12 years ago, when I first got into marketing online, getting regular search traffic from Google was reliable, as long as you played by their rules.
I played by their rules because, at the time, their rules made a lot of sense and did result in a good user experience.
And I got traffic.
In the search results at that time, advertisements were placed on the right and the natural search results on the left.
First position in the natural search results meant exactly that: top of the page.
Today you can be in the first position in the ‘natural’ search results but not even be visible above the fold on a computer screen – see my screenshot further down.
Even when you do get to the natural search results, you will find a liberal sprinkling of Google-owned sites in the first several places.
Google no longer provides unbiased, objective search results, based on quality information. Not only has Google increasingly suppressed specific sectors (for example herbal or natural medicines), but it is becoming increasingly politically biased.
It’s not for nothing that between 2017 and 2019 the EU fined Google a total of 7.8 Billion Euros in 3 different anti-trust rulings:
- For manipulating its search results (here’s a current example)
- For unreasonable requirements in its AdSense terms and conditions
- For prioritising its services on Android devices to the exclusion of competitors
Google’s presentation of search results
The way Google presents search results today clearly favours its advertisers, featured snippets and Google’s own answer box, in which it scrapes information from other sites and presents it as an ‘answer’.
In the screenshot below, which is Google’s response to a query ‘How to improve SEO’, you can see that the first 4 results are advertisements, followed by a featured snippet and then Google’s answer box.
The first ‘natural’ search result was not even visible above the fold on my monitor – and it has a 23-inch screen.
Even if you exclude the Featured snippet, which is there because the webmaster has made use of Google’s tool, the first natural result would still not show up above the fold on most laptop screens.
As for those searching on a mobile device. . . Well, that first natural search result would probably never be seen.
This is in no way presenting a listing of relevant, unbiased results to searchers.
The answers box reduces the volume of traffic going to the originating sites because, in many cases, the searchers get the information they searched for without ever leaving the results page – to the detriment of those webmasters’ business.
Given that this is how search results are being presented now, day-to-day webmasters who are producing good information don’t get a look in, unless the searcher scrolls through to the second page of results – and not many people do that on mobile.
In my view this is a gross mis-use of Google’s near monopolistic position in the search industry.
Given its position in the industry, Google should be going out of its way to ensure that it is impartial, objective and focused on returning well-written, well-researched content.
My search engine of choice now is DuckDuckGo – as much because they do not track my searches as for any other reason. None of my devices has Google as the default search engine.
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Webmasters and bloggers wanting to get exposure for their articles are mostly left with options that require payment:
- Pay for Ads on Google (after all, the 4th placed ad in the image above was the 4th listing on that page)
- Pay for ads on Bing
- Turn up your social media efforts – if your normal social media activities are not bringing you traffic they all (the mainstream social media platforms) offer paid ads
Of course, there are other methods of attracting traffic, but this article is about Google – not marketing online!
And so. . .
I am clearly biased, but when I look at articles that are returned for the same query as one of my articles, but well above mine (often by a page or more) in the search results, I am at once angry, frustrated and disappointed.
Many times those articles are less well written, contain less detail and appear to have been less well researched.
And yet mine are suppressed in the search results for no reason that I can work out.
This is why I no longer pay attention to Google, and I certainly don’t look to it for reliable traffic.
Yes, I still follow their guidelines, the ones that make sense to me, anyway.
But when you remember how they present search results, and the increased dialling up or down of web pages based on politics, religion or money, you realise that the playing field is in no way level any longer.