Google has a problem on its hands as search engine optimization for malicious or inaccurate sites leads to inaccuracies in the snippet boxes shown to users.
According to Slate’s Future Tense:
There’s certainly demand for a quick, correct answer at the top of the page, and they’re also valuable for voice-activated tech, because they offer a single decisive reply to a query instead of forcing the user to listen to lots of results. The problem is that the search engine doesn’t always choose correctly, which leads to Google Home cheerfully informing Twitter users that “every woman has some degree of prostitute in her” and “Obama may be planning a communist coup d’É-T-A-T.” (Home apparently can’t pronounce coup d’état.) Given that 600 million people worldwide use voice assistants at least once a week, it’s crucial that the answers they provide are the right ones. So why does it sometimes go so wrong?
The answer, as Future Tense has previously reported, lies chiefly in the shift toward the “semantic web,” which standardizes the sorting and structuring of web pages so that computers can read them directly. This allows Google to scrape data from other sites, often obscuring the source in the process. The idea is that all of this will lead to smarter, more relevant results, even as the curation of information is being done by algorithms instead of humans.
As a result, it’s possible to game the system to an extent, and search engine optimizers have documented methods of doing so. If you anticipate the questions users are most likely to ask and the way they’re likely to ask them, you can score a featured snippet in just a few days. This may sound obvious, but it also gets at something important: The snippets you see have to do with the way your search is formulated, inadvertently confirming whatever biases you may have had at the outset.
Google is pursuing a couple solutions to this search engine optimization conundrum. The company will introduce labels allowing users to more easily narrow their search, and will provide more than one snippet per search.