Many college students believe that a website that lands higher in the Google rankings is automatically a better site with more trustworthy material.
Google is very secretive about how their algorithms work—they just don't want us to know exactly how they rank things (presumably to keep people from gaming the system to boost their websites' rankings), but we do know a few things.
A scholarly article that is just several paragraphs of smart, well-informed writing doesn't do too well in Google rankings. Google claims that "quality content" is one of its criteria, but there is no way a machine can sort truth from lies. About all they can do is look for variety of language and sentence length.
This article from the Guardian newspaper discusses a strategy for dealing with a key Nazi agenda item that was Google's top search result: "How to bump Holocaust deniers off Google's top spot? Pay Google."
Things have changed since the article was published. When I typed "Did the Holocaust happen" into the search engine in 2019, I got a lot of links to sites discussing Holocaust denial. Nevertheless, the lesson is still good.
"Stormfront" didn't get to the top of the rankings list because it had the best information. And Carole Cadwalladr didn't manage to bump "Stormfront" from the top spot because she had better information. She just paid Google £24.01.
The standard Google search which we all use was made to sell things. If my site for wool hats has a lot of traffic, says "wool hats" frequently, and has a lot of links from people who liked my hats, that's good for business. The definition of a "good" academic website is somewhat different.
Google has attempted to address this with Google Scholar. Give it a try as you search for material. You will find sources with a lot more "meat" there.
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Revised 7/12/20 • Page author: Curtis Allen • e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.