I disagree in terms of search results; I still find Google gives pretty relevant results in most cases, and certainly as good as or better than other search engines. I think any failing in its searchers is largely due to people trying to game the system. It's in Google's best interest to provide you something that is relevant to your search (ideally, of course, something that they also make money off of - but relevancy is still more important because without that you won't click). So it doesn't make much sense that they'd be intentionally skewing their search results so far in favor of commercial interests that they'd be losing relevancy compared to other search methods. They'd be stabbing themselves in the foot. I've seen a lot of comparisons of Google and other search engines, especially recently with Bing as a heavy competitor, and in the worst case it's a tie with Google, seldom if ever is Google soundly beaten in what is still its core strength.
As for the promotion of its own results, I agree that this is worrisome and a bit unprecedented as far as I know. What I'd like to see is perhaps an additional highlighted "non-organic search results" area, similar to ads, that shows "recommended content". Then, just as with the ads, those of us who don't trust Google's "recommendations", can ignore it and just look at the top search results. This approach would I think be most in keeping with past behavior.
However I'm not entirely convinced that Google isn't just using its own algorithms on its own content to determine relevancy. It's entirely possible that Google's page on hay fever is just full of more relevant content than any other page. Take "flu" for example. You'd think Google Health might come up tops for that too; it comes up at the top for "common cold" and "eczema". But not for flu. It's flu.gov that takes the top spot. Google Health *does* have a page on Flu, https://health.google.com/health/ref/Flu
but it doesn't show up in their search results in the 5 pages I checked, and a search engine ranking tool I tested it on said it wouldn't come up at all. Odd, but lending credence to the possibility that it may be an organic ranking. Perhaps there is simply so much other info about the flu out there that ranks higher, that Google's just doesn't show up. Entirely possible given the recent flu hysteria. Then again I can't find any other terms listed in Google's full topic index: https://health.googl...ealth/ref/index.html
where Google Health is not the top result, but then I only tried a few of the ones in the A section.
Thinking about this further, if you take a look at the actual search results for these terms, it does highlight Google Health, but with almost equal ranking (second horizontally on a list at equal level), you have links to the Mayo Clinic and more. Additionally if you visit the actual page it's almost more of a "meta" thing, with a brief description and then links to lots more resources. More of a "topic" in the search engine that is a dedicated page for more jumping off points. This is arguably a simple enhancement to the search service. In fact Bing is already doing this, and I think has been for longer than Google:
the first result brings you to this page:http://www.bing.com/...n-cold?q=common+cold
Notice Mayo Clinic, and the page has ads all over it (2 at top and a whole bunch down the side), whereas Google's has zero ads (unless you consider the Medline link on the left to be an ad). So I'm starting to wonder, where is the profit motive for Google? Especially when you compare to what Bing is doing. In fact, once again it seems like Google is doing what another engine is doing, but better and cleaner, with less commercial crap. Kind of turns this whole thing on its head...
Also interesting is that if a search result matches for a Google Health topic, you can visit it without having an account. But if you simply visit www.google.com/health
you are asked to sign up with your Google Account, indicating it's more about the health records than general health info.