Sullivan says the changes to the way Google handles search rankings to promote content from real people rather than content farms that optimize content for search engines work in tandem with other efforts, such as improving results for pages with product reviews.

Not that there is anything wrong with SEO, the practice of optimizing web pages so that they rank higher in search engines. “It helps us find and understand relevant content,” says Sullivan, “SEO is not some special technique to appear at the top of the results. The main thing is what we have pleased everyone for a long time: create useful content for people, not for search engines.”

How big of a problem is spam?

This is a 40 billion a day problem. This is the number of pages with spam and harmful content that Google Search detects every day. Sullivan says that Google’s continued efforts filter out about 99 percent, but the volume of malicious and spam content continues to grow.

Google uses an artificial intelligence-based spam prevention system called SpamBrain, which Sullivan said led to the detection of six times more spammy sites in 2021 than the previous year.

Should I be worried about malware in Google Ads and in the results?

There have been several high-profile cases of malware sneaking into search engine ads this year, including the recent ad case. Google’s failure to curtail some types of misleading ads, including some for anti-abortion information centers and ads for scam services purporting to be run by the government, has drawn criticism.

As with spam and search, Google Ads is constantly fighting to get rid of malicious content and bad players. Google Ads Liaison Ginny Marvin says Google Ads participates in this by “verifying the identity of advertisers and detecting coordinated activity between accounts using signals in our network.” She says their efforts include automated systems as well as human background checks to try to monitor abuse in more than 180 countries. This is a big task. “To give a sense of the scale of our enforcement efforts in 2021, we removed more than 3.4 billion ads, restricted more than 5.7 billion ads and suspended more than 5.6 billion advertiser accounts,” — she says.

But it’s not perfect. Marvin says this helps to understand where and when ads actually appear in search results. Users who think they are clicking on something suspicious can first click on the three dots next to the ad and select “About this ad,” which contains information about the advertiser and why they were shown the ad. Advertiser pages show other ads the advertiser has shown in the last 30 days. If it’s something harmful, users can report the ad in question. And the recently launched Google My Ads Center gives users more control over what types of ads they see. You can block sensitive ads and personalize the types of ads that will be shown.

Some advocates say that’s not good enough. Cathy Paul, director of the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project, says Google has been warned about these problems for years and hasn’t taken major steps to address malware and misinformation. “We’ve seen time and time again that there’s harmful content or material flaws that appear in Google search ads, and everyone seems to get the same response over and over again, even though Google isn’t actually fixing the problem,” says Paul.

Are Google Shopping sellers legit?

If you’re already going through your holiday shopping list, you may have occasionally noticed deals in your Google Shopping results that seemed too good to be true. For example, shopping for a certain in-demand video card might return a bunch of price-matched results, and one or two websites you’ve never heard of that have the price down so much that it seems suspicious.

That’s a problem for Google, says Matt Madrigal, vice president of retail. “We’re constantly adapting to keep bad listing merchants out of our platforms, and that’s an area we’re focusing heavily on as we grow the number of merchants and products listed on Google,” he says. “There is no finish line in the fight against fraud.”

Madrigal says merchants are subject to, among other things, a policy that specifically prohibits misleading and counterfeit goods. As with search and advertising, the verification of these providers involves automation and human verification. But Madrigal says Google Shopping also relies on user feedback to identify suspected fraudulent sellers. Google doesn’t have a direct way to report sellers on product carousel pages, but it does have a general Shopping support page with a virtual agent where users can report bad players.

As with Google Ads, Paul says this trend toward requiring users to control the system is a concern if the company has the resources to hire more content moderators and experts. “We’re seeing the same reaction from Google,” says Paul. “Just like Facebook, we’re seeing companies saying, ‘Report this information when you see it,’ but at the same time, this multibillion-dollar company is once again putting the onus on users to clean up their own search platform, their primary revenue engine.”

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