Google Search Results Can Be Harmful & Dangerous In Some Cases

Over the past few weeks, Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, has been replying to complaints about some examples of search results being not just low-quality but also potentially harmful and dangerous. The sad part to me is that a couple of years ago, this was not the case with the Google search results (for the most part).

When I interviewed Hyung-Jin Kim, the Vice President of Google Search, at SMX a couple of years back, he told a touching story about this topic. He explained that a family member of his was going through a medical issue and that he went to Google Search to find answers. As a VP of Google Search, his goal was to make sure that the Google Search results never led anyone to information that can end up hurting that searcher. That is where EEAT came from, partially, to ensure the search results did no harm and were not dangerous.

Now, we have way too many complaints about the Google search results offering up dangerous and harmful results. Google has responded to some of those saying they are taking in the feedback and will do better in the future. A lot of it stems from Google showing more Reddit results because they say searchers seek it out. But as Steve Jobs use to say, “Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do.”

Danny Sullivan wrote, “Appreciate the feedback. Aware of these concerns. Have passed them on. Have been talking with the team about them.”

Here are some examples, some we shared before, of Google responding to some of these examples:

That unit appears automatically if the systems think it might be relevant and useful. I’s not like someone said “put it first for that particular query” — which I know you understand, but others reading this might not. That said, I can appreciate the concern and issue, and I’ve…

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 3, 2024

I did understand that point and concern. I didn’t say “because users all seem to like something, we show it regardless of relevancy.” But let me take a swing at some of those points again:

1) We want to ensure that *any* content we show in results — including forum content –…

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 3, 2024

I sort of thought this:

“As with any change to our ranking systems, nothing is perfect. There will be issues that come up, as I talked about in the past:… So our goal will be to keep improving things forward, and constructive feedback like this is…

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 4, 2024

That’s not what I said. I said we show forum content *at times* because users can find forum content to be useful, which is a fairly reasonable thing. People do find forum content useful.

That doesn’t mean it’s always useful, which is also why we don’t always show forum content.…

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 4, 2024

Great to know that Reddit, Quora, and a 3-year-old Avvo thread are “better” results for this legal query than the American Bar Association 🤦‍♀️

Makes it even better that the top answer on one of the Reddit threads is from someone with an 18+ profile with some answers so gross I…

— Joy Hawkins (@JoyanneHawkins) April 8, 2024

Appreciate the feedback. Aware of these concerns. Have passed them on. Have been talking with the team about them. Here’s some of what I’ve shared on this:

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) April 9, 2024

Yeah, why is this affecting *so* many university sites? Any hackers/spammers care to chime in here? 😅

— Lily Ray 😏 (@lilyraynyc) April 10, 2024

Example of unhelpful results

— AI Digital Marketing (@AiDigitalMktg) April 8, 2024

I really don’t think the forum results are what anyone wants.

The 1st result I get is this nonsense (see image)

Aside from the fact that most ppl will see this and ask “why the hell is the 1st thing I see – this is crap” it’s dangerous.

Kids with eating disorders should not…

— Mordy Oberstein *Mistakes Happen* (@MordyOberstein) April 7, 2024

It is actually something we spoke about a bit on our daily recap video (a new series) yesterday.

Maybe Google needs to show this warning more often these days when Reddit shows up as Higman points out:

While Google continues to say search quality is better and unhelpful content will be reduced by 40% or so, while also promising quality improvements time and time again – most SEOs don’t expect much change.

I analysed the top-ranking sites for 1,000 health symptom keywords — many covering serious concerns.

The most prominent domain Google ranks is Mayoclinic.

The second most prominent is Quora, where it’s easy to find spammed, copied or AI-generated medical advice.

For instance,…

— Glen Allsopp 👾 (@ViperChill) April 11, 2024

I didn’t embed a ton of examples but I do expect Google to work on this issue and for this to be a thing of the past at some point… I hope…

Forum discussion at X.

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