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What is Happening With Google?

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Perhaps you have also noticed recently that Google’s search results are not always of the same quality as they used to be. I sense complete chaos, from a few updates a year to 2 major changes in just a month apart at the end of last year, which – although it doesn’t sound like it – is a big deal. I want to talk a little bit about that below.

At Marketbox (the small group behind GeniusGeeks) we also do SEO and PPC advertising, so we’re not just in the media space. We are very much involved, and we experience firsthand every possible side of what kind of foot Google gets out of bed in the morning.

Before we jump in, let’s start in prehistory

In the fall of 1995, when flannel was the height of fashion and the internet was still a mysterious new frontier, Stanford University became the birthplace of what would eventually be known as Google. It all started when Larry Page, contemplating grad school, was shown around by fellow student Sergey Brin. Despite initial disagreements, their partnership, forged in 1996, proved to be a pivotal moment in tech history. They began coding in their dorm rooms, creating a search engine initially dubbed Backrub. Yes, you read that right—Backrub! Thankfully, they soon opted for a snappier name, Google, inspired by the mathematical term ‘googol,’ reflecting their grand mission to organize the world’s infinite amount of information.

See also: The History Of The Internet

Fast forward to 1998, and the pair were outgrowing their academic nest, catching the eye of Silicon Valley bigwigs. Enter Andy Bechtolsheim, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who saw potential in Google’s colorful future and wrote a hefty $100,000 check that officially transformed Google from a dorm room project into Google Inc. Their new headquarters? Susan Wojcicki’s garage in Menlo Park, equipped with clunky desktops and a ping pong table—because all great ideas need room to bounce around.

Google’s early days were anything but conventional. Picture this: their first server was cobbled together from Lego bricks! And if you think their server choices were quirky, their first ever Google Doodle in 1998 featured a simple stick figure, signaling that the entire staff was off playing at the Burning Man Festival.

Google’s unofficial motto, “Don’t be evil,” seemed to embody their unconventional approach right from the start.

As the millennium turned, Google rapidly outgrew the garage and moved into what is now known as the Googleplex in Mountain View, California. The spirit of innovation traveled with them, as did Yoshka, Google’s first company dog. Over the years, Google has evolved from a novel search engine to a global tech titan, offering a vast array of products used by billions worldwide—from YouTube and Android to Gmail and, naturally, Google Search itself.

From Lego servers to a plethora of company dogs, Google’s journey is a testament to the fact that big dreams do come true, and sometimes, they start in the most unassuming of places. But then, what went wrong?

The Downfall of Google Search: A Tale of Greed Over Need

Once upon a digital age, Google Search reigned supreme in the kingdom of the Internet, a veritable Excalibur that any seeker of wisdom could wield. Yet, as the old tech sages say, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” According to Edward Zitron in his latest exposé “The Man Who Killed Google Search”, the once-mighty search engine found itself at the center of a corporate Game of Thrones, where power plays led to its dramatic decline.

The plot thickens in 2019, when the clanging alarms of “code yellow” echoed through the halls of Google, a warning of declining search revenue growth. This alarm set the stage for an epic showdown between Google’s ads team, helmed by Prabhakar Raghavan, and the search team, led by the stalwart Ben Gomes. Raghavan, with eyes set on gold, pushed for prioritizing growth metrics, seemingly at any cost. Gomes, however, was not ready to trade the search engine’s soul just to keep the ad dollars rolling. His stand? Google had become all about growth, neglecting the very user experience that built its empire.

Drawing from leaked emails and prior investigations, Zitron portrays Raghavan’s strategy as transforming Google Search from a neutral information arbiter into a mercenary for profit-driven content. This strategic pivot was less “meeting user needs” and more “meeting quarterly earnings,” a move Zitron deems a “betrayal that sowed the seeds of the search giant’s undoing.”

What is the current situation on the search results page? (SERP)

It’s becoming painfully apparent: Google’s search results are on a downward spiral. Despite Google’s insistence on the superiority of their search engine, a growing consensus among users, analysts, and experts suggests otherwise. A recent study spearheaded by researchers from Leipzig University, Bauhaus-University Weimar, and the Center for Scalable Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence, and initially reported by 404 Media, lends credence to these concerns, particularly in the realm of product searches.

The crux of the problem? Affiliate marketing. This isn’t your grandma’s digital marketing; it’s a wild west of content creators trying to snag a commission by any means necessary. We’re talking product reviews and roundups brimming with links to retail giants like Amazon, BestBuy, and Walmart. Click on these links, and the referring site gets a piece of the pie if you purchase.

It’s not just small-time blogs playing this game—giants are in on it, too. However, major publishers often keep a strict divide between editorial content and revenue schemes. But let’s face it, the internet is littered with less scrupulous sites. Their goal? Outrank everyone else on Google by whatever means necessary.

Enter the dark arts of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This isn’t just about making your site Google-friendly; it’s an arms race of hacks and strategies to manipulate rankings. Google might preach high-quality content and offer SEO tips, but the reality is a battlefield where only the most optimized (read: often the most unscrupulous) thrive.

The comprehensive study by the German team analyzed 7,392 product-review search terms across Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo over a year. The verdict? High rankings correlate strongly with aggressive optimization and an abundance of affiliate links. It seems the creators of low-quality, clickbait content are winning the SEO war.

Google and its rivals constantly tweak their algorithms to combat these strategies, but it’s a cat-and-mouse game that the search engines seem to be losing. These periodic adjustments might stall the spammers temporarily, but they soon find new loopholes to exploit.

Interestingly, the study pointed out that Google still performs better than Bing or DuckDuckGo in combating spam, showing some improvements over the study period. A Google spokesperson highlighted that the study’s focus on product review content doesn’t reflect the overall quality across the billions of daily queries. They noted that Google has launched specific improvements to address these issues, and external assessments confirm Google’s superior performance on broader types of queries.

Despite these assurances, the narrative of Google’s faltering search quality persists. Google’s efforts to refine and improve their algorithms are ongoing, yet some believe these might not be sufficient.

Adding to the woes, Google’s increasing incorporation of ads in search results and preference for its own services over potentially superior external content can dilute the quality of search outcomes.

In a tech-driven world where Google underpins much of the internet economy, the stakes are high. The battle for genuine, useful search results continues, with Google at the epicenter of both the problem and potential solutions. As the internet evolves, so too must Google, if it’s to remain the titan of search engines—or face the reality of users turning to alternative sources like Reddit to find content that feels a bit more human.

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Gyula Virag
Gyula Virag

Gyula is a developer and a passionate geek father with a deep love of online marketing and technology. He always seeks challenging adventures and opportunities to create something permanent in the digital world.

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