Did 2012 Mark the Beginning of the End for the Google?

February 24, 2020

A colleague sent me a link to “Google’s Best Days Are Behind Them.” I don’t have much hope for a write up with a grammatical error in the headline. The viewpoint is that of a search engine optimization professional. For a member of this elite and relevance destroying group, Google is good if it returns a specific Web page in response to a user’s query. In my experience, the query matters less than putting a particular page at the top of a first page of result. To achieve this, gamesmanship, deceptive practices, and social engineering are the norm.

The write up pegs 2012 as the beginning of the end of Google. I prefer to think of Google beginning a stroll toward sundowning, not death, and not for a long time. The write up asserts:

Google first started making major changes in its long-existing algorithm in 2012, when it came up with the Penguin update. With each subsequent algorithm update, the company focused on key areas like building links, improving content, or technical SEO aspects.

What’s happening is that SEO experts find themselves with less room to fiddle and fool Mother Google. In reality, Google has taken the fooling around into its own hands. The write up touches upon one example:

But recently, Google has started paying more attention to the way it displays its search results, i.e., the UI/UX. And this sole factor has cost multiple websites the entirety of their business, if not more.

Instead of a list, Google has experimented with making the pages into showcases, digital fruit salads, and odd mixes of content from its silos of indexes. But that disguised a core problem for the Google: The rise of the mobile phone and the shift from desktop search to small form factor search. The article identifies one consequence of this shift:

While Google had a 20% volume of advertisements on its SERPS before, Google-owned features now tend to occupy almost 80% of the page. In most search results, the first fold is completely taken over by features like Google ads, a Google Maps pack, or Google Shopping ads.

For the author, this means that getting a site to appear at the top of a results list is a difficult task. For certain types of content, the SEO efforts – usually a hit and miss effort – became outright failure.

The write up does point out that Google made more than 3,000 changes to its search algorithm in 2019. That’s sort of right. The plumbing is still in place at the Google. The fixes take place in the layers upon layers of wrappers which enhance search with the advertising revenue objective. What Google’s algorithm is now resembles a giant tar ball with leaves, sticks, plastic water bottles, and other detritus embedded in its surface. Changes require changes. Revenue objectives require changes. Users doing something Google did not predict requires changes. To make matters more interesting, the changes follow the sun; that is, search engineers make changes around the world, across time zones. DarkCyber is not sure there is a single person working at Google who knows what is generating a particular search result. That’s not going to change.

When did this situation begin? Was 2012 the Golden Year?

No. That’s like pinpointing the specific date of the Stone Age.

Google’s transformation began the day the Yahoo litigation was resolved. For those unaware that Google was accused of improper use of Yahoo owned systems and methods, you can get up to speed at this paywalled (of course) story in the New York Times by the ever sharp Saul Hansell: “Google and Yahoo Settle Dispute Over Search Patent.”

Search is expensive. Google’s approach to business is expensive. Google’s assumptions about Android advertising are expensive. In short, no matter how much money Google sucks in and carves out for profit there will never be enough. As a result, Google has to reduce costs and increase revenue.

The changes Google has been implementing since 2004 are not visible to even the least aware SEO professional. To those who have used Web search systems since before the inception of Google, the changes in the quality, timeliness, relevance, precision, and recall in Google search results have been deteriorating for — let’s do the math 2020 – 2004 = 16 years — yes, more than 15 years.

There’s nothing like an SEO expert who is on top of search, what’s been going on for 180 months.

DarkCyber’s key insight into search: Run those queries across available systems. Relying on one is going to produce results that may deceive, mislead, and disappoint.

That’s work. Yep, so is understanding that information retrieval is a serious business. Advertising is a money business. SEO is a deception business.

And Google is consistent and sundowning. No matter how flawed the service, it is a monopoly. Monopolies take a long time to go away.

Stephen E Arnold, February 24, 2020


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