Answer Boxes Gone Commercial. Prime time position for “smallest car camera” for Amazon. pic.twitter.com/ALmL8BfTXk
— cognitiveSEO (@cognitiveSEO) April 12, 2015
Ok, let me start off by saying this is not my find. It was originally found and tweeted by Cognitive SEO and Wordstream did a really nice job of writing a follow up here.
From a content builder’s perspective, the Google Knowledge Graph and the ginormous answer boxes are just awful. The argument that’s been made for this is that it helps people find the information they need. This would be true if the information that was being pull was actually fact checked, but as we’ve seen with the recent Long Beach Police Department phone number issue, that isn’t the case at all.
All of this to a certain degree is not surprising, especially given all the jokes about “if it’s on the internet, it must be true”. The problem though is that the answer box was originally set up as a fact scraper which primarily seems to rely on Wikipedia, a site notorious for opinions being presented as facts (due in large part to the fact that literally anyone can create an account and edit any article on the site).
Now, not only are they at times presenting “facts” that are inaccurate, but they’re positioning these “fact” boxes with a direct link to purchase said listed product. Essentially, they have trained their users to look for their facts in those answer boxes, but now that is quietly being turned into an advertisement. Take a look at the embeeded post above. Take a look at this screenshot I took myself (using the same search term as the others, natch). Tell me where Google flags this as commercial.
Now I’m sure what Google would say if asked (and they actually responded) would be something along the lines of “this isn’t an ad, because we’re just pulling facts from a trusted website and presenting the information”. I suppose they’re not technically “ads” as I doubt that Amazon is paying for this placement, but the listing does lead directly to a page that sells the product being shown in their answer box.
Rather than talk about the ethical mess they’re creating my completely erasing the line between editorial content and advertising, let’s talk about the “facts”. Is this really the world’s smallest car cam? Does Google even realize (or care) that the title, description and specs weren’t even written by Amazon? They were actually written by “zjchao123″ (some rando Amazon seller who also happens to sell anal butt plugs, digital turntables and “breathable ball gags”).
As someone who also sells on Amazon, I can tell you that they continually allow sellers to put whatever the hell they want in the title and the specs. I can’t count the number of times we’ve received calls asking for free cases with their pool cues just because some jackass went and rewrote the title and description to include that information. And this is who Google is trusting for their precious answer boxes.
When you get down to it, the the Google Answer Box is nothing more than a very poorly devised scraper. The irony of course is that they have specific rules about scraping in their quality guidelines. Here’s what they have to say about scrapers (excluding themselves of course):
“Purely scraped content, even from high-quality sources, may not provide any added value to your users without additional useful services or content provided by your site; it may also constitute copyright infringement in some cases. It’s worthwhile to take the time to create original content that sets your site apart.”
So is it really the world’s smallest car camera? I don’t know and I really don’t care. What I do know is that if I want to find the real answer, I wouldn’t get it from something as unreliable as Google’s answer boxes (not that Yahoo Answers or any of the other thin content, crowdsourced Q&A sites are any better). You know what else I know? This feature of Google is the epitome of scraping. They take information from other sites, don’t add anything new or original and force feed it to their users. Now that’s a company that really cares about their users.
Can’t wait to get the call from my Adwords rep telling me about this awesome new advertising opportunity. I’m figuring it will happen, oh I don’t know, say around November. The perfect time to maximize new ad sales and push all organic below the fold once and for all.