After launching a feature that adds more AI junk than ever to search results, Google is experimenting with a radical new feature that lets users see only the results they were looking for, in the form of normal text links. As in, what most people actually use Google for.

“We’ve launched a new ‘Web’ filter that shows only text-based links, just like you might filter to show other types of results, such as images or videos,” the official Google Search Liaison Twitter account, run by Danny Sullivan, posted on Tuesday. The option will appear at the top of search results, under the “More” option.

“We’ve added this after hearing from some that there are times when they’d prefer to just see links to web pages in their search results, such as if they’re looking for longer-form text documents, using a device with limited internet access, or those who just prefer text-based results shown separately from search features,” Sullivan wrote. “If you’re in that group, enjoy!” 

Searching Google has become a bloated, confusing experience for users in the last few years, as it’s gradually started prioritizing advertisements and sponsored results, spammy affiliate content, and AI-generated web pages over authentic, human-created websites. 

At its annual I/O conference on Tuesday, Google announced that it’s doubling down on these AI-generated results that users hate, with “AI Overviews,” an AI-generated summary at the top of search results. Google’s older search products routinely get things wrong, like when Google Images returned images of the wrong guy for a murder case and incorrect statistics pulled from podcasts. No one seems to want this feature, and inaccurate AI-generated Google results have become their own meme, including screenshots of apparently AI-generated Google results for “food names that end in ‘um’” showing “applum, bananum, strawberrum” and “how to pass kidney stones quickly” returning the answer “you should aim to drink at least 2 quarts (2 liters) of urine every 24 hours.” I wasn’t able to replicate those answers myself, but just the fact that people are memeing about it shows that users know it’ll probably suck.

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I tried searching “what are some foods that end in um” and Google’s AI Overview returned a long list of three-letter foods, which is not at all what I asked for.

Screenshot via Google

But the company seems confident that throwing more AI at the problem—especially for more complex situations, as Google’s head of Search Liz Reid told the Verge—will somehow make search better or more useful.

Low-quality sites that play the search engine optimization game with Google’s ranking algorithm are a big part of why Google sucks now. 404 Media recently spoke to researchers who studied how and why Google search has gotten so much worse; the researchers said that “higher-ranked pages are on average more optimized, more monetized with affiliate marketing, and they show signs of lower text quality …  we find that only a small portion of product reviews on the web uses affiliate marketing, but the majority of all search results do.” 

These problems with Google search pose a serious discoverability problem for smaller, independent sites like our own, but also ones like House Fresh, which has documented their own struggles to be found in a sea of bad Google results. 

Giving people the option to opt out of more AI-generated bloat is good, but the “Web” search filter will likely still be plagued by the same SEO ranking issues that currently make Google a pain to use. At the time of writing, 404 Media did not yet have access to this feature.

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