Why You Should Stop Trusting Google To Find The ‘Best’ Of Anything

Finance

Every week I send out a newsletter with links to articles on retirement. While I link to just a handful of articles, I wade through 100 or more pieces to find the gems. This week I stumbled upon an article that reminded me why we can’t trust a Google
GOOG
search when it comes to finding the best financial products.

The article was about interest rates. Linking to a prominent website, the article proclaimed that the highest yield on an FDIC-insured savings account was 2.61%.

I followed the link to the website to confirm the information. Interestingly, the 2.61% yield (which comes from ufb Direct) was no longer on the page. The highest yield now found on this prominent site was just 2.15% APY. It didn’t matter. Both were wrong.

A team of three hard-working individuals helps me scour the internet for the highest yielding bank accounts. At present, the best savings account we can find pays 2.75%. (If you know of a nationally available rate with no savings caps that’s better, please let me know.)

The 2.61% yield referenced in the article is number two on our list. The 2.15% yield now on the prominent site as the “best” doesn’t land in our top 10.

What Does This Have to do With Google?

The problem isn’t limited to just one website. Search Google for the “best” savings accounts, and you are almost guaranteed NOT to find the best (if by “best” we mean the highest yielding). The 2.75% rate noted above doesn’t appear on any of the results on the first page (I found it on one listing on the second page of Google’s search results).

Some websites on the first page didn’t even list the 2.61% yield. And virtually all of the websites showcased savings accounts with rates well below the top yielding options, while proclaiming that their list was the “best” or even “highest yielding.”

Why?

One theory is that a search for the “best” of anything returns pages heavily influenced by advertising. A search for the “best” credit cards, investing apps or mattresses, some argue, returns advertorial content. It’s content that looks editorial, and may even proclaim editorial independence, but that is in fact heavily influenced by advertisers.

Content heavily influenced by advertisers, particularly while at the same time claiming to list the “best” products, would seam to be contrary to Google’s aim of producing trustworthy search results. Yet while there may be no way to confirm the subjective intent of those creating “best of” content, I’m not the first to be suspicious of Google’s search results.

Add ‘Reddit’ to Your Google Search

Late last year a Reddit user asked a seemingly innocuous question:

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“Does anyone else Google something that they need to know and add “Reddit” at the end? Or is it just me? There’s usually a lot of valuable information and resources and multiple threads about what you’re talking about/looking for.”

It generated 275 comments. Some noted that Reddit’s search function was subpar, while others recommended adding “site:reddit.com” to Google searches to limit results to Reddit. Many comments raised the question of advertising, including this one:

“Always! especially when it comes to recommendations. Google is filled with affiliated recommendations which may not give the actual best answer but the best chances of the site which hosts such recommendations to make money.”

This idea took flight. Earlier this year an article declaring that Google Search is Dying gained traction on Hacker News. The Atlantic ran with the idea in an article titled The Open Secret of Google Search. Last month the story continued in another article—Why People Are Adding REDDIT To Their Google Searches.

This led me to undertake a comprehensive survey, which is to say, ask my wife.

Me: “Honey, do you trust Google’s search results when you are searching for the best of a certain type of product.”

Wife: “You mean like a website result that lists the best products but also includes advertising links?”

Me: “Yes.”

Wife: “What are you crazy? Of course I don’t.”

The ‘Helpful Content Update’

Google regularly updates in search algorithm. And it names these updates, too. Last month it released what it calls the “Helpful Content Update.” Google summarized this update as follows:

“The helpful content update aims to better reward content where visitors feel they’ve had a satisfying experience, while content that doesn’t meet a visitor’s expectations won’t perform as well.”

In the case of “best of” content, this isn’t so easy. Much of what makes up our judgment of “best” is subjective. Even with savings accounts, one might consider many factors beyond APY. These could include fees, minimum deposit requirements, brand recognition and app usability. Move to products such as credit cards and gaming PCs, and the subjectivity of any “best of” list grows.

Yet it seems hard to deny that Google search results have been overwhelmed by advertising. And Google’s “Helpful Content Update” notwithstanding, the search giant seems to be in no hurry to make a change.

Perhaps someday Google with release the “Trustworthy Content Update.” Until then, I’ll be adding “Reddit” to my “best of” search queries.

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