Why Google's Search Results Are Useless Right Now

Think you can type a search term into Google and it will find most of the relevant pages featuring that word or phrase? Think again.

Three weeks ago, Google Operating System reported on an odd bug in Google's search results. If you searched for a highly common term, Google would claim to find millions of results, but would stop showing them after delivering only 100 or so, claiming that everything else was a duplicate result.

At the time, I figured it was a temporary bug and Google would fix it in a few days. Google constantly tweaks its search algorithms and sometimes that leads to problems. But when I checked it out again last night, exactly the same issue was still evident.

A search on Google's Australian site for "Yahoo" suggested that there were more than a billion pages featuring that phrase. Not so odd. But if you scroll through the results, you only get to page 8 -- just 80 results -- before Google tells you this:

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 80 already displayed.

I don't doubt there's a massive amount of duplication in Google's billion-odd results including the word "Yahoo". But I also don't doubt that there are more than 80 dinstinct pages with the word Yahoo on them online, or indeed that there are more than the 78 pages of results Google promises in this message. Hell, there are more than 80 posts on Lifehacker referring to Yahoo. Let's not even think about how many pages are on Yahoo!'s own domains, even excluding the Japanese domains that dominate the last page of results we do see.

This is a massive screw-up on Google's part. It looks like its desire to present "relevant" or "current" results is crashing out well before it has shown you everything in its index.

Google offers you the option to see a fuller set of results with the duplicates included. But for the Yahoo query, even that timed out after 49 pages (or 490 results), and didn't even offer me the ability to see more searches. After page 49 of searching for Yahoo, it just gave up. That means of the claimed billion results, Google doesn't want to show you more than 500 at best.

Google's stated aim is to offer you the result you want on the first page, but that's not always the reason we use it. Sometimes we want to see everything linking to a particular term. Right now, you can't trust what Google tells you in that context at all. Bear that in mind if you're involved in an SEO project or are using Google for research.


Comments

    Recently I have also been unable to find web pages I know exist by searching on Google. What are other search engines do you recommend?

    I think it's a bit OTT to say it's a "massive screwup" by Google. How many people would work through eight pages of Google results, let alone 49? I'd say it's an infinitesimally small number. Google's real business is in providing the most relevant results on the first page, which I reckon it still does pretty well. (It does fluctuate in how well it does this depending on its current algorithms. I noticed about six months back that its results were a bit crapper, but they seem to have fixed that now.)

    In what way does this make their results "useless"? If you don't find what you need within the first few pages, 90% of the time you wont find it at all, or depending what you're looking for, not from a source youd even want to view their page.

    What happened to you Angus. I saw your old site, how did you go from that, to this?

    Seriously, how many people go past 49 pages???

    Who has google set to return only ten results per page?

      Google instant will only show a max of ten when activated. Also google will never show more than 1000 results for any search term which makes sense, if you haven't found what your looking for in the first 1000 results then you were not specific enough in your search.

    I am quite sure that Google have analysed visitors behaviours enough to realise that 99% of them wont look beyond the first 20 pages of results, hence the reason for this behaviour. This article is nothing more than a whinge at something that doesn't affect the bulk of us.

    It bloody well affects ME, as I can easily waste a couple pages of useless results ever since they've tossed out their "search within results" functionality and started giving me essentially the exact same content copied and pasted all over the net on different sites or sites that all refer back to the same content. Google search was well on its way to becoming useless a long time ago, and perhaps has only gone further towards this goal. First they wanted to be the best at one thing; then they wanted to be everything; now they are trying for the worst at all of it. Their manifesto still remains laughably the same, especially when it says pretty much the opposite of everything they do now.

      So well put. It is laughable how ineffective Google is as a search tool. Duplicate results over and over again--not to mention how obvious it is which websites pay the biggest dollars for Google placement.
      Google is not about relevance. It's about revenue.

      I was very disappointed when google stopped reporting the number of "hits" per search phrase. Remember when you could enter a search phrase, and the results would look like

      Site 1 (2.1M Hits)
      Site 2 (1.5m Hits)
      Site 3 (24.8k Hits)

      Etc?

      That was SUPER useful to me in refining my search terms, or in determining which "way" of searching was being more successful. But Google decided it's paid advertisers were not getting good service when they were turning up fewer "hits" than other non-paid customer sites. So, they nixxed it, basically making it impossible to determine which search words were actually getting you closer to a real answer.

    What I have found is, more often than not, the results of the Google search have no relevance to the question asked. Seems Google's algorithm is so complex it confuses itself. I've started using Yahoo with better results.

      Ive been getting the same issue for over a year now.

      Different phones and tablets.

      Unless I specifically go to google dot com and search from there and in desktop mode in chrome then I receive completely irrelevant results.

    I have been noticing that searches aren't as diverse or interesting. It feels like all I get is a big advertisement of the latest and greatest product or movie and sites that shouldn't be at the top of the results. Perhaps I am just using the internet with 1998-2004 as a frame of reference. I have been thinking of trying out a different search engine.

      Gotta agree, there seems to be monetary incentive in most of the results.

      Makes it difficult to find free drivers, firmware or basic manufacturer support software.

      Its difficult to find sites like XDA Developer results unless using a desktop mode.

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