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So I was doing some Google searching today and actually saw one of my questions in the results. Something was wrong with what was shown by Google however, it is listed as having 3 answers:

assassin's creed revelations mute ability not working

search screenshot

The actual question itself (as of right now) has only one (self) answer but has three votes.

Even the infamous parsing HTML with regular expressions question has an odd count saying there's only 30 answers:

RegEx match open tags except XHTML self-contained tags

HTML + Regex

It doesn't seem like there's a pattern to this or any indication of where they actually pull the numbers. I don't know who's to blame here, Google or you guys. Maybe there's something that could be done on this end to correct it? Or at least prompt you guys to complain to Google. :)

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1  
Remember: sometimes the Google-bots can see a bit more than your average user. Are you sure there aren't 2 deleted answers? –  John Dec 11 '11 at 5:18
    
Ah you're the OP. I guess you would've noticed that, but you never know... –  John Dec 11 '11 at 5:19
    
I've been watching Arqade like a hawk lately and especially that question and there have been no other answers AFAIK. (no notifications or anything and I am OP ;) –  Jeff Mercado Dec 11 '11 at 5:20
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It doesn't look like Google actually knows how many answers a question has. I searched for SO questions and the answer counts are all over the place. And since I am a mod there, I can see deleted answers, which don't seem to be a factor. –  NullUserException อ_อ Dec 11 '11 at 5:28
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If there's a problem here, it's Google's issue. After all, they have to produce the results for you. But I'm not sure whyI can't see the # of answers..? –  Adel Dec 11 '11 at 7:51
    
There's probably some HTML element Google is looknig for and counting as an answer. Do we have any idea what that is? it would presumably help our SEO if this issue were corrected. –  Ben Brocka Dec 11 '11 at 9:09
    
@Ben: At least for the second example, it would sound plausible if it counted answers per page (and it defaulted to showing 30 per page) but the first example wouldn't work there. –  Jeff Mercado Dec 11 '11 at 9:13
    
Interesting, did some searches on my UX.SE questions and the "posts" count it shows matches up to the answer count. However I don't even see "answers" on our search results; is that something only launched SE sites get? –  Ben Brocka Dec 11 '11 at 9:19
    
@Arjan: Hah I didn't even think to go and block those scrapers. There's a whole list of em to possibly block right there. ;) (maybe just that one in the first two pages) –  Jeff Mercado Dec 11 '11 at 12:04
    
@Jeff, I thought about blocking many too, but then I noticed that some are really just referring to that single upvoted answer. So: not regular scrapers, which left only 2 on the first page, at least for my search results. (As for blocking: only recently I learned that Google has a reporting form for scrapers.) –  Arjan Dec 11 '11 at 12:28
    
@Arjan if they give proper attribution to Stack Exchange I think our offical stance is okay, however if they don't they should be reported as they're in violations of our copyright. –  Ben Brocka Dec 11 '11 at 19:41
    
@Ben (and Arjan): Looking at that page again, it looks like either someone copy/pasted the HTML to share it there or was scraped. Toward the end appears to be a comment by the copy/paster or some other reader. And there's no attribution to be seen. –  Jeff Mercado Dec 11 '11 at 19:43
    
@Ben, you're right about mbd.scout.com/mb.aspx?s=192&f=2496&t=5341482, totally my bad to think it was a scraper! Still funny to see how that post totally messes up the rendering on their site. Be careful when accepting user generated content... ;-) (Deleted my erroneous old comment.) –  Arjan Dec 11 '11 at 21:53
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1 Answer

Explanation

With - I admit - a lot of effort I have figured this one out.

I checked tons of links, many more than I posted here (I got tired of posting examples after a while) and it all checks out. It's kinda complex but here it goes:

  • If there are 0 answers, google will count the number of comments of the question
  • If there is only 1 answer, google will count the answer + the number of its comments
  • If there are more than 5 answers (the max number of non-hidden comments) and less than 30, google will always get it right
  • If there are more than 30 answers, google will always say 30 answers
  • If there is more than 1 answer, and no accepted answer, google will get it right
  • If there is an accepted answer, more than 1 answer and less than (or possibly equal to) the-number-of-comments-of-the-accepted-answer answers, google will count the accepted answer + the number of its comments. Else, it will get it right.

(Note: When I say "number of comments" I always mean non-hidden comments, so up to 5 max)

My suggestion to the development team to "fix" this - if they want to fix it, it's not their bug - is to hide comments from google. They supposedly don't contain important information, anyways.

Even better, change the post container from <div> to <article> so that the comments are included in the <article> tag, although I'm not sure it will work it's worth a try, and is more semantically correct.

Examples

Examples of questions with an accepted answer, and a low number of answers

Google # - Real # - Comments of accepted answer # - Link
3 - 1 - 2 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/39644/skyrim-will-not-launch
1 - 1 - 0 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/38928/i-have-a-huge-bounty-in-skyrim-how-do-i-get-rid-of-it
2 - 1 - 1 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/39468/skyrim-launcher-brings-up-uac-dialog-and-never-launches
6 - 1 - 5 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/38985/do-power-attack-perks-in-skyrim-apply-to-sneak-power-attacks
4 - 2 - 3 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/38809/is-skyrim-playable-in-3rd-person
6 - 3 - 5 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/38437/do-gemstones-have-a-purpose-in-skyrim

As you can see, google always see the number of answers as the number of comments + 1.

Examples of questions without an accepted answer and at least 2 answers

Google # - Real # - Link
3 - 3 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/38030/skyrim-prepares-to-launch-forever-after-nov-21st-patch

Examples of questions without an accepted answer and 1 answer

Google # - Real # - Answer Comments # - Link
3 - 1 - 2 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/37830/skyrim-doesnt-adjust-the-dungeon-difficulty-based-on-your-level

Examples of questions with an accepted answer, and more than 5 answers

Google # - Real # - Link
7 - 7 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/37473/how-to-play-a-mage-in-skyrim

Here google always gets it right (but not if there are more than 30 answers, as it checks only the first page).

Examples of questions with no answers, but with comments

Google # - Real # - Comments # - Link
1 - 0 - 1 - http://gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/39003/how-do-i-become-high-king-of-skyrim

Here the number of answers is always equal to the number of comments.

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5  
Wow. I'm impressed you went to such lengths to show Google doesn't know how to count. Someone should email them and report these findings :) –  darvids0n Dec 11 '11 at 23:51
    
@darvids0n: I want to work on my side project but don't really feel to, so I'm looking for any possible excuse to procrastinate. =) PS: what I said is true for all the dozens and dozens of answers I checked, except - go figure - for the one linked by the OP, who should be "2" and not "3" according to my calculations. Either there was another comment that was now deleted, or there is another situation where if the number of comments of the answer is low and the question has also comments, then it counts the comments of the question as well (in this case it would check out, 1 + 1 + 1 = 3) –  Andreas Bonini Dec 11 '11 at 23:55
    
Google may have scraped the page when there was an additional comment on the answer, potentially. But either way, I'm sure if Google engineers are pointed to several questions they can see what's going wrong straight away :) –  darvids0n Dec 12 '11 at 0:00
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Stop commenting or google will start saying this question has 1000 answers!! :D –  Andreas Bonini Dec 12 '11 at 0:03
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That's great detective work there. I wasn't expecting them to actually count comments as answers if that's the case. The absolute ceiling of 30 seems odd though, would have thought they'd be able to get beyond that. –  Jeff Mercado Dec 12 '11 at 0:09
    
p.s., It doesn't look like Google is listing the counts for meta posts at all. Besides, it would have been listed as 30 by your calculations right? ;) –  Jeff Mercado Dec 12 '11 at 1:12
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Nice! In Does Google special-case for Stack Overflow?, Kevin explains about how SE is also using schema.org/Article (cc. @Jeff) –  Arjan Jun 17 '12 at 9:57
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