Google has succeeded because, like it or not, it tends to deliver better results than other search engines. And Google’s efforts to provide “zero-click” results with its Knowledge Panel, Featured Snippets and other rich results, have accustomed us to seeing the result in a easy-to-read box without needing to click through any of the results. As more of our queries are spoken rather than typed—by asking our smartphone or our smart speaker—we are relying on Google to select the one “best” answer to our question, since we’re not able to scroll through a list of results.
Many of these zero-click results are fine; if you ask Google for the population of Poughkeepsie, you’ll get a figure from 2017 US Census Bureau data (30,614 to be exact).
However, I just tried asking Google about a quote often attributed to Abraham Lincoln. When I typed in the query who said If you want to test a man’s character, give him power, the zero-click result repeated the erroneous attribution, even though the first organic search result is to a Snopes.com article which explains that the quote was actually said about Lincoln by writer and orator Robert Ingersoll almost two decades after Lincoln’s death. Had I asked Google about this quote on a device that does not display the first result, I would have relied on popular but incorrect information.
The next time you’re tempted to rely on that quick answer at the top of your Google search results, consider scrolling down to see what other information may be out there.