Google Goes On Defensive On Its Search Quality & Forum Results Statements

Google Knight

Recently, we covered some of Google’s rationale for ranking forums like Reddit and Quora so well in the Discussion and Forums box for many queries. Just a few days ago, we covered how I was sad to see Google ranking some dangerous and potentially harmful forum threads for health-related queries.

Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liason, posted comments on a LinkedIn post from Lily Ray defending the statement he made on this topic. I’ll share them all here, because I am sure many of you did not see them:

Catching up on this. I’ve been the one primarily responding to what you’ve raised, so on this part:

“Their response is usually some version of “well, we got a lot of feedback that users like Reddit results and append Reddit to the end of many queries”

That is … nothing that I said. I didn’t say we just show content all the time from Reddit because users like it. I didn’t even say Reddit at all. I definitely did not say we somehow append Reddit to the end of many queries. None of that is, sorry, accurate to what I said. If some other Googler said it, please let me know — but I’m pretty sure no other one has, either.

What I said in summary was:
* We show a Discussions and Forums unit if it seems relevant

* I understand the concerns about this appearing for medical queries

* Apart from this, SEO folks tend to be fairly vocal in disliking seeing more *forum* content in our results — but searchers find it useful for some things

* Our ranking systems are not perfect, and we’ll keep improving them — including this type of feedback, which is appreciated

That is not that we somehow add Reddit to a query, much less every query. That’s not how the forums unit — that shows content from *many forums* works…..

To continue, I also didn’t say we just always show content because people just like it. They do, at times — and it’s useful, at times, and we try to figure that out. But it’s not the same as “they like it, so we always show it” which is what I’ve repeated followed-up on about. Such as:

That’s not what I said and doesn’t seem to pick up the nuance at all in how I replied, sorry. I didn’t say “everyone likes forum content therefore now we always show it!” Nor do we always show it, which is why when you raised this concern again, I replied.

That reply was so long that I have to split it up here, so people can easily read the whole thing….

“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 — is relevant and useful. Where reliability is important, we have systems that work to surface this type of information.

2) With the example you pointed out, again, I appreciate the concern there about surfacing forum content so highly in relation to medical queries. As I said, I passed along that feedback — as I’ve done with previous issues like this that have been raised — to the search team. Perhaps our systems will change to show these less often for such queries. Perhaps we might do a better job with messages / disclaimers if we do show a forum unit — “people here are sharing experiences but many might not be medical professionals” etc. Forums probably do have a role for people seeking information. People suffering illnesses, for example, might want to hear how people are coping generally outside of potential treatments. I’d expect we’ll keep looking at how to improve here.

3) As for forum content generally, a lot of people do indeed like it. That doesn’t mean we’re just going to always show it if it’s not relevant to a query — and again, it’s also not what I said. But we show video content, news content, image content and so on when our systems think that might be useful to show. Forum content is like that, too.

That brings me back to what I said before. I understand the concern, appreciate it, have raised it with the search team — and some are already looking further at this. The goal, as always, is to see how we can further improve things. Thanks for the feedback.

The confusion here is that what Google ranks now in those Discussion and Forum boxes are mostly Reddit and Quora, so Danny doesn’t need to outright say Reddit or Quora, that is what ranks 95% of the time. So I am not sure why there needs to be clarification there.

There is also this post from Danny Sullivan on late Friday as well on X:

I’m sorry my responses have come across as dismissive, if that’s what you’re referring to. I haven’t meant them to be, nor are they being dismissed. The feedback has gone back; people are indeed looking at how to improve here.

To recap why I’d hoped it wouldn’t been seen as dismissive….

“As for showing forum content in relation to medical queries, I said I understand the concerns about that and have passed it along as something we might look at more.” X post

“I can appreciate the concern and issue, and I’ve passed that along to the ranking team to see how we might improve the automated systems here.” X post

“With the example you pointed out, again, I appreciate the concern there about surfacing forum content so highly in relation to medical queries. As I said, I passed along that feedback — as I’ve done with previous issues like this that have been raised — to the search team.” X post

There’s more of that. You can go through my replies. Saying I’m passing feedback along really isn’t like “No, this doesn’t matter.” It does get seen. People are using this type of feedback actively to understand ways to improve. It is appreciated.

And then there is this post on Reddit from about five days ago from Danny Sullivan:

Reddit is not always prioritized over other forums. [super vhs to mac adapter] I did this week, it goes Apple Support Community, MacRumors Forum and further down, there’s Reddit. I also did [kumo cloud not working setup 5ghz] recently (it’s a nightmare) and it was the Netgear community, the SmartThings Community, GreenBuildingAdvisor before Reddit. Related to that was [disable 5g airport] which has Apple Support Community above Reddit. [how to open an 8 track tape] — really, it was the YouTube videos that helped me most, but it’s the Tapeheads community that comes before Reddit.

In your example for [toyota tacoma], I don’t even get Reddit in the top results. I get Toyota, Car & Driver, Wikipedia, Toyota again, three YouTube videos from different creators (not Toyota), Edmunds, a Top Stories unit. No Reddit, which doesn’t really support the notion of always wanting to drive traffic just to Reddit.

If I guess at the more specific query you might have done, maybe [overland mods for toyota tacoma], I get a YouTube video first, then Reddit, then Tacoma World at third — not near the bottom. So yes, Reddit is higher for that query — but it’s not first. It’s also not always first. And sometimes, it’s not even showing at all.

Anyway – it seems Google is aware of the issues many are expressing. It seems Google may make changes based on these issues. How long that might take is unknown. These things can take a while…

Forum discussion at LinkedIn.

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