Inconvenienced by inaccurate information on Google’s search results

I usually search tide times in Fort Lauderdale when I’m about to go paddling as there are some spots that only allow for paddling when the tide is high. Everytime I search “Tide fort Lauderdale” I get these old results from Almanac that have incorrect tide times. If people don’t attempt to the fact that its old they might rely on the info Google is showing from Almanac.com.

And that’s what happened to me. On a saturday a few months ago, I search for that term and went on my merry way to paddle Whiskey Creek in Dania Beach, by Fort Lauderdale. It’s a beautiful creek by the ports entrance and with the beach on the other side. But when the tide is low, the water gets real low and does not allow for any paddling as your fins touch the floor and you can get grounded.

We checked the conditions quickly and headed out the door to have some fun. Unlike the results for that day, the tide kep going out instead of coming back up which I was relying to according to the shown results. After paddling out to the spot we wanted to check, we had to head back as we could barely move the board. We took it in stride and took advantage of the situation by recording a fun video for TikTok.

Stuck in Whiskey Creek with the low tide after relying on inacurate search results on Google
Stuck in Whiskey Creek with the low tide after relying on inaccurate search results on Google

My situation was harmless and caused no major issues. I could have spent an extra second perusing the results and would have seen that the tide results shown were from a different date.

But what’s the point of showing old results for this search? If I search for “tide times in my location”, I probably want to know the tide times right now, not in the past. If you have a product that shows results from a website you need to make sure that that information is accurate.

As of Sunday, September 13th, 2020, Google featured snippets quick results still show old results for “tide fort lauderdale”. See I search that term often, sometimes more than once a week as my paddling habits are not as well defined and when I get the urge to go, I want to know where I can go paddling.

Now, I just skip the first quick answer box results and click the first websites, which have reliable tide times information. I usually check Magic Seaweed or Tide-forecast.com

Who is responsible for the correct information? Google or the websites it searches

Well that is a great question. The website is responsible for showing accurate information and Google takes that into account when they pick who to show on the top results. Relevancy and authority are some of the criteria to rank a website well.

Google is responsible for showing that incorrect result pertaining to my search. They didn’t take into account when I wanted to see tide times for. They just showed what I looked for and took Almanac’s authority as if it was correct information. Google did show the date the results was for but that wasn’t prominent and that day was not the day I was looking for.

So it’s becomes a matter of search quality, and Google is very capable of showing relevant results using their powerful algorithms.

I “blame” Google for making me get stuck inside the river that day. But I also didn’t check other sources, I didn’t confirm the date (or confirm the veracity of the information) and the rest is history. One is supposed to be able to analyze information and make informed decisions.

Now Almanac does have correct information on their website. On the day I’m writing this article, the tide times are correct. I checked if with other websites. And that’s why Google chose them to show on the top of the results. Essentially Google is saying this is a trustworthy website. And they are, but why is Google showing an incorrect date for searches?

Tide times on the Old Farmer's Almanac Website
Tide times results of the Old Farmers Almanac the day I wrote the article are correct.

Google is using the table (an html) Almanac uses to structure the tide information: Time, Height And Tide, and show that in a snippet of information directly on Google’s search results. Those snippets of information are called “Featured Snippets” or Quick Answers box.

What are Google’s Quick Answer box results?

The quick Answer box results or Featured Snippets are those answers to a question or a search query that Google shows on top of the search engine results page. It usually shows straight forward answers, easy to consume, such as the one I was looking for.

I simply wanted to know when the tide was going to be high that day.

Google captures those “answers” from information provided by websites. Google itself doesn’t create the information, it’s taken from other websites as Google simply searches for it and organizes the results.

Answer boxes provide easy-to-digest answers at the top of the results so that one finds the information they seek without having to click off to another website. The opportunity for website owners is to complement the answer on the websites if the user is interested in more information.

Google started this new way of showing information back in 2014 and slowly improved it over time. These quick results are useful for quick answers instead of going into each result website and reading it. These snipets of information are very useful even though they don’t necessarily bring that traffic to your website. If your website gets shown there, you should be able to answer the question at hand, and provide additional information on your website.

For a website owner, you want to bring traffic to your website so why show those quick answers directly on the Google results page? Well, the opportunity, however, is that if your site’s content is featured there, a link back to your site should be available, and take advantage of that prominent visibility.

These answer boxes are pulled from high-ranking websites that Google trusts to provide users with the correct information. They appear most frequently in response to question queries, such as those beginning with ‘what is’ or ‘how to’, so it’s very important for brands that wish to maintain a strong digital presence to make sure their website is well represented within these rich answers.

Inaccurate search results on Google
Inaccurate search results on Google.

How to make sure my website shows on the Featured Snippets / Quick Answers box?

1) Whatever your topic/content/website is about make sure the article you want to show on Quick Answers is complete and clarifying. I won’t stress make good content, as that’s a given.

2) Quick Answers are not just taken from results in position 1 on the SERP. The  answers can come from any result on the page, although the majority come from the top 5 results. So you need to make sure your article ranks on the 5 top results for the search you are targeting.

3) Structure the page visually with the user experience in mind. Items such as starting with a list of topics up top, then using H2 or H3 titles and develop those topics in dept throughout the article.

4) Include the phrase “How to”, or “How does” or, any other phrases that help show Google that you are answering a query. Using bullet points also helps clearly define the steps on the How To guide.

5) Using useful information that complements the information also helps: videos can also show on Quick Answers, so use videos, PDFs, images, etc… the content itself will most likely have to be longer than 1000 words (as that has become “standard” between all websites all there, to define a more in depth content) but not longer than 2000 words.

6) Now, the most important part. Google has made it easier overtime to give answers to questions. They use a scheme conveniently called “Schema” which essentially is a model. A standardization that gives the search engines more information about your website in a way that’s invisible to your users.

If you are new  to search engine optimization (SEO), “schema” usually refers to the specifications listed on schema.org. The Schema types worth focusing on are FAQ, HowTo, and Q&A Schema, which present great opportunities to improve organic search traffic to your website with eye-catching, real estate-grabbing listing features that show directly on Google, but with a “Learn More” link that brings traffic to your site.

  • The entire content of each “step” must be marked up
  • Not using HowTo markup to advertise a product
  • Including relevant images, as well as materials and tools used to complete the task

The practical way to understand Schema is that is a markup code you are going to put on the html of your article that will tell Google what is the Question and what is the answer, and details of the answer.

If you use WordPress, they have plugins that create the FAQ and other Schemas for you and make it very easy where you should place the answer and the question.

Schemas are here to stay and becoming more and more complex. They are useful as they give search engines additional information that aim to tell the user more about your website, how reliable your information is, etc…

How to report incorrect search results to Google?

If you are annoyed by incorrect or inaccurate information shown by Google, you can report that information using the Snippet itself that Google shows. It has a “Feedback” button on the bottom part of the featured snippet. Google at the footer of the page also has a Feedback button.

The feedback button takes a screenshot of the search results screen and a description box to describe the error.

But I really wanted to make sure Google heard my complaint so I went to the Google Search community help forum and reported it as Incorrect Search Results. Let’s see what happens from here. Will update this article when that happens.

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