Search engines provide us with an absolutely amazing ability to location information quickly, and the positive impacts of this are almost too large to contemplate. Easily one of the most important things that have happened in my lifetime.
My concern is simply that most of us now unconsciously treat the results returned by search engines as the "objective" simple results of "searching" for what we have asked. When the reality is so much more complicated, and made worse by the fact that we have adopted a single company (google) as a synonym for search, as if this one company provides us with a complete and objective answer to every search.
There is no perfect answer to this problem of people accepting the top 5 search results for any search as being the definitive answer to every question.
The ramifications of there being such an astronomical (financial, political, cultural) advantage for showing up at the top of the (one true?) search engine has been largely unexplored. Even if everyone was trying their best to prevent the manipulation by bad actors, my concern is the inherent distorting nature of such a system.
We have to remind ourselves that there is so much more to life and the internet than the pages that come up at the top of google search results.
Much as watching tv/cable news can give us a very convincing but fundamentally distorted and myopic view of the world, so does depending on one search engines and one set of scoring rules give us a distorted and manipulated view of the world wide web.
In fact one wonders about the possibility of an eventual revolt against these "top of the page" high ranked results. With all of the financial incentive to get yourself to the top of the search results, I wonder if we won't eventually see alternative search engines whose entire purpose in life is to return results that explicitly exclude these seo-optimized top performers, and instead let us live in a calmer reality of a less aggressively seo'd web.