Yes, an answer clearly appearing in the first few results of a Google search does count as a sufficient basis for a potential General Reference closure. I don't think there needs to be a hard number for how many results have the answer, or which results should count, because it undermines the purpose of having community voting: if enough people agree that the question is easily answered and there's nothing more to add, that's sufficient for General Reference.
Stack Exchange is different from other Q&A sites in that quality information provided by experts and "making the internet a better place" is paramount. Time and again, it's been demonstrated that replicating easily-found information elsewhere on the internet does neither: we don't attract or keep experts who are interested in the questions they can't find elsewhere, and—in the event our answer is worse than the currently easily available resource—we actively make it harder to find answers, making the internet worse for it.
So before you ask your first question on Stack Exchange, one of the principles everyone is asked to agree to is "do your homework":
Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and most of all it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!
Among other things, doing a quick Google search by typing your question into Google and seeing what comes up is one of the least things you could do to research your question beforehand, not only for the chance that your question would be answered immediately, but because it provides a place to start looking for information.
You don't, of course, have to do that before asking a question: you could, by chance, stumble into a really interesting and difficult question without doing any research. But if a quick Google search turns up the information and there's nothing more we could add, then there is sufficient basis for a potential GR closure.
So if you've done a quick search and you're not satisfied with the results, no problem; ask us a question and explain what you've tried so far:
- I did a quick search for information about the cat in Harry Potter, but I'm not convinced what I found is correct because...
- When I was looking for the answer to this, I found an article on Memory Alpha that said "..." but that seems to contradict...
By providing the background for asking the question here, we can tailor our answers to answer your specific concerns, even if the question prima facie looks like General Reference; in essence, it makes a "too basic" question no longer basic. And we make the internet a better place by addressing a real, specific problem someone has with the obvious information.
This is what we should be shooting for, not trying in vain to poorly replicate the information found elsewhere. We should be relying on the information collected by other members of the worldwide SFF community, not pretending it doesn't exist.
If you know nothing about the work, you can't be sure the results are reliable
That's fine: Stack Exchange does not need a person to be absolutely sure their question will remain open here. If it did, we would never have any closed questions. If one does a quick Google search, finds the answer and very little to no disagreement, and still isn't convinced, they're more than welcome to ask a new question about it, provided that they:
- "show their work" and explain why they don't believe the easily-found answers are correct, or
- are prepared to have their question closed as General Reference.
Google's search results are personalized
Also of the form, "what may be one person's 'first hit' is another's 'shown on page 3'."
This is an overblown concern. Google "personalizes" search results based on four factors:
- Location: if you search for "bank" and you live in New York, New York-based banks will rank better
- Algorithmic testing: Google is constantly improving their hundreds of search signals, which may cause results to change
- Server queried: when searching, Google routes your query to one of its many data centers, which may not have exactly the same index as others
- Search history: if you've searched a bunch for one term and then search for a term that could be related, Google will bias the results based on the first term
Location doesn't matter unless you happen to live at Hogwarts or in Middle-earth; if you happen to be in a situation like that, I'd ask a local your question instead of us. The changes Google makes to its algorithms are small and mostly unnoticeable. A algorithmic-based discrepancy or—much more benign, a data center discrepancy—would not produce wildly different results between two people in the time it takes to evaluate a question for GR.
So the only other issue is the results based on search history. This bias would actually work in favor of something using Google to find answers before asking a question. If you're searching for information and are trying a couple of different keywords, Google will figure out—so to speak—what you're trying to search for, even if you're not getting the terms exactly right.
But all these search biases can be mitigated by browsing in your browser's privacy mode. If Google's black magic in this regard is too untrustworthy, we could simply modify the rule to something like:
Is the answer clearly appearing in the first few results of a Google search when your browser's privacy mode is turned on?
The wikia/domain-specific wikis are, in general, of poor quality/hard to follow
Also of the form, "Who gets to decide which canonical resources count for which works?"
Not liking the quality the domain-specific wikis is a personal preference and does not affect a "search Google first" GR philosophy. If, say, you search for who the cat is in Prisoner of Azkhaban and the results all converge on "Crookshanks", whether Wikia appears in the search results is immaterial, because the answer is corroborated by other results.
Other Stack Exchange sites, like Stack Overflow, don't respect any "Google it first" rule
Also of the form, "General Reference is capricious, arbitrary, and even SE thinks it's a failure".
I'm sympathetic to this, but we're given the hand we're dealt with. If you think no question is too simple and don't think we should close questions as General Reference at all, then we need to get rid of the General Reference close reason.
If, on the other hand, you think we should have a General Reference close reason, just that "Google it first" shouldn't count on the basis that other SE sites don't have that rule, you're comparing apples to oranges, because the other sites don't have a General Reference close reason, save English.SE. I'd bet a sawbuck if they ever got one, "Google it first" would be one of the first rules put in place.