Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Ask HN: Has Google search been worse at finding information lately?
95 points by Pinguinsan on March 14, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 87 comments
Recently, it's seemed that Google has failed to find answers for information I've been seeking. Even using keyword search, it's been returning very poor informative information. Has anyone else experienced this lately? Thanks for your input.

Google search over the past 5+ years: result quality getting worse overall; relevant results pushed further and further below ads/sponsored (now on page 2); privacy issues wider and deeper.

I recall being amazed at the seeming clairvoyance of their search results up to about 2014. It seems like when they reorganized under Alphabet, the division of responsibility became sharper. Alphabet to Google: you are an _Advertisement_ company. Your goal is to get as much info as possible on all people so to target and sell ads for maximum profit. The search engine, and other Google products, are to focus on that goal. The other innovation stuff may be done some by you, but we'll shift a lot to the other subsidiaries. I think the clarity and narrowing of purpose is wise, from a business perspective.

As a consumer, though, I've switched to DDG.

I would 100% agree with this. In 2014 and before if I go to previous Page(> 1). I would see old articles. Nowadays it's the same articles repeating. During 2008-2010 there was a issue like, when you search, there would be always page in the top for all search results. That issue is there now in news section.

Bing is not upto mark but my office browser default is edge and Bing. Well somebody has to feed that MS machine learning search bot....

Quality of Google search been dropping...

You mean you can't just fix the problem by writing better product requirements - "Google search results shall give me more relevant results."

The problem is that "relevant" is a frustratingly vague word. Google probably even believes that this is their mission. But when you talk to marketers, "relevant" is almost always going to mean "most relevant ads".

It's like with "engaging", which sounds good on paper, but by now we all know that "engaging" just means "addicting".

This has been a thing since Google did their RankBrain update 5 years ago. They essentially released a system that used ML to negotiate unknown "long-tail" queries into more common queries and then returned the common queries results.

One of the immediate effects was quoted strings became less relevant, sometimes completely ignored, and a lot of the other tools for negotiating with system were lost. It's only continued to progressively get worse since then.

Interesting. That explains alot.

Ye it has got worse alright. I don't know the timeframe since it has been a slow boil.

Easy queries like "who is the king of Spain" has got priority over hard queries making hard queries even harder.

Absolutely! The top hits are often SEO’d to death and so devoid of quality I often find myself appending “Reddit” to a lot search queries just to get any sort of relevant results.

“best espresso grinders reddit” -> good, relatively unbrigaded discussions of pros and cons from r/coffee

“Best espresso grinder” -> plenty of “best of 2021” type articles that are patently paid for and gamed, often by publications that have nothing to do with coffee or by some kind of purpose built “www.bestcoffeegrinder2021.com” sites that don’t exactly engender trust. Most of these are so obviously written by low quality contractors or bots that it’s somewhat worrisome that they cant be filtered out by google.

I feel like asking a heavily commercialised consumption-driven machine what the "best" or "recommended" anything is, is just asking to be manipulated. I share your distrust of sites with "best", other superlatives, or the current year in their name. The proliferation of new and strange TLDs like "xyz" and similar have only added to the confusion.

hahaha I do the same! Especially for any product/consumer goods, there is no alternative really.

For sure. Google's ability to surface useful pages above SEO gamed "articles" has been dropping for years. I've had to start adding '-best' and '-top' to searches in an attempt to stop getting blogspam stuff like "december 2020 best X" with no substance when searching for X.

It used to be possible to, for some topics, limit the search period to pre 2010 to help improve the relevancy of results. But I've started to notice that their index seems to be forgetting about the past as time moves on.

> But I've started to notice that their index seems to be forgetting about the past as time moves on.

A few months ago I was trying to find an old mailing list post using Google. I tried every combination of search terms I could think of, but it didn't show up. Later, I managed to find a direct link to the post in my notes. It turns out Google just wasn't indexing it at all -- searching literal excerpts from the post in quotation marks didn't give any results either. I just tried it again (I believe the post was https://www.mail-archive.com/fonc@vpri.org/msg01802.html), and it still doesn't seem to be indexed, though now there's another archive of the same mailing list which does show up in the results.

Not only that. Suddenly some corporation learns to "game the SEO", and keeps their spam on the first page of results for months, without users having a choice to block or report it, like Pinterest.

IMO it looks more like advertising deal than SEO gaming.

I'm really disappointed that Google removed the ability to ban domains from search results. Pinterest was one of the first to go.

For those wondering, this it what it looked like: https://searchengineland.com/google-brings-back-blocking-sit...

It's been getting worse for years, and I'm starting to find Bing is sometimes more useful these days.

The irony is that it's getting worse at the sort of detailed, niche topics (electronics, automotive, and related fields) that one would really want a search engine for, while I suspect more popular and trendy information which is far easier to discover is going to be easier to find with it. The fact that it randomly ignores words in the search query is the most infuriating part (what the fuck did you think I put that word in the search query for?)

Less than a week ago I got hit with the CAPTCHA hellban for using inurl: and going more than 3 pages into the results, which must be a record time as I have triggered that in the past but only after many many intense searches. I switched to Bing and found what I was looking for on the first page.

I also have a high suspicion sometimes that it is actively trying to hide relevant results from me.

I was also surprised to get better results using Bing in more than one use case

It sure feels like it. It feels like no matter what I search for, most of the top 10 results are like some crappy lifewire page with no useful information and written 7 years ago but “updated” only last week....

And everything else got “recipiefied”, where u get a life story before your answer. Both of these things are sites gaming their rankings. Sometimes i just want pure info, and google wont ever show pure info/data sites in their results unless its their own parsing of it..

That said, google still beats ddg. Ddg just doenst pull in the answers from fourms and stackoverflow like sites as well as google.

More than anything, I've noticed that Google prefers to offer search results that are from advertisers. This isn't surprising. Another commenter mentioned that context has gotten worse, and I'd agree with that. It's still a "good" search engine. I say "good" in quotes because I have yet to try a search engine that's as effective, but the "good" aspect of Google is now debatable in many contexts. For example it's "good" if your compare it to Yahoo. I think I might be trying duckduckgo more often (despite the ridiculous name) and even gasp Bing.

ddg feels more like a friendly portal.. you don't have to think about privacy much, no ads, lightweight. it fails very often, we probably all use !g half the time but still

also i was surprised liking bing 'way of things' a lot the few times I used it. something felt more like home there.

I use ddg exclusively for bang operators to search where I need to search but default to typing in !g if I need to actually use a search engine

Trying to not be a pure Google hater here but I can expect a lot of their products will become shittier (in terms of U X) in the next few years. It’s what happens to every web property after they have their insane period of growth. Now in order to continue growing without naturally adding users, they will have to get more $$$ per user. In order to do that, they will need better/more ads. In order to do that the UI/search experience will need to prioritize ads rather than an end user experience. It is not even limited to web properties. Every company lures users in with something really great at the beginning in order to capture the market, and then once the market is captured gradually raise prices to monetize users. Think uber with ridiculously cheap prices at the beginning to get users onto their platforms. In Google’s case ad-free great UIs are the “currency”. Now we’re going to have to sift through more and more garbage to get what we need, and it’s probably going to get worse.

This is the sad truth. We are lucky that we have alternatives for search engines. Too bad there isn't any real alternative to youtube.

But on YouTube you could pay for it and it's actually worth it in terms of time. Think about how much time you waste watching ads. Just my opinion. I would pay for a search engine that is useful and ad free.

Thank you I no longer need to be a pure pessimist anymore. I also think though that there will still be a time where they need to get more $$ and will raise prices or introduce ads at lower price tiers. However I would happily pay to not have ads.

Absolutely agree. Search results are now heavily biased toward popular categories that have advertising opportunities. Double quotes and logic (and) isn’t working to drive more specific results. I am about to move on.

Between the search engine getting worse over the past few years, and the failings of the history/search built into Chrome, and the loss of RSS and Delicio.us a while ago, the web seems to be less and less useful as time progresses.

There's still a tremendous amount of information available via RSS. I pay for Feedly so that I can annotate and save interesting articles.

Of course, this is not a way to search for things.

But more and more effective at sucking up my time....

I've been struggling with context. I fight for Google to know I'm talking about Rust the language and not the game or the oxidization.

"Rust Vector Drain" really struggled today.

I'm a bit surprised that Google isn't prepared to remember context. "User has been looking at a lot of Rust Lang so let's promote those kinds of results"

I would love the ability to add "domain:programming" to my searches like that - just let me tell google what area I'm interested in, it would so make life simpler.

I have a feeling DDG already allows something like this.

Are you logged in? I searched for that phrase 'rust vector drain' (without the quotes) and the entire page is filled with Rust documentation. Although the broader point stands, I have noticed Google search getting worse.

The worse now is email search in gmail.

It used to be very efficient, but now, if you don't type the exact word in full with the exact spelling, it will not find it.

The most annoying is sometimes when you only remember half of a name or first name that you are looking for. (Note: assuming that it is not in your contact list already)

Google Docs is also exceptionally bad at finding things too I find.

It's been always that bad

I feel like this quite frequently. Just yesterday I had a problem where I was getting an error message trying to install kivy. The message was about not having a specific required package installed (pyramid), even though I actually did have that package installed on my system and I had the correct version installed too.

I tried googling things like "kivy requires pyramid but pyramid is installed" and variations on that phrase including the exact error message and subsections of it and variations of the phrase - but all the search responses were about unrelated things, like just installing pyramid by itself. Incidentally, I solved the problem by just removing "pyramid" from the requirements.txt file and then it installed and worked just fine - but I was frustrated that Google wasn't really getting what my problem was. I feel like past-Google would have been capable of understanding the problem.

Same here.

I realize I've gotten used to employ my memory as a sort of index, retaining only pieces of past reads, and typing that pieces on Google to find that document again whenever I needed. It used to work better, but I've been noticing that this method is getting less and less reliable.

As websites look for sources of revenue other than Google-backed ads, Google might indeed be favoring the ones providing the best return for them. But those are not necessarily the best ones in terms of quality for the user.

Paul Graham talks in at least one of his essays of how he tried to convince Yahoo folks about the importance of having a good search engine. Only to hear a "we are in Portals Business, not in the Search Engines one" as reply...

Yes. I've been finding myself resorting to other search engines. Especially regarding things that remotely have anything to do with political hot button topics in the US.

Google has become a curated search engine. It's no longer finding data based on your enquiry. It's hiding the results from the companies and website that don't buy Google ads, or spend every waking moment on black hat games.

I believe the worst degradation happened around 2013-2014 when it enabled its first "AI" search engine core.

I always felt that it "tries to think for me" since then.

It seems to me that Google once had wonderful regular expression searches. That all got blown up when they introduced "Google+", thereby destroying REs.

Yes, and the loss of advanced search syntax hasn't helped either (ex: + operator, quoted strings, etc). They also have weird issues around date ranges (ex: reddit results that appear in date range searches are wildly incorrect). I've been trying to force using DDG as a habit since they first launched, but rather than DDG getting better, it's been Google getting worse that has actually accelerated my use of DDG.

Yes. It's great for finding commercial products and absolutely terrible for anything else.

It's making my research for technical translation a lot harder recently.

Was noticing the same thing. Asked the librarians I know and it seems like a well known issue in that circle. Being that they are 1) professionals at gathering information and 2) talk to a LOT of people who gather information that they maybe know something about this.

Ask your local librarian, I’d be curious if you get similar feedback.

I've ditched Google Search for DuckDuckGo a while back: first for privacy, but the more I used the more I realized that for some reason the results of DDG are just better than the ones of Google.

I still use Google for super-specific things that I know DDG might now have indexed

The same here, the inflection point was about six months ago to me. And it is not that ddg results got that much better, but google worsening is going faster.

Yes. I've especially had terrible luck finding pages I remember visiting before. This made me wish they hadn't gotten rid of full text history search in the browser.

So now I try to save important stuff as markdown notes so I can search them with vscode later.

Do you have the same experience when logged in and when logged out in an incognito window?

Google search isn't the same for everyone. It varies based on your location, language, profile, and recent search history (i.e. if you do 3 searches in a row about items in a video game, it will assume you are looking things up while playing and continue favoring results about that game for a while).

If things have really gone of the rails to the point you are dissatisfied, try clearing your entire search history here: https://myactivity.google.com/privacyadvisor/search

I'm struggling with recentism. Google appears to strongly prefer new content.

I wish there were some options to exclude certain domains.

I find myself using "" or inurl a lot.

I often find myself trying to ask a natural language question, and then trying again by putting most important search terms first, in "quotes", to see if I get better results.

I feel that Google is very good at search, but it's now a lot less predictable. In the past we all knew the tricks and tips, but today those don't seem to be as important as asking a question.

I use DDG or Bing when I can. I use Yandex for images.

It seems to be a perennial problem, as I was looking back through old tweets and saw that in 2010 I was complaining about the same thing.

In my search results today, they're doing a good job of putting wikipedia style facts onto my screen, while simultaneously pushing wikipedia results further away from the top. I'm usually shown lots of "news" related results - maybe some kind of optimization for temporal relevance?

It's hard to know how to respond to a request for something like "octopus hat". As myself, I know I would prefer to see results from Etsy over Amazon for this particular query today. As an outsider, I don't know how anyone would know that without being around me for some time, and knowing the exact mood/mindset I'm in at that moment. In comes all of the data collection to make this algorithmically/heuristically possible. It's a bit concerning that everything coming up at the top of the results for this query are trying to sell me something - making, thinking & doing are falling way further down the page.

It makes me curious what a naked search experience would be like these days, without the personalized bubble. I try it from time to time via DuckDuckGo, and when deeply curious I suspect I'll try to navigate Google through tor.

I noticed Google returning waaay too few and somewhat inaccurate results for common tech search terms about two years ago. I noticed searching for specific strings on google did not find hits on stackfault that could easily be found by searching directly on the site.

Though not the biggest microsoft fan, I've started using bing more often than google and the results seem marginally better.

For whatever reason, some times I search for (lots of) emails in public oss mailing lists. In the last 1-2 years I have found some emails that Google just won't find. Bing does.

So yeah, my impression is that Google is getting worse. And it's not just search. I'm planning to abandon gmail, and it's not just because of privacy.

Yep, I was there! Switched to fully use DDG (mostly bing backend), Fastmail, iOS, Apple Maps & document suite, and Bitwarden, which used to all be Google products for me.

Due to both privacy concerns and the general decline in quality of the Google versions. I just don’t use their products anymore. The only one I can’t get rid of is YouTube!

I’ve had DuckDuckGo as my default search engine on all devices for two+ years now and don’t miss Google at all. On the rare occasion I use the !g bang, I’ve seen a noticeable decline in the quality of results. DuckDuckGo, on the other hand, seems to keep getting better and better. Not affiliated with either. Just a happy user.

I've replaced the !g bang with the !s bang.

It’s funny that a lot of the comments here about the top results are the SEO crap. Remember when it was difficult to game Google and you had to learn the right methods? Well, it seems like Google has officially failed miserably as a search engine. Google only displays all the crap results an inexperienced search engine would return.

Back in the 90s and 2000s everyone would have just moved over to another search engine that provided better results. Google would already have been long forgotten if we had more options. It just means Google is primed to fail and another alternative can take its place. I’m surprised a new search engine hasn’t taken over. Google has been in a weak position for a few years now.

I actually had a curious experience with this personally. About 2 or 3 years ago I started using DuckDuckGo on all my devices as the default search engine. And DDG has this feature where if your results aren't very good, you can add "g!" at the end of the query to be redirected to Google.

So initially, 2 or 3 years ago, I'd regularly use this feature and get better results. But over the years I came to realize that often then Google results were no better and even sometimes worse than the DDG results.

Still, for some things like longer quotes (error msgs) out of obscure forum pages or queries that are questions, Google does better, but almost everything else, DDG is at least just as good.

Yes, over the last six weeks the results you would normally find in the first page are now on page two or three.

Search results for previous searches where I know the response corpus are significantly degraded.

Search quality has been falling pretty steadily over the last couple years.

I'm starting to think that their intentionally doing that in order for you to spend more time on their search engine therefore increasing the likelihood that you'll click on an ad whether it's intentional or not. It would be so messed up if the data came back that people were just clicking on the ads because they think they're relevant since they're on the first page but the reality is they're not they're just doing it to monetize. The only way that you would find this out is if the people who are paying for the ads noticed that they're ROI was actually better which would be interesting because I'm not sure how it works now but in the past it was all based off of clicks not based off of whether or not they converted. I think the values have to be realigned so that it's only paid whether or not the ad was useful versus just a click. I cannot tell you how many times I've just accidentally clicked on ads without mean to do so. Hopefully that's built into the price but I doubt it.

Definitely. Possible reasons include: * A lot more information, including low quality sources, making it harder to prioritize * The SEO cat and mouse game * Google's commercial interests

As a sort of related question, what do people use search engines for? I find that 99% of my searches fall under the "I know exactly what site I want to search" ie: docs websites, github, wikipedia, etc, which I can search trivially in my browser's url bar.

For the last 1%, I use duckduckgo, which almost always ends up just proxying me to one of those other sites.

Search feels very "solved" to me, I don't see the point in using Google.

It's because you don't know what you don't know and living in the Google bubble isn't helping with discovering those things.

I'm not sure what you mean. I don't know all sorts of things. I watch a conference talk or I read a paper, and I start looking things up.

If it's a paper reference I search for the paper's ID/ title - Google won't do any better than DDG, this is a pinpoint search. If it's a term, like recently I was looking into Entity Resolution, I wikipedia it. I run into things I don't know constantly and my search engine has virtually nothing to do with how I discover new information.

yes, I have to use bing and duckduckgo a lot more than I used to if I actually want a peer reviewed source on something

for everything else, such as a faster search for wikipedia, or cliffnotes about an actor that don't go to any website, it works fine.

the majority of my searches further from that are just finding messages in fast moving chats on Telegram, so that doesn't use Google or any service that is a dedicated search engine.

What I am finding is more and more results appearing based on sites I have visited in the past. This makes it exceedingly difficult when I have an extraordinarily specific technical issue and all the results I receive are the same things I got last time I searched. I have found when switching to a different computer my search results for the same thing are wildly different.

I am often interested in finding past sports information so if I search for something like +2003 "Team X" "football schedule" I will receive many pages of their 2020 or 2021 schedule and recent news about that team. I feel like the Google of the old days would deliver me exactly what I wanted within the first 5 results.

To head off any misunderstandings, what time period do you mean by "lately"? Past few hours? Days? Years?

It feels like maybe the past year.

Roughly the past year or two.

Significantly, but not recently. Quite a few years ago it started to change to accomodate more sentence based searches, and giving it a traditional set of keywords only ever returned like the main page of one of the things you mentioned, even if you explicitly tell it to search for all of the terms, etc.

Its been getting worse and it think its inevitable. Over time algorithms can be figured out basically through reverse engineering. These days seo optimization has meant resources is just as important as relevancy

the extent to which google wants to stop this is another matter

One thing is that they removed the n of times a page appears in the results. Sometimes I search and all I get is results from an MercadoLibre and/or pinterest. I find myself using the minus modificator often.

Example: product model -mercadolibre

I’ve been trying to use google shopping to help find niche products know of, but am unaware of all the stores selling them.

It’s absolutely terrible. It will outright ignore most search query filters even regular search will handle.

All websites are doomed to eventually have too much content to store in one index. So you want multi-tier indexes. And then you're incentivized to keep people in the first tier index.

Not really, but I notice anything health related, official sources now are in the #1 spot, while Wikipedia is now on the second page of results. In years past, Wikipedia was often #1.

Its been pretty bad for me for the past year or two.

Sometimes I have moments it only gives me Google books results for certain queries. Luckily I havent had that one in a while.

Google's search engine market share does not appear to be flagging as ads have become more intrusive:


Given that, from a shareholder point of view they may be committing mismanagement if they don't monetize it even more -- at least until their market share at least reacts. Until they titrate enough ads into the solution for something to precipitate, they won't know if it's saturated yet.

The "people also ask" section has been getting better and better for non-technical queries

Still gets the job done. Compare that to Facebook and Messenger where the UI is a total torture.

Why would you compare a search engine to a social network? And to the single worst social network at that? If you set your standards as low as possible, just about everything "gets the job done."

I've noticed it getting worse over the past couple years. It's annoying af!

Search would be a lot more useful if you could block certain sites that were spam.

No? The streets are as clean as ever.

Missing: Google, search, finding, information

It happen to me few times. Apparently no one ever has the same problem as me before. This happen super rarely and I'm proud of it.

Did you receive your 'search not found' badge?

In the past 10 years the amount of news stories on the web is probably 10 times bigger. Similar other things, like video and images and journal articles. (Random article says way more than 10 times)

The original stories have also been repeated and mutated. Plus content farms are literally mixing it all up.

I have thought Google is getting overwhelmed with content and it feels like they are pulling back.

But without a metric who knows?

The information available is better than ever, but are we talking it must be in the top 30 returns? Long tail is failing? Worse for grandparents or the computer literate?

We just old people complaining about the past if we are talking the information Google is a portal too. It's amazing what Google returns now.

You don't complain when it works, so I'd want some hard data here.

That's a fair point. It's all qualitative right now.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact