the system.
Despite the negative findings, the study did highlight a silver lining for Google. While the tech giant may be losing ground in product searches, it still outperforms competitors Bing and DuckDuckGo. Furthermore, Google’s product search quality exhibited improvement over the study period.
In response to the study, a Google spokesperson acknowledged the challenges of affiliate content prominence but defended the overall quality of Google’s search results. They emphasized that the study focused narrowly on product review content and did not reflect the broader quality and helpfulness of Google Search across billions of daily queries.
Nevertheless, the study’s revelations align with a growing consensus among experts that search result quality has declined in recent years, attributing it to Google’s scale limitations. As concerns persist, users and industry analysts will be watching closely to see how major search engines address these issues and prioritize delivering high-quality, relevant content to users.
Some Twitter posts about the complaint: