Recently, Newscorp critiqued Google as an enabler of internet piracy. As befitting the parent of Fox News, the rationale was filled with ridiculous assertions, which sum up to: “the internet is bad for us and we’re too lazy to figure out how to fix it, so we’ll just blame Google because somehow, Google = the entire internet.”
Google frequently takes a beating for monopolistic practices because of its huge market share of search engine traffic. My opinion is that Google is successful because they do things well and in the early days of the web, they found ways to monetize search technology. Of all the things you could say are monopolistic, search technology would seem pretty low on the list. Over a long weekend, two hungover guys in a basement can create a new search engine that’s accessible to billions of people.
There are dozens (hundreds) of options for searching the web, but most of them suck and some – like that fucking “Ask” toolbar – put all of their resources into figuring out how to hijack your browser instead of convincing you to voluntarily use their product. Seriously, Ask.com’s marketing is like hiring a guy to stake out grocery stores, pull the Oreos out of your shopping cart, then secretly replace them with boxes of Hydrox.
But this isn’t some defensive fanboy appreciation of Google (disclosure: Android phone, Google Chrome and sometime user of their other stuff until they decide they want to shut it down). On the contrary, there are REAL crimes against the internet I hold Google accountable for.
I blame Google for 80% of the internet being absolute SHIT. Google’s prevalence means that the “under-the-hood” search algorithms have an inordinate impact on how companies and organizations use the web. Rather than a focus on better product, better content or more creative marketing, there’s a whole cottage industry trying to figure out tricks and cheat codes to win a game in which we’re all the target.
Go Click Yourself
Convincing people to click a link to your page is nothing new, it’s a key facet of anything someone is marketing online. With the system of Google Page Ranks and traffic measurement, the “click” has become much more of its own reward. Tactics to “add clicks” to your site become more important than just getting people to VISIT your site, leading to travesties like:
When I’m on a news site, sometimes all I need is the headline and I can move on. Don’t tell me “You’ll never believe who is running for President!” to force me to click to another page. Just tell me “Rob Schneider is running for President in 2016.” Yes, I fucking believe it and I’ll read more if you’re going to say something interesting about it.
Look, if I want to read all about the 40 possible places that Taylor Swift is taking her cat, then let me READ. 40 pages of images with 10 words on each page is perfect for a 4 year old reading “Fun With Dick and Jane,” but is not what I want when I’m trying to discreetly catch up on celebrity gossip in the office.
Quantity Over Quality.
Once you’ve clicked, it doesn’t matter if the page signals a new age of enlightenment on Earth or a quiz about what kind of butterfly you are. There’s no quality component to a click. At some level, there should be page rankings that actually incorporate user ratings into the algorithm. I know there have been experiments with this in the past, but they weren’t particularly well executed.
Google makes an assload of revenue from paid search results and their bidding process. However, a lot of companies avoid that route (which can be costly) by trying to rank higher in the “unpaid search” results, which are what most of us want when we “Google” something. The unpaid search results ideally list the sites that best match what you’re searching for, but there are specific parts of the algorithms that bring out the shitweasels.
One of those factors is incoming links. Websites that are referenced in links on other pages will move higher on the list of search results. Because of this, you’ll often find articles on the internet with website links embedded in the middle of the text. How many times have you actually clicked on one of those links? Here’s the secret: no one clicks on it and no one cares that no one ever will, it’s only there to improve the (linked) site’s search ranking. This has given rise to a couple other douchenozzle endeavors.
There’s a whole industry of “content farms” focused on creating terribly written articles for whatever sites agree to it, solely so that the provider can slip links into that article. This is a personal one, because even with the minimal site traffic I get here, I get a dozen requests per week to provide me with “guest post” content. Writers of these “guest posts” get paid as little as $2 per article they write, so you can imagine how much time they spend crafting those beautiful pieces of prose.
Closely related to the content farm is the link spam you find in the comment sections of blogs and sites. I’m not talking about the “get-rich-quick” scams – while sufficiently scummy, those pricks are actually hoping you’ll click the link and fall for their bullshit. The other garden variety of spam includes links that are there just to improve a search engine ranking. These comments may pretend they’re talking about the topic at hand, but then have one (or twenty) links in them. Clicks are irrelevant, as long as the search engine finds them and gives their site “credit” for the link.
“SEO Guru” being a career
The only thing worse than all these tactics are the people who come up with them. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) wouldn’t even exist as a career without Google. These people are like Wall Street tax lawyers – they figure out what the rules are, with the express purpose of finding ways around them. Guys who club baby seals look at these people with disgust. Placing invisible text on webpages, cloaking real pages so search engines think they’re something different, cracking encryption to push spam onto a site. Do any of these people look in a mirror in the morning and think “Yeah, let’s go make the world a better place!?”
In Google’s defense, they do change their algorithms to try to address some of the more egregious offenses, but this is the core of their business model, so there’s only so much they can do. So, yes, Google has a lot to answer for. Larry, Sergey, I hereby sentence you to purchase Buzzfeed for $11 Billion and then shutter it 3 weeks later. Don’t whine. You’ve done it before with sites that actually did something useful.