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Is Google Getting Worse?

Is Google Getting Worse? A Longitudinal Investigation of SEO Spam in Search Engines. Janek Bevendorff, Matti Wiegmann, Martin Potthast, and Benno Stein.”Many users of web search engines have been complaining in recent years about the supposedly decreasing quality of search results. This is often attributed to an increasing amount of search-engine-optimized but low-quality content. Evidence for this has always been anecdotal, yet it’s not unreasonable to think that popular online marketing strategies such as affiliate marketing incentivize the mass production of such content to maximize clicks. Since neither this complaint nor affiliate marketing as such have received much attention from the IR community, we hereby lay the groundwork by conducting an in-depth exploratory study of how affiliate content affects today’s search engines. We monitored Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo for a year on 7,392 product review queries. Our findings suggest that all search engines have significant problems with highly optimized (affiliate) content—more than is representative for the entire web according to a baseline retrieval system on the ClueWeb22. Focussing on the product review genre, we find that only a small portion of product reviews on the web uses affiliate marketing, but the majority of all search results do. Of all affiliate networks, Amazon Associates is by far the most popular. We further observe an inverse relationship between affiliate marketing use and content complexity, and that all search engines fall victim to large-scale affiliate link spam campaigns. However, we also notice that the line between benign content and spam in the form of content and link farms becomes increasingly blurry—a situation that will surely worsen in the wake of generative AI. We conclude that dynamic adversarial spam in the form of low-quality, mass-produced commercial content deserves more attention.”

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