Marketers Say Most of Google’s Public Statements Are False or Misleading

In July and August of 2019, 1,589 web marketers completed an online questionnaire as part of SparkToro’s Google Ranking Factors Survey. The survey aggregated marketers’ perceptions of the ranking elements used by Google’s search engine. But… it also asked a set of questions around the level of trust in Google’s public statements. Those results are shared for the first time here.

Aggregated distribution of ratings across all 20 statements covered in the survey

The survey asked: “How truthful do you rate the following Google statements by the following scale?

  • 0 – Provably False: you’ve seen evidence that this isn’t accurate
  • 2 – Technically Correct, but Misleading (TCBM): there’s a truthful way to interpret the statement, but it’s not the whole truth and may mislead people
  • 4 – 100% Transparent: the whole, helpful truth

Each of the 20 public statements presented in this fashion used a format that linked to the web page verifying the source of the remarks, the context, and full quotes (where available), e.g.

Regarding web page text in non-visible tabs, accordions, etc: “we index the content, its weight is fully considered for ranking” (source)

Response averages on this 0-4 scale ranged from 1.1 – 3.2. Broadly speaking, a large majority of professional marketers disbelieve most of Google’s public statements. The overall average across 20 public statements by Google’s representatives was 1.97. This suggests either considerable skepticism on the part of marketers or consistently misleading statements by Google’s reps (or both).

Below are the statements rated in the survey, response distributions, and averages listed in order from the most-believed statements to the least.

My analysis of these responses led to several thoughts:

  • Marketers (at least those who took this survey) are generally savvy, thoughtful, and experienced. Their skepticism in Google’s statements leaned largely how I’d expect, giving greater weight to statements with more nuance and flexibility vs. those that made universal, blanket-declarative pronouncements.
  • If I were a Google representative tasked with making public statements about how the search engine operates, I would use these responses to reflect on my and my colleagues’ goals. If trust and the perception of transparency are important, there’s considerable room for improvement.
  • For those who are just beginning their journey in search marketing, this survey is a good reminder that many of the more successful professionals in the field have healthy skepticism toward Google’s public statements. Repeating and amplifying those statements without critical assessment may be misleading others, and could harm your or your clients’ prospects for optimal performance.

I’m looking forward to running this survey again in 2020, and seeing how perception might shift. My hope is that Google’s representatives improve their transparency, empathy, and knowledge, and that in years to come, there’s more trust able to be placed in the statements the company makes.

Google controls 2/3rds of all web traffic. They have more than 90% market share in search in 95%+ of the world’s countries. And they’re arguably the most dominant source of information on the planet. That comes (as it should) with high expectations and intense scrutiny. I’d love to see Google step up to the challenge.