(Note: On Sunday May 20, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a segment on the power of Google, validating much of what I’ve written below)
Google has the sole ability to help, or hurt, virtually any website. As a result, they have been able to extract a disproportionate amount of the wealth generated on the Web. Here I share detailed information about this website, in an attempt to raise awareness of the fact that massive websites like Google, operate as monopolies, and are destroying the very nature of the World Wide Web, worsening the experience for us all.
Google recently pushed AALBC to the 2nd page of their search results for a query on the term “African American Books.” The next statement may be hubris: this is freaking criminal! For the past 15 years AALBC has, deservedly, ranked well in the search results on this query — often in the top three, always on the first page.
This demotion in Google‘s search engine results, for this query, comes after a massive website redesign which dramatically improved the site. The website‘s page views are at a record high; the site‘s bounces rates are at an all time low; and the breadth and depth of the content has increased dramatically.
Of course, one can argue that Google’s relative ranking of AALBC.com is justified. I reject this notion and can easily use Google’s own rules as justification.
Today, AALBC ranks in the top 3 position for more than 500 other search terms on Google. But AALBC, objectively, should rank higher on the search term “African American Books” on Google‘s search engine. One might say, “Well AALBC is on the 2nd page of the search results and that is good too.” Unfortunately, the difference between being on the 2nd page of search results and the first page is the difference between being found and not being found. Research from chitika.com, as well as other sources, report that websites on the first search engine results page receive more than 92% of web traffic.
Google Reduces the Benefit of Ranking High in Search by Inserting Their Own Products and Paid Advertising
Even in an environment when a site ranks high in search results. Google will place its own services ahead of any organic search results. This practice has had a devastating impact on the profitability of book websites in particular. This is because Google places their book store, with content they’ve copied from Wikipedia, at the top of the search engine results page (SERP). Because Google can return their products at the top of the SERP in response to a query, a wide variety of websites have seen a reduction in traffic. For many websites, less traffic means less revenue and the site‘s growth is stunted if not stopped altogether.
After prominently displaying their own products Google will then display paid advertisement on the SERP. Between the paid advertising and Google‘s own products the first organic (unpaid) search result can appear below the fold (the visitor must scroll down the page to see term). Google’s search engine has become more of a platform for showcasing Google’s own services and those of their paid advertisers, than one for returning the best search results.
Here is an example: On a search for “best selling books 2018,” Google‘s bookstore takes up all the content above the fold! The first thing below the fold is an Amazon advertisement, followed by the first organic search result, Amazon. A search engine should return a list of websites in it set of results. When did it become acceptable for a search engine to dominate the entire SERP with its own store?
In an environment where competition exists, searchers would simply choose a another search engine, but…
Google has a 90% Share of Search on Mobile Devices
There are other search engines. I have previously made the argument that search engines like DuckDuckGo are superior to Google′s search engine, but the reality is Google dominates search. Google’s share of the mobile search, globally, is an astonishing 90%! This is not because Google’s search engine is better; the reason is they operate, with total legal impunity, as a monopoly.
Mobile access to the internet is rapidly growing. Google’s Android operating system (bundled with Google’s products including search, browser, location services, and Gmail is used on 88% of all mobile devices globally. Forbes reports, the Android operating system is running on more than 2 Billion mobile devices! There has never been any system that has reached so many people, so quickly that was owned by one company. This reach gives Google‘s search engine an insurmountable advantage. Of course all of the data collected through Gmail, the Chrome browser, location services all bolsters Google′s Dominance.
Google, Alone Dominates Online Advertising Across the World Wide Web
It doesn’t stop there; Google dominates advertising sales across the internet. More than 2 of every 5 dollars spent on online advertising goes to Google. In fact, I sell advertising on AALBC.com, but the ads Google places earn more money! In other words, Google pays me more money to place an advertisement on this site than I can sell the ad for myself — obviously Google collects more (32%) from the advertiser than they share with me. This is less a reflection of my skill as a salesman, and more a reflection of Google′s dominance of online advertising sales.
As brands increasingly spend their money with Google, websites are increasingly driven to serve Google advertisements to monetize their sites. This trend further increases Google’s dominance. Facebook is 2nd to Google in terms of online advertising, but Facebook ads are restricted to Facebook’s platform. Google, alone, dominates online advertising across the world wide web and is essentially the only advertising network available if a business wants to monetize it′s site.
Google Dominance of Search Allows Them to Dominate Internet Advertising and to Control the Behavior of Websites
Because website have to rank high in Google’s search to generate traffic, websites have to comply with a dizzying array of frequently growing, changing, and often cryptic requirements — all mandated by Google. Compliance is not optional. Failure to comply with Google’s mandates can result in being buried so deep in search results that the site will never be found. Google can also prevent a website from serving Google delivered advertising. Google likes to that sites who focus on quality content will rank well, but this is demonstrably not the case.
Google dropped AALBC′s very popular discussion forum, Thumper′s Corner from it’s advertising network, about a decade ago, because they felt some of the things participants wrote might offend some advertisers. I attempted to address Google‘s concerns, but Google never reinstated the website. Worse, Google will not talk to you, or even explain in detail what rules were violated or specifically tell you which pages created the offenses. Google has the ability to prevent advertisements from appearing on pages with what they define as offensive content, but they won’t.
Ultimately I moved the forum to the AALBC.com domain, which enabled me to begin serving ads again, but participation dropped after the move and never recovered. Part of the failure of the discussion forum to recover was also due to the advent of social media, but Google‘s action initiated the decline.
Google will say they enforce their mandates because they want to optimize the browsing experience for people who use their search engine. Many of these rules are actually beneficial and compliance does indeed help to improve the quality of the Web. Google’s mandate to optimize websites for mobile devices and to use the secure HTTPS protocols are just two examples that have had a positive impact on the Web.
Ignoring the fact that Google now defines the rules for the behavior of websites, I believe the real motivation for enforcing these rules is to help Google more easily place advertisements on, websites. The benefit to the visitors browsing experience is a secondary consideration. I’d also argue that Google′s heavy handed approach has made the World Wide Web less interesting — certainly less diverse.
Only the wealthiest websites, with the resources to hire the talent, have a chance to successful comply with Googles’s mandates. These extremely wealthy sites also have the money to pay Google for advertisements if they are unsuccessful in ranking high in search. In fact, the wealthiest websites will purchase advertising to prevent less wealthy competitors from being competitive. Even an ultra-powerful site like Amazon spends tens of millions of dollars a month in advertising with Google. This is paltry sum for Amazon, but a prohibitively exorbitant amount for virtually any other website.
This also has the effect of driving the lion′s share of traffic to the the sites who spend the most with Google and who have the staff to optimize their websites for Google‘s search engine. Advertising spend and search engine optimization have become more important than a site′s content for attracting visitors, thanks to Google.
As a result, smaller websites, despite great content, have been decimated. The diversity and range of expression on the web has been greatly reduced. The smaller websites, which remain, are being rendered undiscoverable by Google. The likelihood of new sites launching in this environment has been virtually eliminated. A site like AALBC could not launch today and any hope of being discovered — indeed it is a challenge to run this site after 20 years.
Sadly, the very behavior that sites can take to enhance their discoverability — linking to each other — has been greatly reduced by Google. Google ranks sites based upon the quality of both the inbound and outbound links to a website (“quality” as defined by Google). In reaction, many webmasters have greatly reduced the number of sites that they link to in order to avoid being penalized by Google.
The impact of this is that the interconnectivity of websites is much lower than it would be without Google′s undue influence. This has destroyed the nature of the World Wide Web and given even more control for a website‘s discoverability to Google.
Google Makes Mistakes — Often Devastating Ones
A decade ago there were many more sites like AALBC. In fact there were websites that were superior. Some were damaged by a Google search engine algorithm innocuously named “Panda.” Google‘s 2011 Panda update dealt a devastating blow to AALBC, reducing traffic, overnight, by 75%. It took 5 years for our site‘s traffic to recover.
There are other websites that I’m personally familiar with that have never recovered. Again, the loss to the web is incalculable. The unjustified penalty substantially impacted AALBC’s growth during the 5 year period it took to recover. AALBC.com also lost a substantial amount of revenue during that period. The table below shows the abrupt reduction in our Google advertising revenue.
I’ve never publicly shared AALBC′s Google revenue. However, it is important to share this information, because it provides a clear of Google‘s impact. Seeing a revenue stream go from more than $2,200 per month to $300 per month, is a pretty stark example, and should resonate more than a wonky discussion about an algorithm change.
The Entire World Wide Web is Completely Dependent and Controlled by Google
Facebook has gotten beat up a lately and this is well deserved, but Google is far more powerful than Facebook, because Facebook′s influence is limited to Facebook’s’ platforms. Google’s influence extends across the entire World Wide Web.
Google, like Facebook, portrays itself as the do-gooders of the Web — working hard to make the Web a better place. The reality is Google′s main objective is to enrich their shareholders by, seemingly, any means possible, including striving for monopolistic control over the Web and avoiding federal regulation.
Google uses its effective monopoly in search to showcase its own services and the paid advertising of the wealthiest websites over organic search results. This action crowds out better websites making them harder to find, hurting their traffic and profitability. Google also robs the Web of its diversity and variety, by increasing the focus on the richest websites, creating a less rich experience for everyone.
Search is too important a service for the Web to allow one profit driven entity to control it — especially when that entity has demonstrated a willingness to exploit their dominance at the expense of reducing the rich potential of the World Web Web.
For readers interested in African American Books, Google is helping to create an environment where information about Black books is harder to obtain. Critical reviews for our books are less likely to be written, talented authors will remain unpublished, and readers will find it increasingly difficult to learn about books other than the ones promoted by a handful of sites — all of whom are motivated by money — not by enriching the reader. These are a few of the consequences of a Web devoid of independent websites and dominated by a handful or massively powerful companies.
What Can Be Done?
- Use a different search engine.
Bing provides rewards for using their search engine and you may be pleasantly surprised the quality of DuckDuckGo′s search results (plus they respect your privacy)
- Lets stop making Google synonymous with search.
Remove the verb “google″ from your vocabulary.
- Help spread the word of about websites you value.
If you like a website spread the word about it. Tell your friends. Post links the site on your social media or websites. Share content you enjoy. We can not rely or organic search alone to uplift the best websites. We have to do this.
If you’ve read this far, you must share the article and leave a comment below. Let me know what you think about what you’ve read.