As many of you will know AndroidHeadlines.com is a site based around Android, Google and other tech-related industries, and has been delivering the news on these products and services for more than eight years. Sometimes, however, you have to speak up and take a stance when you think something is not right, or fair. Today it's the Google Search Engine Monopoly and the sadistic game it plays with website owners.
Google Search Engine is what everyone uses to search the internet, we no longer even ‘Search” for something - we “Google” it. With about a 90-percent domination of the search engine market, Google has no true competitor and can pretty much write the rules of the internet as it sees fit. Case in point, Google has a huge list of best practices for websites and while I could go on and on about this list, I don’t want to bore you. Just know these best practices are in place to ensure readers get the best user experience.
While this sounds great, there is a very secretive side to this business which most people never hear or know (or care) about. Who does care though is the people who run businesses on the internet as keeping up with Google’s search game is a full-time job for many, and a very lucrative career for people in the search business. Especially considering Google keeps changing the rules of the internet search game.
As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded....
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018
Large corporations have teams for this, or hire agencies to keep up with Google’s best practices, and all in a bid to try to dominate Google search engine listings, and for the most part they are very successful at it. If you do a quick search of the latest news or products, the results will bring up the biggest and most successful companies first. The issue with this approach is there are times when somebody does it better, or has a better product, and you won’t see those businesses simply because they don’t have the resources to keep up with the ever-changing search engine rules that Google rolls out on a monthly, weekly and even daily basis. Yes, it is tough to keep up when so many updates are rolling out, and especially when it comes to updates to the search engine “algorithm” -- a fancy word for Google’s choice on who and how companies are ranked.
“We cover many Google updates - most go unconfirmed - so I am happy Google confirms some of them. I do wish they gave webmasters and SEOs actionable advice outside of just "make your site better." Barry Schwartz Search Engine Expert
If you don’t keep on top of these updates to Google’s algorithm changes your business could find itself buried in the Google search engine listings, and basically get no traffic/revenue. If you are a web-based business, then obviously no traffic to your business website is the kiss of death.
A lot of companies do their best to keep up with the laws of Google’s best practices because they are a website business, and they have to play the game in order to gain business. Some companies spend as much as possible to out-rank their competitors and provide either the best possible user experience, products or content. However sometimes that is not enough. Google can roll out one of its algorithm changes and overnight your traffic can disappear - along with any and all of that company’s hard work.
Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year....
— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) March 12, 2018
If your business is used to making X amount of dollars and Google’s algorithm or core updates decides it does not like what your site is doing anymore, you could lose as much as 75-percent of your traffic. How long do think that business will be able to stay in business with such a loss of revenue? Not very long at all is the answer. Google holds great power over businesses because it is the only game in town and has a monopoly on search. Put simply, if you do not follow what Google says, you are out of business. Even if you play the game and follow all of the best practices, you can still suffer and be put out of business by Google.
This last year the European Commission (EC) fined Google €2.42 billion (£2.1bn) for manipulating shopping search results to favor its own services - which is illegal under EU antitrust rules. There has been several other lawsuits against Google as well, and relating to its search results. It truly does now feel like Google does have a monopoly on search and even more so considering the company is not very transparent about rankings, its algorithm and updates. Instead Google will typically give very cryptic messages about what it has done, leaving businesses and search experts to try and guess what kind of craziness Google has thrown at them this time.
We have a great relationship with Google, as we promote its products and many of its services, and the people that work there are great, but the search team for Google is like an Area 51 of secrets that only people with special access can talk to, our have any communication at all with. Even some of its own staff are closed off from these teams and their communication and blog posts. Sometimes, any help a business does get can leave business owners more confused than they were before. To highlight this point, I will share with you one of our own experiences with Google’s monopoly, and lack of transparency regarding search rankings, algorithms and updates.
For backstory, in our eight years we have published around 90,000 pieces of content, and use developers and search engine consultants that are very experienced in this area - who make sure we are playing the Google Search game correctly. We don’t have the resources to over-optimize our site or focus 110-percent of our attention on the Google game, but we try and until this year had been doing a great job.
However, after never experiencing the pain felt by many other website owners of a drop in traffic we got our first taste of what it’s like to have one of Google’s updates affect us. In February we experienced a 60-percent drop in Organic Google Search Engine Traffic, we literally fell off a cliff and our jaws dropped. We had not done any major changes to our website in a while, so we were baffled as to what had happened, and we decided to hold on a little while to see if the issue fixed itself.
After a couple of months of 60-percent less search traffic we knew it was time to investigate as this was not going away on its own. We tried many things such as bringing in our experts to analyze our site inside and out to see if there was anything wrong or different (compared to before). Nope. Nothing stood out when we ran checks, crawls, audits and a whole slew of basics you would normally look at. We left no stone unturned.
Next we decided to roll back some design changes we had made about 8 months before just in case we had done something before that Google Search did not like. That did not help either. We had our developers and search engine consultants go over our website with a fine tooth comb to see what had changed. Nothing came up or stood out. Our search consultants believed that this drop in traffic had to be related to a Google algorithm change/update, Our site had not changed but the Google game had. Great. We had spent thousands of dollars on updates and rolling them back, as well as dev and consultant time just to find out it was the Google Search game that had changed. Something which we were now being penalized for.
So we continued on this journey to find out what the issue was and we looked at all the possible scenarios of what it could be so that we could fix it. There are so many variables in situations like this that it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Of course, Google is no help at this point as it does not tell you why. But without knowing what is wrong or broken, how do you go about trying to fix it?
Over the years of working with Google I have made some great contacts and met some of the nicest people who will go the extra mile to help you. I thought if there was ever a time I could use that help, this was it. Unfortunately, “Search” was not their area and while they made some inquiries on our behalf we did not even get an email response from the search team. Now, we were not looking for any favoritism or advantage, but rather someone to point us in the direction of what we needed to work on to fix the problem.
The Google Search team is a walled-garden at Google and there is no way the team can help. I was referred to their product forums and if you have ever visited the product forums, you will have seen a good amount of them are run by volunteers. While they are nice enough people who dedicate their time to helping, their help is limited. It still remains unclear why Google can’t staff its forums with actual experts - but that’s a question for another day. Anyway, they did offer up their support, but to be honest it was no more help than what our team had already done during our attempts to address the issue.
We also attended Google’s I/O annual developer conference and our staff sat down with one of their so-called Search Team people to see if they could help. The information they provided was so generic that it was almost embarrassing that these guys were from the search team. They suggested things we had looked over so many times before.
I then called in a favor with a well-connected Googler to see if we could get some help and that resulted in radio silence from the search team. I reached out to Google search on twitter and got this response
Hi Chris! First off, sorry to hear that. I'd recommend posting this to our Webmaster Help Forum to get a one on one help. Here is the link: https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!forum/webmasters … We; unfortunately, cannot provide Search advice in private mediums to maintain transparency & equal distance for every site owner. I hope you'd understand. Best of luck!
After spending eight years running an Android and Google news site, was it too much to ask for a little direction on this? After all, we have dedicated our site to promoting Google, Android, and its partner products. Since then, it has become an obsession of mine to figure out why my business had dropped in ranking and traffic, and what algorithm change affected us so badly. Unfortunately, after spending a lot of money and time I am no closer to an answer today, than I was the first day it happened.
I learned a lot through my research though, including the Google monopoly on search is very real and far-reaching. There is a game Google plays and only the people who own online businesses really know about it. Google thinks it’s making search engine results better, which is great, but the company is lacking any type of transparency with very vague language and instructions for businesses. The game is biased in favored of large corporations and media outlets with the only exception being those in a small and niche enough market. Although even then you are still forced to design and run your online business according to what Google says or face the real possibility of Google killing your business. Even if you play the game according to all the disclosed rules, Google can (and does) change the rules often, sometimes even contradicting its own best practices. I have seen many of my fellow competitors and friends in the online business fall by the wayside, or go through living hell in an attempt to try and save their business - all thanks to Google’s Search Engine algorithm changes and updates.
The moral of the story: Google cares about Google and its search business is big business. Google does not care about the little guys or small businesses at all, or it would be more transparent about algorithm changes and updates. Google claims to maintain transparency and distance from site owners in a bid to be fair, but in the end it’s really only about protecting its monopoly on search. Next time you Google something, your favorite website or business may not be there and now you will know why. They lost in the Google Search game. It’s time Google became transparent about its search business, algorithms changes and updates. As while Google will argue it is transparent, there are millions of business owners and search experts who know that is not true.