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Google is getting worse as it loses its fight against search engine spam

Google Search
Google Search is the world's most popular search engine. But researchers say it's not as good as it used to be. Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images
  • Search engines like Google are getting less helpful, according to a new study. 

  • They're more likely to retrieve SEO-optimized web pages monetized with affiliate links.

  • These types of pages "show signs of lower text quality," according to the study.

It appears to be true: Search engines like Google are getting worse.

These days, search engine results are filled with spam content, according to a new paper from a team of researchers in Germany. And it's making it harder for people to access helpful information online — the core function of the internet.

The researchers searched for product reviews that "offer tests and purchase recommendations." They spent a year analyzing almost 7,400 of these queries on three search engines: Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo.

Their baseline finding was that search engines have "significant problems" with affiliate links — paid-for links that refer a customer to a seller. While the number of product reviews online that contain affiliate links isn't huge, the researchers said these reviews are overrepresented in search engine results.

The problem with affiliate links boils down to "trust," the researchers said.

"Since users often trust their search engines already, the affiliate inherits this trust as a byproduct of a high ranking," the authors wrote. But this also creates tension between affiliates, search providers, and users because affiliates are more likely to design web pages to optimize their rankings as opposed to investing in higher-quality product reviews.

Though webpages that have more affiliate links and are more optimized are more likely to come up in search results, on average, they also "show signs of lower text quality," the researchers said. 

And as content generated by AI continues to flood the internet, the researchers said search engine results are likely to get worse.

A spokesperson for Google told Business Insider in an email that the study looked "narrowly at product review content," so it doesn't reflect the "overall quality" of Google Search.

"We've launched specific improvements to address these issues — and the study itself points out that Google has improved over the past year and is performing better than other search engines."

The study's researchers said that they believed the issue "deserves more attention" but that, for now, they don't see an obvious solution.

"Affiliate marketing itself is in part responsible for what online content looks like now," Janek Bevendorff, a research assistant at Leipzig University and coauthor on the paper, told The Register. "Banning it entirely is probably not a solution" since many legitimate websites rely on affiliate marketing and SEO optimization as an important revenue stream, Bevendorff told the outlet.

"In the end, it may remain a cat-and-mouse game," Bevendorff said.

Read the original article on Business Insider