While the headline might look a little click-baity, the reason you’re reading this is because you’ve had enough of something Google has done. And… You’re not alone.
Google has been slowly making a mess of the internet for a few years now. Maybe not quite as much as the shit show that is Facebook or Meta or whatever the hell they’re called at the moment.
But actually, while Zuck’s platforms might be responsible for sucking our attention and damaging our mental health (and also proliferating hate speech and genocide, among other things) - Google sucks for a slightly different and more tangible reason.
They’ve basically made all the things that we’ve gotten used to for free online into crappy shadows of what they once were.
Sitting comfortably? Let me explain…
The Slow Decline of the Search Engine
I’m a SEO professional, which means I spend a lot of time looking at and analyzing Google’s search results. I’ve created countless articles for a huge variety of websites, from tech unicorns to niche blogs.
And one thing that must be said is that the world's favorite search engine has not been making it easy for either the end-user or those looking to build their platform.
To clarify: Around ten years ago, everyone sussed out that keyword stuffing (basically putting their focus keyword tens of times into a blog post) got you onto page one. Cue loads of low-quality content on page one, all of it packed full of obvious keywords.
Google decided to fix this, and suddenly there was a strong(er) focus on domain authority. This basically meant stronger domains with lots of backlinks tended to do well. Not always though, and good content was still important, but the backlinks meant you could game the system.
Now the SERPs were packed full of crappy websites made to host backlinks with very thin or regurgitated content that didn’t answer the users’ intent.
Enter the AI revolution in late 2022. Everyone and their gran is into using ChatGPT to write their shopping list, and also, oh hey… There are blogs packed full of AI content popping up everywhere.
Now, I’m not against AI content at all; I think it’s great (if done right). Check my previous article on here: why AI content isn’t a bad thing.
But it seems that at Google at least, something clicked.
Google’s Helpful Content Update 2023
If you’re in search engine marketing, or you spend any time on Linkedin, you probably noticed everyone was up in arms about the late 2023 Google algorithm update.
Now, Google releases probably 3 or 4 big algorithm updates every year. Most result in some ranking changes, usually a little turbulence, and then back to business as usual.
Not this puppy.
The 2023 edition seems to have royally f**ked a number of quite big publishers, not to mention niche bloggers and site owners. It has also rewarded a number of fairly safe bet forums and magazine sites such as Reddit, Tripadvisor, Forbes, and other big publishers.
What’s the reason, many are asking?
Well, the general juice is that Google saw that AI content was starting to become a big deal and was starting to dominate the SERPs. So, to combat this, they switched the focus to the ‘safe’ publishers, to the huge detriment of many smaller site owners.
OK, you might say. Fair enough. Maybe.
Except, if you ask me, much of the time the actual query isn’t being answered - it’s just the trusted (aka big domain authority) sites that have done well from this. Not entirely, I might add. I am currently running a niche blog that has done very well since the helpful update, highlighting that you can still rank well if you do your SEO right.
But a quick look at the SERPs shows some more mess. The same algorithm update seems to have placed a bunch of links to Google Books in the search results.
Check out this search result below, which is on about page three.
Now, you might say that page 3 is irrelevant because, as the old joke goes, you could hide a dead body on page 2 of Google, and no one would spot it.
Not so true these days as the first page of Google now scrolls seamlessly into pages two through to pretty much forever. This is one good Google update by the way.
But the addition of the book’s link totally messes up the flow and is one of the really sucky things that Google has added in this recent algorithm update.
The Hot Mess That Is YouTube
Alright, now we come to the exhibit B - which has been a mess for a while now.
If you’re old like me, you might remember how YouTube was free and cool, and you could spend hours on there going down cute cat rabbit holes. Google bought them out, and soon enough, ads were popping up every so often. Fine at the time, in moderation.
But now it seems that YouTube is basically American TV. Ads pop up halfway through content at inopportune moments, and some of the ad placements are horrible. I’ve seen ads for horror movies during kids’ content - yes, seriously…
On top of this, the algorithm that recommends stuff is just… I don’t really know where to start. It’s a mess. I get recommended weird alt-right stuff because I might have watched a click-bait video about the state of the Middle East. And now, I’m being shilled vids about how Jews are responsible for whatever or Muslims are evil. OK.
And the search. WT-actual-F? Say you search for a specific music artist on YouTube - maybe the first three to five results will be them (if you’re lucky), and the rest of the content will be random AF.
If you ask me, YouTube is barely fit for purpose. But, it’s pretty much the only choice, despite some limp competition from sites like Vimeo and DailyMotion, it seems that YouTube is going to remain the dominant video platform for the foreseeable.
Which might be why the youth are turning to TikTok in droves.
And Another Thing…
It’s not just YouTube; the Google search engine and its algorithms are kinda sucky too by the way.
Their paid search platform is a mess and is also a hotbed of ad fraud and click fraud. A subject I’ve written about extensively. Yes, they have done some work to try and close this practice down but it’s the gift that keeps giving.
Basically, ad fraud works for Google, so while they’ll be seen to be doing something to fix it, why stop it completely? They make money from it, so hey.
So… What’s the Alternative?
The thing is, there are alternatives - of course. But by and large, we’re all very stuck in Google’s eco-system. The Google SERPs are still massively important and are far and away the most used method of searching online. Despite reports that TikTok overtook Google a few years back, the fact is, they didn’t.
People do tend to use the internet differently now though. We ask Alexa or Siri for local or timely information, we check Instagram or TikTok for some stuff, and we check forums like Reddit for info when we don’t want to sift through the shitty SERPs on Google.
Even AI and the rise of Chat GPT have become an alternative for some of us. And while you can search using AI on a number of search engines and browsers, it’s still in its infancy.
Until the mainstream susses that AI or social media offer better results, don’t expect things to change any time soon.
And while there is always Bing, Google is still going to remain the big dog for a while. Bing’s foray into AI search results has so far not shifted the market much in their favor and probably won’t any time soon.
For search engine pros and business managers? It’s time to start looking at strategy, beyond simple search engine rankings.
As a content strategist, I focus heavily on SEO and hitting those search engine rankings (e.g., Google). But I’m also very aware of the fact that one algorithm change can wipe out all your organic hard work.
Use Google, but be aware: they’re using you too. And make sure to spread your net beyond their eco-system when it comes to marketing.