SEO Expert Dubai

Examining Google’s “From sources across the web” SERP feature, its resemblance to programmatic SEO content, and its effect on fair competition

Recent scandals involving Google have sparked concerns regarding the fairness, accuracy, transparency, and ethical implications of the dominance of major brands in search results.This article delves into the intersection of these factors by examining how Google utilizes list-based features on search engine results pages (SERPs) to bolster their financial interests, often in contradiction to their own content guidelines and advice.By the conclusion, it becomes evident how list-based SERP features closely mimic programmatic SEO practices, which Google’s own representatives have previously criticized as spam.These features not only fall short of delivering on their promise to enhance user experience but also diminish the visibility of legitimate publishers with original content, thereby exacerbating issues within the search landscape.

How “From Sources Across the Web” Came to Dominate Search Results

Google began experimenting with carousels around 2017 and later, in approximately 2020, introduced content summaries for list-based content.In approximately 2022, Google initiated the introduction of a SERP feature titled “From Sources Across the Web,” which currently seems to have supplanted all previous list-based content summary SERP features.Table 1: A Timeline of Google's Efforts to Summarize and Organize List-Based Content from Web Publishers                                  Table 1: A Timeline of Google’s Efforts to Summarize and Organize List-Based Content from Web PublishersGoogle now utilizes “From Sources Across the Web” for various search queries, primarily those with commercial intent, such as:
  • Best (e.g., best date spots in {city}, best small towns near {city}, best {service provider}, best {software type}, best {software type for})
  • Checklist (e.g., YouTube checklist)
  • {type} software (e.g., SEO software, analytics software, ERP software)
  • Date ideas in {location} (e.g., date ideas for couples in Dallas, date ideas for families in California)
  • {industry} tools (e.g., SEO tools, SaaS tools, Analytics tools)

How “From Sources Across the Web” Relates to Programmatic SEO

When considering programmatic content, it’s often associated with either content generated programmatically (via tools like ChatGPT or similar) or spam (as mentioned by Google spokespeople).However, programmatic SEO operates differently. It’s database-driven, where all information is stored in a database and dynamically populates a page template to generate unique pages.While the content aspect of programmatic SEO can be generated programmatically (using generative AI), historically, this hasn’t been the norm. Usually, the content is sourced from internal databases of large enterprises. For instance, consider the following databases and their utilization:
  • utilizes its hotel list to generate content in formats such as {hotel type/descriptor – e.g., luxury, family} hotels in {location}.
  • Expedia leverages its flights database to produce content in formats like cheap flights to {destination}.
  • G2 utilizes its company database to create content in formats such as best {industry} software.
To populate the data in this SERP feature, Google is extracting information from the most active list-based content websites, which are often major corporations, and integrating it with its own data on entities and brands.This process is elucidated in some of their patent filings, particularly patent US11720920B1 from 2021, which outlines a content management system or storage system (essentially, a database) wherein eligible content items (entities, brands) are amalgamated with top search results to formulate a unified search result item.
This approach directly corresponds with the concept of programmatic SEO, which involves database-driven content structured through a reusable template prior to being showcased to the user.

Why this approach is detrimental for both users and publishers, and despite the drawbacks, why Google continues to implement it (Hint: it’s driven by financial motives)

Now that we’ve established the fundamentals and traced the journey leading up to this point, let’s delve into the perennial query:Does this genuinely enhance search outcomes and user satisfaction, or is it merely another strategy employed by Google to serve its own interests?

Analysis of SERP accuracy, authority, and overall quality in connection with search intent.

Let’s explore the searcher’s journey by examining the query [best SEO consultants], which displays the From sources across the web SERP feature.Our goal is to evaluate the accuracy and relevance of the information provided. Based on the image below, we can derive the following observations.There are 24 positions available for SEO consultants to be featured:Only 14 of those spots are occupied by actual SEO consultants, with the remaining 10 being organizations or agencies. Out of the 14 individuals mentioned in the SERP feature, 7 no longer practice SEO consulting. Some have moved on to other ventures, while others have transitioned to new roles, including positions at Google. Only 2 of the 14 individuals are women, and just 3 are people of color. Out of the 24 available slots, only 7 provide data that directly and accurately addresses the user’s query. (Now, we encounter yet another challenge in achieving equality for women and minorities.)Let’s dig deeper and ask: where is Google obtaining this information? Given Google’s reputation, one might assume they use reliable and diverse sources. However, that’s not the case.Upon closer examination, we find several significant issues with the sources selected for this SERP feature:Google selects sources that do not align with the search intent. For instance, an “SEO expert” does not necessarily equate to an “SEO consultant.Google gathers information from non-authoritative, non-factual sources, including affiliate/sponsored link sites or spammy websites. For instance, out of 80 links found in the search results for “best SEO consultants,” the breakdown is as follows:
  • 30 links are from LinkedIn Pulse, mainly featuring AI-generated content.
  • 7 links are from
  • 4 links are from Medium blogs.
  • The sample contains very few links that would be deemed reliable and definitive sources for such a query.
  • In total, there are only 27 unique sources that contributed to this SERP feature.
  • Google doesn’t generate original research for these panels.
  • Google doesn’t fact-check the information presented.
  • Google doesn’t utilize all available web sources to compile these summaries.

What drives Google to pursue this approach?

I understand what many of you may be thinking: “Analyzing all web sources to create these panels must incur significant costs to deliver information at scale, with precision.”Indeed, this is true. Properly executing such a task would not only be costly and resource-intensive for Google but would also necessitate understanding the content of webpages rather than relying solely on links or click data. However, as Google hinted in their antitrust trial, they may not yet possess the capability to do this.Nevertheless, it’s crucial to understand why Google is implementing this approach. What type of websites typically invest in and benefit the most from programmatic SEO (database-driven) content?The first category that comes to mind is large enterprises with extensive databases, as these are essential for running successful programmatic SEO campaigns. Consider:
  • Travel: Expedia, TripAdvisor, Skyscanner,
  • SaaS: Zapier, Canva
  • Reviews: G2, Clutch
During the antitrust trial, representatives from Expedia and accused Google of monopolizing search results by unfairly promoting their competitor micro-organizations (such as Google Flights and Google Hotels) and altering search results pages while simultaneously increasing advertising costs to deter competition.Returning to the From sources across the web snippet, the only way to surpass this block of text is by paying for a sponsored placement.List-based queries have become a pay-to-play scenario. Companies must either pay a third party to include them in questionable lists or pay Google for sponsored posts to appear before the SERP feature. This strategy allows Google to directly target companies that would typically dominate organic search results for these queries, forcing them to either pay for visibility or risk losing user clicks to their websites.Although there is no specific research on click interactions with this particular featured snippet, data from 2017 indicated that featured snippets appeared at the top position in about a third of search results. Additionally, there has been an increase in the average number of clicks they receive. In 2017, featured snippets received approximately 8.6% of clicks when in Position 1 on average, while a more recent study from 2022 revealed that this number has risen to 35.1%. This suggests that, on average, featured snippets now capture 35.1% of the total click share.Since the publication of these studies, featured snippets have become even more prevalent in terms of screen size and frequency of appearance. It’s likely that a present-day study on featured snippets would show an even greater impact on clicks on organic search results.

This practice not only harms users and publishers but also negatively impacts the overall search and information landscape

This practice exacerbates a significant issue—it suppresses genuinely unique and original ideas, further deteriorating the search and information landscape.In many instances I investigated during my research, users are left worse off with the information presented in the SERP feature compared to visiting any of the top-ranked pages.Allow me to elaborate.Imagine you have your own independent website or work for one, and your niche’s search results are dominated by these snippets. When you begin creating your content in a listicle format, you’ll need to examine the top-ranked results and the search snippet data and, to some extent, replicate the information in them as part of your list.However, any reputable consultant will emphasize the importance of enhancing the list by incorporating new ideas, concepts, original data, research, and fresh perspectives. So, you include numerous original and highly relevant ideas in your lists—ideas that no other website has covered. But will they be featured in the snippet? Unlikely.Your small website is unlikely to be featured due to perceived lack of authoritativeness, regardless of how valuable and original your content is. Therefore, to secure a placement in this feature, your list should mention things that other websites have already covered. As a result, users are only exposed to unoriginal ideas as part of the SERP’s top result—the snippet.This perpetuates a cycle of unoriginality, reinforcing top results for queries that are crucial for users and publishers alike. In my view, this is one reason why people seek more personal recommendations and original ideas from platforms like TikTok, YouTube, or forums for this type of query.

Why I am invested in this matter – and why it’s crucial for you to be as well

To summarize, here are the main issues highlighted:
  • Google’s “From sources across the web” snippet employs programmatic SEO but lacks original content.
  • The information in Google’s databases driving the snippet appears unchecked and sourced from low-quality sources.
  • These snippets dominate commercial intent queries, often taking the top spot and can only be outranked by sponsored slots.
  • The process contradicts Google’s content quality guidelines and disadvantages independent publishers.
  • Overall, the snippet diminishes original ideas and can even harm minority groups, prioritizing Google’s ad revenue.
Now, addressing common counterarguments:
  • “You’re not a good SEO if you’re worried about this.”
  • “Google has a duty to shareholders to boost profitability.”
  • “Changing the pages the information is pulled from would solve the problem.”
I believe we can push for change collectively, advocating for Google Search to prioritize accuracy and relevance in search results.This analysis underscores the challenges faced by users, service providers, and publishers, highlighting the growing difficulty of ranking organically for commercial queries without resorting to sponsored placements or Google Ads.