Google Can’t Get You Lucky Anymore: It is Search Result Impotent

Unfortunately Google search results no longer cut it, they don’t provide the information they once did. Why? [Unless you keep your search setting to show only 10 per page -- the default -- then] they repeat the same urls over and over right down the page from result 1 to result 30.

Below are some searches from today. (Here in NYC we like to look for hats.) The problem is that google is returning the same domains over and over. It shuts out all but its top results and ads:

SEARCH TERM

folding straw hat

OUTCOME

34 in a row results from alibaba.com (after 3 ads)
Then a link to images, one link to youtube.com and
14 straight results from aliexpress.com

OK. You are thinking – folding straw hat? Probably no one in the world sells it or talks about it, except alibaba. So lets try something with a wider appeal. Google’s key word tool shows 60,500 local and 110,000 global searches for this term: sun hats.

SEARCH TERM

sun hats

OUTCOME

18 straight results from coolibar.com (after 3 ads)
Then a link to images, and 9 straight results from amazon.com

[EDIT: To make it real simple to recreate, here is the url from the google search (make sure you set the search to return 100 results on one page): https://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&q=sun+hats&oq=sun+hats ]

Perhaps there’s something tricky about sun hats? Let’s try

SEARCH TERM

womens sun hats

OUTCOME

17 straight results from amazon.com (after 3 ads)
Then 8 straight results from coolibar.com

OK, enough of hats. Try something else. Something mainstream. Sunday News (with 49,500 local searches and 135,000 global).

SEARCH TERM

Sunday News

OUTCOME

5 in a row from lancasteronline.com then
3 in a row from foxnews.com then
4 in a row from stuff.co.nz

In the headline, we said you can’t get lucky anymore from google. But perhaps the reality is you can only “get lucky”. Because the diversity in search results is gone.

********
EDIT — I found that if I change my settings from displaying 100 search results to displaying only 10 per page, the duplication goes away. When set at more than 10 results, the results may all be grouped all together with the first occurrence of each domain. Perhaps that is Google’s way of insisting that we refresh their ads after every 10 results.

Thanks for the feedback here (and on hackernews )

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20 Responses to Google Can’t Get You Lucky Anymore: It is Search Result Impotent

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  2. Gwapohon says:

    Stop using google.

    this is the result of Google penguin and Google Panda. This is the worst algorithm changes they ever made.

    Lots of legitimate websites are being filtered out. Results, same big company domain repeating in its search results.

  3. Maria says:

    GOOGLE IS NOW ABSOLUTELY CRAP. Am trying to find the solutions to some things. Also trying to review other stuff. It’s just a total waste of time. The first pages come up with a few possibly relevant pages, but not high quality answers. From about the fourth page onwards – well forget it, its usually all totally unrelated stuff. AND VERY DATED PAGES – like from 5 and more years ago – in the top answers!! they are not current nor relevant!! At the moment trying to find an answer to a flash player problem – ancient answers mostly, nothing useful. Been researching web host reviews and related stuff, very difficult now, seriously doesn’t give the information I’m looking for, and also they tends to throw up specific companies, either their own reviews or just sales patter. This is just a couple of examples.
    The panda and penguin updates were supposed to make things better for searching google. But it’s a total joke. They’ve got too much of a hold on everything. Some of their power needs to come down a few notches. that maybe would be a good thing.
    Hours wasted on useless searches!!!

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  5. putas mallorca says:

    you could compare it to yahoo

  6. W_ says:

    Ok, so we’re ranting about Digg putting this nonsense on it’s frontage, or are we upset, because someone was uninformed enough to believe Google wouldn’t search relatively to the data they have about you from youtube, Google-Ads on external pages, Google+ maybe you still have a google-addon in your browser… they know what people usually want and extrapolate their behavior to the search term they used. Using my moms Compouter to look for hat’s would probably reveal organic hat-fruits (if they exist) and on my computer looking for hats the results are eBay, Amazon and images.

    • Geoffrey Mintz says:

      W — I added a link above for the sun hats search, so just click it and see for yourself. The search is set to return 100 results — and that is the problem with google now only showing good results for 10 at a time.

  7. Yasir Bin Qaiser says:

    I think is location specific, I am from Pakistan: searched “sun hats”, and the results are coming from lot more sites:
    coolibar
    Amazon
    sundayafternoons -> men
    sundayafternoons -> women
    rei
    sunhats.co.za
    altrec
    images for sun hat
    sungrubbies
    polyvore
    target
    and finally an ad

  8. Ragnarok says:

    OK, Digg is finally dead (again) if after their redesign they put articles like this in their homepage. Amazing.

  9. JUlien says:

    I noticed this ! I believed that i was alone to see these bad results… thanks to spoked about this :)

  10. tobias says:

    Excuse me, but what are you talking about? Are you using the Chinese Google? I did a search for sun hats and got one ad, two results from one site, and eight results from different sites.

  11. George says:

    When I do a search for “sun hats” (for example) I don’t see 18 coolibar.com links in a row. I see one at the top, followed by amazon.com, sundayafternoons.com, rei.com, and so on. It’s never showing me the same domain twice.

    Are you really seeing 18 links in from coolibar.com in a row? That seems odd. I tried your other searches and it’s never showing me the same domains repeated at any point either.

    I have personal results and web history turned off, for what it’s worth. I wonder if that’s a factor here?

    • Geoffrey Mintz says:

      I posted links to the pdf’s of my search results (you can see them above). I never signed up with google plus, so both you and the earlier poster Tobias have me wondering what is going on. I will check this out some more right now.

      • Geoffrey Mintz says:

        OK, I signed out of everything google. Clear my history and my cache in Chrome. Closed and reopened my browser. The search results are still the same as posted above. As far as I can see google is delivering poor, duplicative results.

        • George says:

          I copied the search result URL from your “sun hats” PDF and saw the results you were talking about. It looks like it has something to do with limiting the number of search results. That’s interesting. If you remove the “num” parameter I saw more normal, useful results. If I decreased the number to 20 or less it also returned more varied results.

          I’m curious how you got that parameter into your search? Google has a setting that lets you manipulate the number of search results shown per page, but the parameter in your searches seems to limit the total number of results, which I’m not seeing an obvious link to, at least from my settings page. With the smaller result set Google’s ranking probably has a harder time weeding out the spammy links, for some reason.

          Interesting find!

          • Geoffrey Mintz says:

            George, glad you have confirmed this problem. After close to 1000 people read the blog post, and several people objected on HN before I realized the cause, until now no one else had said they saw the same results.

            About the urls: I did not do anything special. I just had my “search settings” on Results per Page slid over to 100 -slower. (To see the settings on your browser, click on the wheel icon on the right after the search result.) I liked to keep it at 100 so I could use ctrl f to find on the page what i am looking for. But now I guess I will keep it at 10. I also had selected “Never show instant results”.

            • George says:

              You’re right. I raised the results on my search preferences to 100 and was able to perfectly replicate what you saw, so disregard my note about the URLs.

              My results showed the first 20-30 from cooliris, about 10-15 from Amazon and then the rest were spread out from a bunch of different sites.

              It’s a curious peek into how Google weights their results. I imagine most people would expect changing their search settings to show 100 results would just show more of the same results on one page, but in fact it will give you somewhat different results.