Article / Writing

How to rid your search results of unreliable and low-grade content + list of sites to block

Sometimes you have to click through to the forth of fifth page of Google results to get past the content-farmed sites and unhelpful Quora pages, and it’s starting to get really annoying. What’s particularly concerning is that the average web user won’t go past the first five search results – meaning that corporate sponsored content is getting more of an ear than quality research and writing, and that people are often making decisions based on low-quality and unreliable information.

Content marketing – corporate advertising disguised as articles, blog posts, company “news”, videos, and more – is being created on an industrial scale. The global spend on content marketing is predicted to reach US $313 billion this year. This means the composition of information on the Internet is shifting towards marketing and non-expert articles written to drive up site hit rates and advertising clicks.

Unfortunately, there are only two ways to get around this. You can either use Boolean search techniques to exclude certain websites from your results, or you can install an extension and build your own personal website block list.

Boolean searches:

When searching for health information, I like to exclude WebMD (see below for why). So a search would look like this:

eye strain -webmd.com

When planning travel, I find Trip Advisor dominates the results and their recommendation lists are lacking. So I search:

Florianopolis nature -tripadvisor.com

If you want to get rid of any for-profit or privately owned websites from your results, search for

Mental health -site:*.com

biscuit -site:*.com

biscuit -inurl:*.com

Building a block list:

There are extensions you can install for Chrome, and Firefox that will add a “block this site” option to each search result, enabling you to build up a list of sites blocked from future searches.

Ublacklist for Chrome includes a notice at the top of the page that results have been blocked. You can click “Show” to reveal the blocked results. Reviews suggest the block list doesn’t translate across to news or images. Google used to have its own extension for blocking sites, but shut it down.

Hit Hider for Chrome and Firefox – this one adds a “block” button to your search results, in Google, DuckDuckGo, Startpage.com, Bing and Yahoo. You can choose between blocking the website domain, or just subdomains (eg About.com or Dogs.about.com) and can edit your block list. It involves a bit more fluffing about though than the above app – first you have to add an extension to your browser, then install the script. More instructions in the link.

Personal block list for Firefox only – this works in a very similar way to Ublocklist, but is for Firefox. Users do complain about the small text added under each search result.

Other methods

In Chrome, you can also modify your default query in chrome://settings/searchEngines by adding sites you want excluded to the query URL. I tried this and struggled, but there are more instructions here.

Sites to consider blocking

Each person will have a gammut of sites that aren’t research based, are conspiracy based, are news sites fired by the right-wing hate machine, and so on… that they would love to block. Go for it. What I’m including below are the sites that pop up all the time when you are doing a basic search to quickly check a fact or find somewhere to go on the weekend. These sites often occupy most of the first page of search results, taking up space from websites that are independent, ad free, credible and reliable, and based on expert knowledge, research, or genuine hard effort.

WebMD – This site earned $561.3 million in 2016 from advertising and sponsored content — 79.6 percent of its total revenue, according to its annual report. A lot of its health “information” is actually sponsored content, with a commercial interest behind their recommended “cures.” It’s not worth it – go to the NHS site or other sites that end in .edu .org or .gov, as they aren’t for profit.

Pinterest – It keeps popping up in my results with info and advice about topics, but when you click on the link its just a bunch of unrelated pinned pictures.

Quora – Another one that fills your search results with non-expert commentary.

Yahoo answers – See Quora, same deal.

Heathline – Similar to WebMD, with an estimated annual revenue of $97 million, this website exists for ad revenue, not to help people who can’t afford to go to the doctor to get health information.

Tripadviser – This site can be useful sometimes, but it’s annoying when most of the first page is dominated by Tripadviser, when what you really need is the actual homepage of the hostel or nature reserve.

Cheapflights , Expedia – these horrible sites and their 5,000 ads pop up whenever you search for flights – but here’s a tip; if you really want a cheap flight, use a combination of www.google.com/flights and the airline’s website.

Buzzfeed: Some Buzzfeed content is actually pretty good. Most of it is baseless, unimaginative listicles and clickbate that waste your headspace.

Alibaba, Ebay, Houzz, Walmart, and Amazon: Again, its a personal choice – but if you’re sick of the Internet trying to sell you something every time you Google how to fix that random household object, or a book or movie you want to find more about, block them. Remember – you can still visit these websites if you use Ublacklist or Hit Hider, as you’re merely blocking them from your search results.

Feature photo source: https://searchengineland.com/native-advertising-new-marketing-workhorse-263071