Gardening ruminations

The SEO garbage search result that sent me over the edge

This post is a spiritual successor to LLMs are good coders, useless writers.

After getting steadily worse for years, the experience of searching the web just hit a new all-time low. I clicked on the top non-ad search result and encountered the worst word-salad nonsense I’ve ever seen. It was too perfect not to share.

I had let the small patch of lawn in my yard get knee-high. My reel mower can’t cut grass that tall, so I broke out the old weed whacker I got on the cheap at ShareHouse. It immediately ran out of the cutting string that it came with, so I found myself at the hardware store shopping for a refill.

I didn’t know if I should replace only the string or swap out the whole head. So, standing in Lowe’s, I whipped out my phone and searched it up: “restring toro weed trimmer”

(I winced when my kids started saying “search it up,” but I’ve since come to appreciate it. It avoids centering a corporation, unlike “I Googled it.” And I wasn’t using Google: the DuckDuckGo browser on my phone is, sadly, Microsoft Bing in disguise).

The first non-video result was from “Backyard Lord.” I’ve included screenshots in case that link dies, as it sure ought to.

Looking at it now, the “Pro Tips for Easy Trimming” suffix reeks of LLM garbage, as does the domain “Backyard Lord.” But the listed steps seemed like what I wanted. I clicked on it.

The page started off okay:

But that was the end of the plausible content. The next block was just keywords and mentioned a tennis racket??

The next block contained the prompt for the LLM! All highlighting mine:

From there it becomes free-association insanity. There’s a step-by-step guide … but each step discusses a totally different industry! Step 1, preparation, is about starting a business:

Step 2 is about restringing a guitar:

Step 3 is empty and Step 4 drips with irony as it talks about strings in the context of LLMs:

Later it talks about strings in the context of programming. “String” has so many meanings!

The post goes on a while longer – the PDF version I’ve preserved is 17 pages – and rambles about the importance of time management. It ends with an FAQ about changing the line on a Toro string trimmer, finally looking semi-plausible again. Too late, though.

“Hallucinations” gives too much credit to autocomplete algorithms. More like Microsoft Clippy got blackout drunk from guzzling the whole web and vomited this page back up.

Everyone knows web search has gone down the toilet. Because user attention is the product being sold to advertisers,

  1. Results page are full of ads
  2. Following the ads, many (most?) of the results are LLM-generated nonsense, trying to trick you into viewing another ad

If you’re using Google, the ads are based on surveillance of your behavior on the web. If you’re searching with DuckDuckGo, the Bing-powered search results are substantially worse. In this case, Google’s results for “restring toro weed trimmer” are much better than DuckDuckGo’s and did not include this dumpster fire from Backyard Lord.

What to do about it? Until recently my search process looked like:

  1. Use DuckDuckGo browser on my phone and its search engine on PC.
  2. When DuckDuckGo fails to return a useful result, sigh and search Google in a private browser window.
  3. Append “” to my queries to restrict results to Reddit, where I can be fairly sure that everything is human-written.

Now I use the Kagi search engine, which charges a small fee and in return has no ads or tracking. It searches Google as part of its index, so the results are at least as good as Google’s. It’s nice to view a page of search results without needing to identify which are paid attempts to trick me.

These countermeasures are helpful but insufficient. I increasingly find myself squinting at a page that is suspiciously tailored to my search query, trying to decide if it was written or even edited by a human with any subject knowledge.

The dreadful/wonderful example I’ve provided above captures the dismal state of searching the web in 2024. I’m not betting on it getting better.

In fact, it’s good that this Backyard Lord page was so blatantly fake. Maybe in a year, spammers will be feeding their sites back through LLMs, instructing them to stick to a single topic and remove misplaced fragments. I’ll soon waste even more time wading through fake results, eventually just guessing at how to change the string on my dang weed whacker.

In the end I watched a quick YouTube video and learned what I needed. I find video a tedious, inefficient way to get answers to basic questions, but the medium is harder to fake with AI for profit. At least for now.

Bah. Happy searching, y’all.

3 replies on “The SEO garbage search result that sent me over the edge”

Excellent! Thank you. I will be using “slop” often. The page I blogged about is a particularly aggressive case, but yes but my problem is with the phenomenon of slop as a whole. I agree that “don’t publish slop” is an important ethical baseline.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *