Search Engine Optimization

A search engine optimization trick led to amusing results.

If you’d Googled “New England Patriots Owner” over the weekend, a box would have popped up informing you said owner is Nick Foles, the Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback who shredded the Pats’ defense in the Super Bowl. It seems a search engine optimization trick that leads to inaccurate snippet results had been deployed in an amusing way.

It wasn’t the first time a sports-related snippet has been manipulated. The Washington Post reports:

Nick Foles does not in fact own the Patriots. He just shredded them for 373 yards and three touchdowns — plus a touchdown catch — in Super Bowl LII.

Robert Kraft, a wealthy Boston financier, owns the team, but not this year’s Lombardi Trophy.

If you’re keeping track, this is the second time in recent months that Google has comically misattributed facts about a major sports property. Back in January, Google said LaVar Ball founded the NBA. When users pointed out the glitch to the search engine, it later claimed New York City founded the NBA.

As funny as many outside New England may have found it, the search engine optimization trick is a serious issue for Google. Gaming Google’s featured snippet boxes has become a sport for pranksters and a tool for malicious hackers alike.

So, according to Slate Future Tense:

Now Google, long notorious for its lack of transparency, has launched a behind-the-scenes series to explain what goes into a search, starting with the announcement that it’s trying to correct the “featured snippets” function. It claims that the feature currently has a failure rate of just 2.6 percent—not bad, until you realize that with 3.5 billion queries being processed every day, that means 91 million searches’ worth of bogus information. And while this clearly needs to be addressed, the proposed tweaks may not be as effective as Google hopes.

You might wonder why Google doesn’t scrap snippets altogether, but they make sense as part of a larger business strategy. 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.