Google search isn’t very good and yet still the best around

DKB, writing a very interesting blog post entitled Google Search Is Dying:

If you think your search results are perfect (without appending reddit), then you’re probably right. If every single person agreed that Google search results were trash, then Google would already be bankrupt.

Perhaps it is more likely that 80% of people think Google is good enough, and 20% think Google sucks.

I do suspect that the 20% will be growing in number though.

First, I think there is a world between something being “trash” and something being perfect. I think DKB makes great points in his post and I agree with most of them, but I think the percentages are wrong.

I think Google search results are very good or excellent 80% of the time, and disappointing 20% of the time. It may vary from one person to another, but you get the idea. In my case, I’d say Google results are good 90 to 95% of the time. But the few times where the results are bad, wrong, or indeed “trash,” this is obviously what we focus on and what we tend to remember. Of course, the fact that search results are often polluted by SEO-focused pages doesn’t help, as it gives the impression that Google doesn’t control much of its algorithm. Like DBK writes:

There are tons of people whose sole job is to game their way to the top of Google, so it shouldn’t be surprising when search results deteriorate in quality. To be fair, this would probably be an issue with any search engine, but you’d expect Google to be able to come up with a less gameable algorithm.

Second, I don’t agree with the “Google would be bankrupt if everyone thought they were bad” part. Even if that was the case, where would they go? What search engine would they use? If you think Google results are bad, you’re in for a real treat with Bing and the other search engines using the same index. Google doesn’t have to be good, it just has to be better than the others.

I used DuckDuckGo for the past ten years or so, and I recently wrote about how I decided to stop, because it was simply not as good as Google. If we use the percentage thing again, for DuckDuckGo, the numbers would be: 60% good enough, 40% disappointing. I’d say Bing is between DDG and Google, with 70/20%.

DKB writes:

Google just had record profits, you are obviously wrong, and Google isn’t dying.” I never said that Google wasn’t making money. In fact, if Google really is squeezing every last cent out of ads without regard to search quality, I would expect their revenue to be at an all time high. I am saying that the quality of search results are declining. This may eventually lead to a decrease in revenue, but has not yet.

Again, Google would indeed make less money if less people used its search engine, and therefore less advertisers would pay for ads. Google arguably has a monopoly on search, so even if the quality of its search results decreased (if we consider that search quality is something that can be objectively measured), users simply have no alternatives that is better enough to use instead.

If this was the case, I’m pretty sure this alternative search engine would advertise its quality loudly. Today, most of the other search engines focus on something else: privacy, the environment, pretty wallpapers, a cool UI, etc. Not many of them brag about being better at search than Google. Whatever technology they throw on top of their service, they still rely on the index of others, Bing mostly. Like John Gruber wrote back in 2020:

What’s more interesting to me is that while there are a number of small search engines, Google and Bing are the only two comprehensive indexes. DuckDuckGo, for example, syndicates the contents of its index from Microsoft. Google has a monopoly on web search no matter how you look at the market, but there’s even less competition for indexing the web than there is for user-facing search engines. In fact, I think semantically it sort of breaks the engine in “search engine” — the term presupposes that the service showing you the results is the same service that is crawling the web to index them. That’s just not true today.

Things would be maybe a little bit less terrible if we, users, were not so lazy and used more than one search engine. I try to use Quick Website Search on Safari, to search directly on specific websites like Wikipedia, IMDb, Amazon, YouTube, etc., but it seems faster and easier to just type what I’m looking for and the name of the site after. For example, I’m pretty sure “wiki” is one of the most typed words in Google Search, and it is indeed a bit sad that such a big part of our web browsing — visiting specific sites we already know and don’t need to search for — goes through Google for commodity and comfort, rather than by necessity.