Google Algorithm Fail: 3 Examples Of Really Bad Google Results

Ryan Dube 31-07-2013

In my online work, I spend a lot of time examining what people are searching for on the Internet Google Doesn't Rule The Entire Internet Just Yet [Search Trends] When you examine Google search trends over time, it's amazing just how much it reveals about the public sentiment, and the rise and fall of various brands, service sand popular apps. It's really amazing to... Read More . I’m not the only one. We’ve always been into Google search here at MUO. We’ve offered everything from a cheat sheet of Google search shortcuts The Best Google Search Cheat Sheet: Tips, Operators, and Commands to Know These special Google search tips, operators, and commands will help you narrow down your search results and always get the exact results you're looking for. Read More and tips, and help with getting search results for your site Getting Rich Snippet Video Previews Into Your Search Results Producing your own video content is great. Search engines and users alike love video content. It increases user engagement - keeping visitors on your page - but moreover it's just makes your content more interesting,... Read More to look the way you want them to.


We’ve also closely watched the value of search results as Google has continually attempted to upgrade its algorithm. In 2012, Yaara felt that search results were much cleaner, while Justin offered up tips on how to extract links out of search results How To Copy Crap-Free URLs From Google's Search Results Stop getting a garbled mess every time you try to copy a link from Google search results. Install one simple plugin or userscript and solve this problem entirely. Google uses these far longer than necessary... Read More without all of the garbage in the URL string. There’s a lot about Google search results we like, and there’s a lot we still don’t like.

In fact, this year alone there have been multiple updates to the Google algorithm, code named “Panda” and “Penguin”. Cute names, but there’s nothing cute about the updates. Panda is all about ending the rule of content mills over the Internet, and Panda 1.0 did that in a big way in 2011. Penguin on the other hand, includes algorithm changes that were meant to specifically attack the old black hat SEO techniques A Day In The Life Of a BlackHat SEO, Circa 2010 For most people, SEO consists of making sure your page content is compelling and the metadata accurately describes the page without keyword stuffing. Read More  – things like creating keyword stuffing links, low quality articles unrelated to the core site theme, and using exact match domains.

At this point, there have been over 25 Panda updates, with the latest reportedly occurring on July 18th. Some great websites we all know and love have suffered traffic loss, but at the same time, so have numerous content mills we’ve all grown to dislike. However, have all of these updates done the trick? Are Google search results as high quality as they should be after so many algo tweaks?  In this article, I’m going to take a close look at the results of three common search queries and see just how quality the results really are.

1. “Fun Things To Do”

If you have a family, then you know that there are always those weekends that arrive where you haven’t made any plans at all. It’s probably one of the most common things for a family to turn to Google for some ideas of fun things to do. How good is Google’s search advice?

The good news is that the top 4 listings were top-quality sites you would expect to see, like Real Simple with a list of “11 fun things to do on a rainy day”, or The Simple Dollar with “100 things to do during a money free weekend”. They are well written articles that are well-organized and contain thoughtful and valuable ideas.  There were a few misses on the first 10 listings though, in my opinion. For example, “50 Fun Things to Do in an Elevator” on Meyerweb.
Nothing against Eric Meyer mind you. I mean, he’s well known in the web-design industry as a leader for web standards and CSS in particular. However, this particular page just contained nothing at all except 50 lines of ridiculous ideas like “make race car noises when anyone gets on or off”, or “One word: flatulence!”


Funny in a Ren and Stimpy kind of way, but is it honestly useful and valuable enough to be listed 6th in Google results for “fun things to do”?  The only thing the page has going for it is that the title had “Fun Things to Do” in the left-most position, as did the first sentence on the page. But wait, I though the new algorithm updates eradicated the ability for non-valuable pages to rank highly based on a few little page tweaks? Maybe not.

Even worse, the guy that registered “” lists 5th, proving that the domain itself still holds a lot of power in the search algorithm. The site itself is a never ending crowdsourced list of things to do – most of which are completely useless comments like “Go to Petsmart and buy bird seed. Then ask the clerk how long it will take the birds to grow.” Subract 1 from the Google algorithm score.
Meanwhile, the poor family that’s trying to find fun things to do, is left spending most of Saturday morning and afternoon sifting through useless, rambling Google results.  On the upside, in later search listings, it does appear that the majority of results for this query are focused on local websites in different areas that happen to list fun things to do in that region. Score 1 for Google’s algorithm.
The majority of the highly-ranked sites were actually region-focused, which is interesting. It also appears that many of the top listings featured videos or slideshows, proving that it’s true that Google tends to value sites with more multimedia content as more valuable than sites that are text-only. This is usually a pretty safe assumption, most of the time. However, it also allowed a site that generally doesn’t write about topics like this —, a financial website — to rank highly for this search phrase, because it offers a 10 page slideshow on the topic.
Conclusion for this search test – the bored family is going to struggle to find something to do, unless they log into their Google account so that Google can return region-specific search results based on the user’s actual location. Otherwise, they’ll be searching through useless listings for a long time.

2. “How to Fix a Flat Tire”

Another topic that was notorious for content-mills to focus on are those evergreen “how-to” topics that people are always searching for online. How to fix a leaky faucet. How to install a bath tub. Things like that.  To test if things have improved over the last couple of years in this regard, I tried searching for something simple – “How to fix a flat tire”.

My thought here was that it would be nice to see the top 10-20 listings as highly-detailed articles or photographic how-to guides showing how you can take a flat tire off a car, locate the hole in the tire, patch it up yourself, and then re-install.  Unfortunately, what I found was that many content-mills still rule the day in the area of how-to topics like this.


In fact, WikiHow ranks first, probably because it has the ideal domain for how-to content, however the article that made it into first place for this search was completely useless.
It offered one stock photo near the intro, listed text-only instructions, and those instructions were basically how to install a purchased kit. The first step is “read the directions on the can of sealant you have brought.”  Horrid writing aside, why would a person even bother reading this article if they have a product with directions in front of them? The whole list was clearly written in haste, and only to attract search engine traffic to the site. Little to no value at all.

Fix-a-Flat ranks highly, as well as other sites that show how to use the Fix-a-Flat product. There’s one article from, a site that usually offers pretty good info. However, in this case it made me page through 10 pages (nice trick to bump up pageviews), only to discover the article wasn’t about “fixing” a flat, but about “changing” a flat.

Then there’s eHow, the content-mill we all know and love, listing 8th in the search listings.
As usually, Ehow just offers a stock image near the intro, and then 16 steps of text-only instructions meant to make a certain word count, with stupid steps like, “Apply the hand brake and put the transmission in park or in gear so the car won’t roll.”  Gee…thanks for warning me, or I would have parked my car and left it in Drive. Seriously? Google considers this to be worthy of 8th place on the first page of results?

Paging further down in Google Listings to try to find the actual useful articles on fixing flat tires, I spot Huffington Post. So, now Huffington is an authority on fixing flat tires? Well, not quite. Huffington posted a video titled “How to Fix a Flat Tire in Seven Minutes, From Lauren Fix”.   What was this amazing fix? Nothing more than using a Fix-a-Flat kit to get a flat tire rolling again.
It’s basically a one-and-a-half minute ad for Fix-A-Flat, and apparently Google feels this belongs up on page 3 of its listings.  Where did I finally learn how to fix a flat tire? Well, it was an embedded video on the blog This was an 8 minute video that provided every detailed step, including all of the tools needed, to actually fully patch a flat tire using actual tools (not just a Fix-A-Flat spray).


Where was this useful result listed in Google’s search listing? Page 19.  It took me half an hour sifting through Fix-A-Flat ads and content-mill articles to finally find the useful blog and its embedded video, where the expert advised, “don’t rely on Fix-a-Flat, which is unreliable for large punctures”.

3. “How to Build a Crossbow”

So far, my test searches have been very generic. For the next text, I decided to focus on a very fringe topic that few people would be covering, to see how well Google can turn up valuable results for even smaller niches like this.

Instructables and Mother Earth News actually had useful info on how to build a crossbow. Of course, there are the obligatory YouTube videos, now that Google owns YouTube…
I was disgusted to see WikiHow once again in the top listings – both number 5 and 6. However, taking a look at these articles, they were clearly written with a lot of effort and detail, and are definitely worthy of a high listing.
The instructions had great detail and high-quality images with almost every step. Score +1 for the Google algorithm on that one. Unfortunately, there was one listing on the first page of Google search results that was obviously only there because the owner of the site had landed an exact domain for the search,
The site has hardly any useful content, very little information inside of the articles, and it’s obviously only there to collect traffic from a semi-popular search term, and the Google algorithm hasn’t been able to recognize the site for the low-quality, traffic-collection tool that it is.  Subtract another point from the Google algorithm.

And then there’s the Squidoo site listed on page two of Google results. Page two!
It’s an extremely amateur-designed site with randomly tossed-on information about crossbows, a bunch of links and videos to external sites about crossbows, and a comment area. Where Google sees the value in this site, I have no idea – but there it is.


Finally, The Report Card

I was personally excited to see the first few Panda updates, and the demise of content mills. It was exciting to think that online writers that are diligently working long hours to provide interesting and useful content on the web would finally be rewarded by getting listed higher in Google search results than all of these amateur or mediocre sites with horrid writing that have been gaming the Google search engine for years. However, even after 25 updates, Google still seems to have succeeded at nothing more than hurting the ranking of sites with fantastic and useful content because they are newer, while pushing results of older domains higher in search results regardless of quality or actual value.

That is what I believe the findings above reveal, but I’d love to hear your analysis of these listings and the current state of Google’s search algorithm. Have the recent updates hurt or helped your site? Do you like the direction that Google is headed with each update? Share your input and insights in the comments section below.

Related topics: Google, Web Search.

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  1. Anonymous
    August 11, 2015 at 8:05 am

    Its driving me mad. Google results suck bigtime.

    I just typed 'news' and results 1 *and* 3 were for Fox - that's just insulting!!!!! Most of the other links were also for american-only new outlets, and the last links were for bible stories !!!

    Another trend worth noting, and hating, is this insistance on regional specific results. While they may be great if you're looking 'for things to do' like in your article, but its a pain in the neck other times.

    I travel abroad alot, and google, like so many other big players now, insist that when i go to france everything should be in french. It drives me $£%^%ing crazy. They totally ignore my language preferences in favour of their 1990's programming mistakes.

    I cannot use Google Play on my phone when i go to greece as its all in greek!

    I've asked google time and again to respect my language and their responce is No, F Off!

    So, the only thing i can do is tell the share holders that google is missing out on millions of revenue (and annoying customers) ...

  2. Peter
    October 17, 2013 at 8:32 pm

    People have to understand that its not in googles best interest to show you the best search results anymore. Google makes 96% of its revenue by selling ads.

    By showing lower quality search results under higher quality ads google is directly boosting its advertising income and keeping its stock holders happy..
    Google is taking this way to far.

    If you want good search results, use duckduckgo or bing.
    If you want good ads use google

    Its sad to see what an ugly monster google had become. Especially when you realise that when they first started they were THE best by far.

    • Jack C
      October 18, 2013 at 9:09 am

      Google needs to understand, if they keep this up, people will use alternative search engines, therefore less people will do searches and their ad business would be worthless.

      Although, I don't see this happening within a year though.

  3. Ben
    September 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    My daughter recently could not open her door on her lexus. So she called me so i could google
    how do you enter a 2011 lexus is350 with key.
    Could not find with google search.
    When to bing found right away.
    Lack of quality returns on google occurring with more frequency.

  4. Jack C
    August 12, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Ryan, another example of bad Google results.

    Search: makeuseof free software

    First for results are from MUO (and pretty unrelated articles)

    5th result: A 50 word forum post with a link to MUO. WHY?

    6: Google+ status from MUO

    7/8 - one of those search engine generated landing pages that is full of ads

    9: StumbleUpon

    10: howstuff works

    Do the search in Bing, and least it provides links to download type websites.

    Time for a new search engine in my opinion.

    • Peter
      October 17, 2013 at 8:45 pm

      Ryan gizmodo already tested bing as the better searcenginge in 2012
      The bingiton challenge showed the same: bings results were preferred over googles results by the majority of over 1000 test persons..

      Google is such an old habit, nothing more then that. It once was the best but thats years ago. Google results quality keeps declining. Personally i like newcomer duckduckgo a lot.
      Spot on results, no tracking and some really cool features


    • Jack C
      October 18, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Peter, Bing also has a lot of improvements to make. I googled "cash advance" because I wanted the definition. I was getting top results that had a subdomain level of 5+.

      Doing this now, about 1.5 weeks later, it is a lot better.

  5. Jack C
    August 10, 2013 at 4:25 am

    Hello Ryan,

    I too find the quality of my Google Search results are decreasing over time.

    It was great at one stage, now I am getting fed up with not finding the information I want, especially when I know it's there.

    In fact, I find my self starting to use Bing occasionally.

  6. Lisa O
    August 8, 2013 at 6:57 pm

    To that first site's defense some people might find those silly ideas fun. Then looks like something your typical 'I have a hobby that I wanna share to everyone!' guy would make, then somehow neglected. Personally I think you're being too harsh on the search results, but I agree that Google is not perfect (nothing is). That's why I have been trying to master the technique of choosing the best keyword over the years.

  7. george
    August 1, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    You are completely mistaken on the purpose of the Google Search algorithms. The purpose is to find relevant results not useful ones. What you find useful may not be useful to others.

    Google does not know that a poor family is doing a search to find local attractions. You can't expect Google to mindread its searchers and handhold them. Google expect searchers to be smart enough to be precise with their search terms. For example, instead of searching "fun things to do," search "fun things to do in [your location here]".

  8. dragonmouth
    July 31, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    If someone is so lacking in imagination that (s)he has to resort to a Google search to find something fun to do, the person deserves whatever idiotic results (s)he gets.

    Do you know how to specifically improve the search algorithms, or are you just speaking hypothetically, as in: There has to be a way to improve the economy?

    • Ryan Dube
      July 31, 2013 at 11:43 pm

      Ha...there are a lot of unimaginative searches conducted out there. People often turn to Google for things they probably shouldn't. That doesn't excuse poor results.

      As for your question - I have an opinion as to how the existing search algorithm fails in many ways, how many of the recent Panda/Penguin updates have done more harm than good for search results, and if Google were to knock on my door and ask for my advice on how to better identify "high quality" pages, I'd sure give them an earful.

      However, my opinion about how the algorithm should work is irrelevant to this article. The goal was simply to analyze the output of the algorithm, It's up to Google to produce higher quality results using whatever methods they see fit.

      • dragonmouth
        August 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm

        It's all about the bottom line. If making meaningful changes to the algorithm profits Google, those changes will be made. If status quo is more profitable, only cosmetic/minor changes will continue to be made.

        • Ryan Dube
          August 1, 2013 at 1:56 pm

          That's actually a very good point. This can be seen in the increased focus on Google Plus as another factor in a site's search listing - a clear method to make G+ a key player, while any other company would have to crawl up through the ranks of social networks to try and compete. So, yes, I'm sure money is a very powerful driving force behind many of these changes.

  9. John Ross
    July 31, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    recent changes have hurt my site a lot. the fact that I have the most useful videos on photo retouching, and traffic stays a long time, seems to have gotten past Google. good content means little without visitors. to compensate, I've moved my efforts to forums. less traffic for effort, but better targeted fan base.