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Google Search, Chrome & Ad Execs Plotted To Increase Ad Revenues

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Google Search, Chrome & Ad Execs Plotted To Increase Ad Revenues

United States antitrust lawsuit against Google uncovers emails of executives from Google Search, Chrome and Ads discussing schemes for increasing ad revenue.

There are two documents, one from 2019 that features top Google executives from Search, Chrome and Ads hatching plans for pumping up ad revenues before the end of the quarter. At one point they even discuss the impact on Google’s stock price and their own personal fortunes.

Another document, dating from 2017, acknowledges reluctance of the Search team to do anything that could negatively affect users.

It must be pointed out that the most outrageous document consists of top executives, including Ben Gomes, who is one of the top engineers responsible for Google’s Search algorithm.

The PDF documenting the email discussion appears to shatter Google’s longtime insistence that that the Search Team is firewalled from the Advertising side of the company.

But again, these are top executives having a discussion, not the search team itself, apart from Ben Gomes.

Search Team Firewalled From Ads Teams

Googlers have made many statements over the years, at search conferences and in Google Hangouts and on Twitter that the search side of Google does not coordinate with the advertising side.

For example, in a May 8, 2015 Google Hangout, Google’s John Mueller explained how the search team is blocked off from the Ads team.

The question he answered was about a rumor that Google makes SEO more difficult in order to make more money from the ads.

Mueller responded:

“This is definitely not true.

So, this is something where we have a very, very strong firewall essentially between the paid side of Google and the organic search side.

And that’s not something that we would kind of connect, where we would say we would make algorithms that make the search results worse so that people go and click on ads more.

…So, it’s something where we’re not artificially trying to make it more complicated or harder or the search results worse so that people click on ads.

…So, that’s something where on the one hand, we really have the strong separation between the two sides.

On the other hand, we really need to keep that upright, so that we can make sure our search results are really as neutral as possible, as high quality as possible and really provide what users want.”

Google Executives Worked Together With Google Ads Team

The 2019 email is from a Google Ads executive Jerry Dischler. It was sent to a ChromeOS executive named John Maletis.

Also in on the email discussion is Ben Gomes who worked on the Google search algorithm since the earliest days, and Prabhakar Raghavan, an executive vice president who has been involved in the Search side as well as with Google Ads.

Google Ads executive Dischler wrote:

“The Search team is working together with us to accelerate a launch of a new mobile layout by the end of May that will be very revenue positive (exact numbers still moving), but that still won’t be enough.

Our best shot at making the quarter is if we get an injection of at least [redacted]% , queries ASAP from Chrome.”

He followed those remarks by lamenting how disappointed all the different team members will be should Google’s stock price drop because the advertising side didn’t perform well enough.

Frankly, it’s shocking that anyone involved with Google’s algorithm is in a discussion with the ChromeOS and Advertising teams about ways to artificially increase search queries in order to help meet the advertising side’s performance goals for the quarter.

And as disappointing as that is, it gets even worse.

The executives go on to discuss how not meeting their revenue goals will impact their personal wealth.

Dischler continued:

“I care more about revenue that the average person but think we can all agree that for all of our teams trying to live in high cost areas another $[redacted] in stock price loss will not be great for morale, not to mention the huge impact on our sales team.

In the next paragraph he expresses pride in Google’s “pure approach” and claims he doesn’t want to “poison the culture of any team.”

And with his next breath this is where he starts handing out the poison, saying:

“I don’t want the message to be ‘we’re doing this thing because the Ads team needs revenue.’ That’s a very negative message.

But my question to you is – based on above – what do we think is the best decision for Google overall?

…Are there other ranking tweaks we can push out quickly?”

A high ranking Chrome executive, Anil Sabharwal, responds by affirming they should go ahead with changes to search ranking (ostensibly to benefit Google Ads, which is the context of the entire email).

Tellingly, he worries about “bad press” at the upcoming Google IO event.

Sabharwal responded:

“…we don’t want bad press around IO, let’s roll out #1 and #2 now and get the benefits.

Let’s also start the search ranking experiments asap and roll those out once we get the data.”

Later on in the email chain, Anil Sabharwal questions how far the executives are willing to go in terms of the negative impact to the user experience, long term retention and team motivation.

He then talks about changes to search ranking:

“We are making progress here, and I’m hopeful the search ranking improvements in Omnibox will also be a material increase in SQV, but I understand we need to do more.”

The “improvements” being discussed are a way to increase search queries and presumably ad revenues.

In another part of the email chain Jerry Dischler remarks on the short term gains from reversing “query-driven revenue loss” and references experiments on the Chrome and Search side.

He then remarks on how they need to be more aggressive about raising the advertising revenues.

Dischler writes:

“It’s a decent start but collectively we need to figure out how to do more and this work is urgent because we continue to face these strong headwinds in Q2.”

Anil Sabharwal, the Chrome executive,  later discusses the changes to Chrome, specifically the Omnibox changes, that are designed to increase search queries, describing the work of the Chrome team for increasing search queries as “heroic.”

He wrote:

“1…we were able to get launch approval to rollout two changes (entity suggest and tail suggest) that increase queries by [redacted]% and [redacted]% respectively.

2. We are going to immediately start experiments to improve search ranking in the omnibox (more search results and nudging search to the top).”

The changes Google made to Chrome were so bad that the experiments were noticed by commenters on Reddit.

The executive found it humorous that the Redditors thought that the experiment was a “bug.”

Another government exhibit contains a discussion given in 2017 where the Ads side expresses frustration with the wall separating the Ads team from the search team.

The discussion calls attention to talk that the Search side should consider “query quotas.”

The document reveals:

Ads/Revenues
…the old model of things getting thrown over the wall to them has outlived its usefulness…

There’s talk of suggesting that the Search team consider new goals around query quotas, focusing on monetizable queries, returning towards focusing Search experience on high revenue countries…”

The document outlines the fears of the Search team about metrics that could lead to “unnatural search experiences” from the quest for ad revenue.

So it’s not that the Search team itself was complicit in rigging search in service of more ad revenues.

The second document acknowledges that the Search team itself didn’t want to engage in activities that would negatively impact the users.

Read the entire email document in PDF format.

Read the second exhibit in PDF format that kicks around the idea about “query quotas”

Watch John Mueller discuss the firewall between the search and ads at the 41 minute mark:

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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

In the dynamic realm of search engine optimization (SEO), my career spans nearly two decades, starting in 2004 when I started working for an agency and just two years later moved to in-house SEO for a large company.

Since then, I’ve held various in-house SEO roles at esteemed organizations, including Classmates.com, Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (usedcars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon, GitHub, and my most recent role at RingCentral – experiences which have deepened my understanding of the field and allowed me to shape SEO within different business contexts.

I began my career as an SEO specialist at the agency; my role involved understanding website optimization, keyword research, and refining on-page and off-page strategies.

When I moved to management, I had to understand how to lead a team properly.

As my journey progressed, transitioning to roles like SEO manager involved overseeing SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, educating and leading teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals.

These roles collectively form the backbone of SEO, showcasing its dynamism and emphasizing each position’s indispensable role in driving effective digital marketing strategies.

My journey isn’t that much different from that of many SEO professionals, aside from the fact that some SEO pros may decide to stay with an agency or focus on consulting rather than working for another company.

There are so many avenues one could go down when choosing their career path for SEO, so let me help break it down.

SEO Roles

As someone immersed in the SEO field for many years, I fully understand today’s many diverse SEO roles.

Let’s explore these roles, the average salaries in the US, and advice I have for anyone looking to move into these roles, considering both their nuances and the path ahead for aspiring SEO professionals:

SEO Specialist

Embarking on the SEO journey often starts as a specialist. In this entry-level role, one will dig into the complexities of optimizing websites to boost rankings.

As a specialist, my early days involved conducting keyword research, analyzing website performance, and implementing strategies that enhanced organic visibility for clients.

This foundational role serves as a stepping stone to grasp the fundamentals of digital marketing in both the agency and in-house environments.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Focus on entry-level content optimization, conducting keyword research, and honing on-page and off-page strategies.
  • Advice: This is a great role to grasp the fundamentals, immerse yourself in various facets of digital marketing, and adapt to evolving trends.

SEO Content Strategist

Transitioning to a content strategist role within SEO reveals the creative side of drafting engaging, search-engine-friendly content.

Most SEO pros in this position are expected to sharpen their writing skills and plan and optimize content calendars based on comprehensive keyword research.

As an SEO content strategist, creating informative and captivating content is paramount to retaining readers and adhering to evolving SEO best practices.

Technical SEO Manager

My background in engineering has allowed me to focus heavily on the technical aspects of SEO. The position as a technical SEO manager requires a solid knowledge of coding, engineering processes, and database management.

The role of a technical SEO professional involves handling site structure, indexing, and resolving intricate technical issues that impact search performance.

Responsibilities extend to collaborating with engineering teams, ensuring effective communication, and mitigating risks associated with technical SEO.

This role requires a unique blend of technical acumen and collaborative skills.

  • Salary*: $99,548 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Tackle technical aspects impacting search performance, focusing on site structure, indexing, and technical troubleshooting.
  • Advice: Understand what goes into the development of a website, including the various coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, Python, React, Angular, etc.), database connectivity, and server administration, followed by the specifics of what Google expects and recommends for the benefits of SEO. In addition, SEO pros are expected to cultivate collaboration skills and have a solid understanding of using tools like Botify to aid in effective communication with engineers, which is pivotal for project success and seamless cooperation.

Link Building Specialist

As a link building specialist, the focus shifts to acquiring high-quality backlinks to enhance website authority and rankings.

This role demands persistence in building relationships, performing strategic outreach, and executing link-building strategies.

SEO pros interested in pursuing a career focused on off-site SEO must demonstrate the meticulous effort and specialization required in acquiring valuable links, making this role a dynamic and rewarding part of the SEO landscape.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Acquire high-quality backlinks from relevant sites to enhance website authority, involving relationship-building and strategic outreach.
  • Advice: Develop persistence and relationship-building skills; the role demands time and specialization in acquiring valuable links while avoiding what could be considered spammy links. It would be very detrimental to a link building specialist’s career if they were to get a website banned by Google for using bad practices.

Local SEO Specialist

Optimizing websites for local searches can be a specialized avenue in any SEO journey.

Local SEO specialists manage local citations and Google My Business profiles and ensure consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) data for region-specific platforms.

This role highlights the importance of attention to detail and local nuances for businesses aiming to attract nearby customers.

  • Salary*: $62,852 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Optimize websites for local searches, manage local citations and Google My Business profiles, and ensure NAP data consistency.
  • Advice: Understand the nuances of local SEO; attention to detail and consistency are key for localized online visibility. Learn the various tools available to help manage these listings, such as RenderSEO and Yext.

Ecommerce SEO Product Manager

Working at ecommerce companies brings a unique challenge of its own.

SEO product manager roles require an SEO pro to specialize in optimizing online stores; the focus shifts to product optimization, category pages, site structure, and enhancing user experience.

Balancing SEO knowledge with product management skills becomes essential in navigating this niche, offering both challenges and lucrative opportunities.

  • Salary*: $117,277 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Specialize in optimizing online stores, focusing on product optimization, category pages, and user experience.
  • Advice: Combine SEO knowledge with product management skills; leveling up enhances prospects in this unique and lucrative niche.

SEO Consultant

My role as an SEO consultant involved advising businesses on enhancing online visibility. Analyzing websites, developing customized strategies, and offering guidance on effective SEO became integral.

The SEO consultant role offers relief when I find myself out of work in my in-house roles due to a layoff or if the company culture isn’t a good fit.

While my consulting is a second and infrequent role, many SEO pros decide that consulting is what they prefer to do full-time.

Either way, providing optimization services to companies neglecting SEO is a great way to make a substantial income.

  • Salary*: $63,298 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Advise businesses on improving online visibility, analyzing websites, developing strategies, and offering SEO guidance.
  • Advice: Gain diverse optimization experience; providing services to companies neglecting SEO can yield rapid improvement.

SEO Account Manager

Anyone interested in an SEO account manager role will experience the dynamic facet of serving as a bridge between clients and staff.

Meeting clients to understand their needs and relaying information for improved optimization efforts is the cornerstone of this position.

Performance-driven account managers could earn additional commissions, adding an incentive-driven layer to the role.

  • Salary*: $68,314 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Serve as a company’s point of contact, meeting clients and relaying information for improved optimization efforts.
  • Advice: Understand industry standards; performance-driven account managers can earn additional commissions, boosting income.

SEO Data Analyst

An SEO data analyst role involves collecting and interpreting website performance and search rankings data.

Using tools like Google Analytics, Semrush, and Botify while obtaining knowledge of running SQL queries provides insights to inform strategic decisions.

This role underlines the significance of data analysis, specifically focusing on SEO-related metrics and their implications.

  • Salary*: $76,575 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Collect and interpret website performance and search rankings data, offering insights for strategic decisions.
  • Advice: Know how to run SQL queries and manipulate data in Excel. Focus on SEO-related data analysis and understanding traffic from various search engines to improve decision-making.

SEO Manager

The majority of my roles in my career have been under the SEO manager title.

Those roles involved overseeing entire SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, managing teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals. This mid-to-senior-level management position requires a diverse skill set.

  • Salary*: $74,494 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Oversee entire SEO strategy, develop comprehensive plans, manage teams, and ensure alignment with business goals.
  • Advice: Understand what it takes to be a team leader. Nurture your team, build relationships in the organization, and articulate the benefits of what you’re asking to accomplish SEO growth. Management books like StrengthsFinder 2.0: Gallup by Don Clifton and Radical Candor by Kim Scott are great resources for becoming a good leader. If an SEO manager can tap into effective communication and leadership, the senior positions can lead to higher earnings of up to $210,000.

Notes:

The salary for the link building and local specialist roles are the same as that of an SEO specialist, since they tend to be at the same level.

In addition, the SEO product manager’s salary is taken from what a standard product manager makes since the roles are very similar.

Also, note that consultants can make upwards of $200,000 per year or more as they decide what to charge clients and how many clients they choose to take on.

*US National average salary reported by Indeed.com as of January 2024

Is SEO A Good Career Choice? Debunking Myths And Realities

Having navigated the dynamic landscape of SEO for over two decades, I have found that, while choosing a career in SEO has been rewarding, there are many things I would have done differently if I had the chance to do it all over again.

The good part about the SEO career path is that it unfolds across various roles, each offering unique challenges and opportunities for growth.

Starting from entry-level positions to assuming leadership roles like SEO manager, professionals gain a diverse skill set and invaluable experience.

However, it’s crucial to understand that the journey rarely leads to executive positions like director of SEO in larger companies and even more rarely to vice president positions.

The salaries of roles that SEO pros work with (i.e., product managers, engineers, growth managers, etc.) are much higher than what SEO pros usually make. So if it’s money you’re after in an SEO career, then you may be on the wrong path.

Agencies often embrace SEO professionals in executive roles, highlighting the need for a blended approach to SEO strategy involving in-house and agency collaboration. Still, the salaries tend to be less than for in-house roles.

Most SEO professionals should begin their journey as specialists and envision their desired position in 5 to 10 years.

If aspirations lean towards engineering, take the initiative to learn to code and acquire the necessary skills expected of an engineer. Collaborate closely with engineering teams, expressing a keen interest in contributing to their projects to transition to an engineering role.

For those eyeing executive roles in large corporations, strategically plan a career trajectory that navigates beyond SEO and aligns with roles leading to executive positions.

Typically, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have backgrounds in product marketing or growth marketing, progressing from directors to VPs in those domains before making the leap to CMO.

While SEO expertise enhances marketability, transitioning from SEO to these roles can be challenging. Therefore, be prepared to undertake the necessary steps to facilitate a smooth transition when the time comes.

For those contemplating an SEO career, embrace the diverse roles within SEO, each contributing to a robust skill set.

Junior roles provide foundational knowledge, strategists refine creativity and analytical abilities, and managers oversee comprehensive SEO plans.

It’s essential to evaluate personal preferences – whether one aspires to be a specialist excelling in a specific area or climb the ladder to managerial roles.

Be aware that large companies might not offer executive SEO positions, leading to the importance of understanding the industry’s dynamics and considering agency opportunities.

Education In SEO: Unveiling The Reality of Degrees

After spending over two decades submerged in SEO, a formal degree is not a prerequisite for a successful career in SEO.

My journey began with college, where I majored in English and Art History. However, realizing the potential in web design and development, I dropped out to focus on freelance work.

The SEO industry thrives on practical skills and hands-on experience, making degrees less significant.

Numerous online resources and guides offer a wealth of information to aid in mastering SEO techniques. It’s a field where continuous learning is integral, and personal initiative often surpasses the value of formal education.

The insights shared by others resonate with my own experiences. SEO is a realm where proven expertise often outshines academic credentials.

The industry includes individuals with diverse educational backgrounds, from MBAs to those without formal education. What matters most is the ability to adapt, learn, and implement effective strategies.

For aspiring SEO professionals, the key lies in taking the initiative, exploring online resources, and gaining practical experience.

Whether starting a business or pursuing a career, hands-on learning and staying updated with industry trends are the real benchmarks of success. While a degree might be a plus, it’s not mandatory for carving a rewarding path in SEO.

The Diverse Paths Of SEO

The potential routes within the SEO career landscape are numerous, starting with opportunities at agencies that provide an excellent learning ground, exposing individuals to various aspects of digital marketing.

Alternatively, one could enter an in-house position at a company where guidance from an experienced SEO professional is crucial.

Freelancing or working as an independent consultant presents another viable option, offering flexibility in the work environment and schedule.

The SEO career path encompasses a spectrum of roles, from entry-level to junior roles, strategists, managers, and senior managers, each with distinctive responsibilities and salary ranges.

Agency

One significant route involves commencing the journey at agencies, which serve as excellent learning grounds.

Working at an agency exposes individuals to various facets of digital marketing, offering a dynamic environment where skills are honed through hands-on experience.

This path allows for a comprehensive understanding of SEO within the broader context of marketing strategies.

In-House

On the other hand, individuals may choose to embark on an in-house position within a company.

The crucial guidance characterizes this path experienced SEO professionals provide in the corporate setting.

The in-house route often entails a deeper integration with the company’s goals and strategies, requiring a specialized skill set tailored to the organization’s needs.

Freelancing

For those inclined towards independence and flexibility, freelancing or working as an independent consultant represents a viable option within the SEO career landscape.

This path allows individuals to shape their work environment and schedules according to personal preferences.

Freelancers have the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, gaining diverse experiences that contribute to their professional growth.

Conclusion

In this exploration of the SEO career landscape, I am reminded of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of SEO.

From my humble beginnings as a freelance developer optimizing websites to my most recent work as a consultant, each step has presented unique challenges and learning opportunities, adding to my comprehensive grasp of SEO.

These experiences have enriched my understanding of various business environments.

I hope this article helps readers interested in a career in SEO carve out a path for themselves.

More resources: 


Featured Image: New Africa/Shutterstock

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Technical SEO Checklist for 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

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Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

With Google getting a whopping total of six algorithmic updates and four core updates in 2023, you can bet the search landscape is more complicated (and competitive) to navigate nowadays.

To succeed in SEO this year, you will need to figure out what items to check and optimize to ensure your website stays visible. And if your goal is to not just make your website searchable, but have it rank at the top of search engine results, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 is essential.

Webmaster’s Note: This is part one of our three-part SEO checklist for 2024. I also have a longer guide on advanced technical SEO, which covers best practices and how to troubleshoot and solve common technical issues with your websites.

Technical SEO Essentials for 2024

Technical SEO refers to optimizations that are primarily focused on helping search engines access, crawl, interpret, and index your website without any issues. It lays the foundation for your site to be properly understood and served up by search engines to users.

1. Website Speed Optimization

A site’s loading speed is a significant ranking factor for search engines like Google, which prioritize user experience. Faster websites generally provide a more pleasant user experience, leading to increased engagement and improved conversion rates.

Server Optimization

Often, the reason why your website is loading slowly is because of the server it’s hosted on. It’s important to choose a high-quality server that ensures quick loading times from the get-go so you skip the headache that is server optimization.

Google recommends keeping your server response time under 200ms. To check your server’s response time, you need to know your website’s IP address. Once you have that, use your command prompt.

In the window that appears, type ping, followed by your website’s IP address. Press enter and the window should show how long it took your server to respond. 

If you find that your server goes above the recommended 200ms loading time, here’s what you need to check:

  1. Collect the data from your server and identify what is causing your response time to increase. 
  2. Based on what is causing the problem, you will need to implement server-side optimizations. This guide on how to reduce initial server response times can help you here.
  3. Measure your server response times after optimization to use as a benchmark. 
  4. Monitor any regressions after optimization.

If you work with a hosting service, then you should contact them when you need to improve server response times. A good hosting provider should have the right infrastructure, network connections, server hardware, and support services to accommodate these optimizations. They may also offer hosting options if your website needs more server resources to run smoothly.

Website Optimization

Aside from your server, there are a few other reasons that your website might be loading slowly. 

Here are some practices you can do:

  1. Compressing images to decrease file sizes without sacrificing quality
  2. Minimizing the code, eliminating unnecessary spaces, comments, and indentation.
  3. Using caching to store some data locally in a user’s browser to allow for quicker loading on subsequent visits.
  4. Implementing Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to distribute the load, speeding up access for users situated far from the server.
  5. Lazy load your web pages to prioritize loading the objects or resources only your users need.

A common tool to evaluate your website speed is Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Google Lighthouse. Both tools can analyze the content of your website and then generate suggestions to improve its overall loading speed, all for free. There are also some third-party tools, like GTMetrix, that you could use as well.

Here’s an example of one of our website’s speeds before optimization. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen, and it was affecting our SEO.

slow site speed score from GTMetrixslow site speed score from GTMetrix

So we followed our technical SEO checklist. After working on the images, removing render-blocking page elements, and minifying code, the score greatly improved — and we saw near-immediate improvements in our page rankings. 

site speed optimization results from GTMetrixsite speed optimization results from GTMetrix

That said, playing around with your server settings, coding, and other parts of your website’s backend can mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I suggest backing up all your files and your database before you start working on your website speed for that reason. 

2. Mobile-First Indexing

Mobile-first Indexing is a method used by Google that primarily uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. 

It’s no secret that Google places a priority on the mobile users’ experience, what with mobile-first indexing being used. Beyond that, optimizing your website for mobile just makes sense, given that a majority of people now use their phones to search online.

This change signifies that a fundamental shift in your approach to your website development and design is needed, and it should also be part of your technical SEO checklist.

  1. Ensuring the mobile version of your site contains the same high-quality, rich content as the desktop version.
  2. Make sure metadata is present on both versions of your site.
  3. Verify that structured data is present on both versions of your site.

Tools like Google’s mobile-friendly test can help you measure how effectively your mobile site is performing compared to your desktop versions, and to other websites as well.

3. Crawlability & Indexing Check

Always remember that crawlability and Indexing are the cornerstones of SEO. Crawlability refers to a search engine’s ability to access and crawl through a website’s content. Indexing is how search engines organize information after a crawl and before presenting results.

  1. Utilizing a well-structured robots.txt file to communicate with web crawlers about which of your pages should not be processed or scanned.
  2. Using XML sitemaps to guide search engines through your site’s content and ensure that all valuable content is found and indexed. There are several CMS plugins you can use to generate your sitemap.
  3. Ensuring that your website has a logical structure with a clear hierarchy, helps both users and bots navigate to your most important pages easily. 

Google Search Console is the tool you need to use to ensure your pages are crawled and indexed by Google. It also provides reports that identify any problems that prevent crawlers from indexing your pages. 

4. Structured Data Markup

Structured Data Markup is a coding language that communicates website information in a more organized and richer format to search engines. This plays a strategic role in the way search engines interpret and display your content, enabling enhanced search results through “rich snippets” such as stars for reviews, prices for products, or images for recipes.

Doing this allows search engines to understand and display extra information directly in the search results from it.

Key Takeaway

With all the algorithm changes made in 2023, websites need to stay adaptable and strategic to stay at the top of the search results page. Luckily for you, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 can help you do just that. Use this as a guide to site speed optimization, indexing, and ensuring the best experience for mobile and desktop users.

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

Many people are convinced that Google shows a preference for big brands and ranking low quality content, something that many feel has become progressively worse. This may not be a matter of perception, something is going on, nearly everyone has an anecdote of poor quality search results. The possible reasons for it are actually quite surprising.

Google Has Shown Favoritism In The Past

This isn’t the first time that Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have shown a bias that favored big brand websites. During the early years of Google’s algorithm it was obvious that sites with a lot of PageRank ranked for virtually anything they wanted.

For example, I remember a web design company that built a lot of websites, creating a network of backlinks, raising their PageRank to a remarkable level normally seen only in big corporate sites like IBM. As a consequence they ranked for the two-word keyword phrase, Web Design and virtually every other variant like Web Design + [any state in the USA].

Everyone knew that websites with a PageRank of 10, the highest level shown on Google’s toolbar, practically had a free pass in the SERPs, resulting in big brand sites outranking more relevant webpages. It didn’t go unnoticed when Google eventually adjusted their algorithm to fix this issue.

The point of this anecdote is to point out an instance of where Google’s algorithm unintentionally created a bias that favored big brands.

Here are are other  algorithm biases that publishers exploited:

  • Top 10 posts
  • Longtail “how-to” articles
  • Misspellings
  • Free Widgets in footer that contained links (always free to universities!)

Big Brands And Low Quality Content

There are two things that have been a constant for all of Google’s history:

  • Low quality content
  • Big brands crowding out small independent publishers

Anyone that’s ever searched for a recipe knows that the more general the recipe the lower the quality of recipe that gets ranked. Search for something like cream of chicken soup and the main ingredient for nearly every recipe is two cans of chicken soup.

A search for Authentic Mexican Tacos results in recipes with these ingredients:

  • Soy sauce
  • Ground beef
  • “Cooked chicken”
  • Taco shells (from the store!)
  • Beer

Not all recipe SERPs are bad. But some of the more general recipes Google ranks are so basic that a hobo can cook them on a hotplate.

Robin Donovan (Instagram), a cookbook author and online recipe blogger observed:

“I think the problem with google search rankings for recipes these days (post HCU) are much bigger than them being too simple.

The biggest problem is that you get a bunch of Reddit threads or sites with untested user-generated recipes, or scraper sites that are stealing recipes from hardworking bloggers.

In other words, content that is anything but “helpful” if what you want is a tested and well written recipe that you can use to make something delicious.”

Explanations For Why Google’s SERPs Are Broken

It’s hard not to get away from the perception that Google’s rankings for a variety of topics always seem to default to big brand websites and low quality webpages.

Small sites grow to become big brands that dominate the SERPs, it happens. But that’s the thing, even when a small site gets big, it’s now another big brand dominating the SERPs.

Typical explanations for poor SERPs:

  • It’s a conspiracy to increase ad clicks
  • Content itself these days are low quality across the board
  • Google doesn’t have anything else to rank
  • It’s the fault of SEOs
  • Affiliates
  • Poor SERPs is Google’s scheme to drive more ad clicks
  • Google promotes big brands because [insert your conspiracy]

So what’s going on?

People Love Big Brands & Garbage Content

The recent Google anti-trust lawsuit exposed the importance of the Navboost algorithm signals as a major ranking factor. Navboost is an algorithm that interprets user engagement signals to understand what topics a webpage is relevant for, among other things.

The idea of using engagement signals as an indicator of what users expect to see makes sense. After all, Google is user-centric and who better to decide what’s best for users than the users themselves, right?

Well, consider that arguably the the biggest and most important song of 1991, Smells Like Teen Spirt by Nirvana, didn’t make the Billboard top 100 for that year. Michael Bolton and Rod Stewart made the list twice, with Rod Stewart top ranked for a song called “The Motown Song” (anyone remember that one?)

Nirvana didn’t make the charts until the next year…

My opinion, given that we know that user interactions are a strong ranking signal, is that Google’s search rankings follow a similar pattern related to users’ biases.

People tend to choose what they know. It’s called a Familiarity Bias.

Consumers have a habit of choosing things that are familiar over those that are unfamiliar. This preference shows up in product choices that prefer brands, for example.

Behavioral scientist, Jason Hreha, defines Familiarity Bias like this:

“The familiarity bias is a phenomenon in which people tend to prefer familiar options over unfamiliar ones, even when the unfamiliar options may be better. This bias is often explained in terms of cognitive ease, which is the feeling of fluency or ease that people experience when they are processing familiar information. When people encounter familiar options, they are more likely to experience cognitive ease, which can make those options seem more appealing.”

Except for certain queries (like those related to health), I don’t think Google makes an editorial decision to certain kinds of websites, like brands.

Google uses many signals for ranking. But Google is strongly user focused.

I believe it’s possible that strong user preferences can carry a more substantial weight than Reviews System signals. How else to explain why Google seemingly has a bias for big brand websites with fake reviews rank better than honest independent review sites?

It’s not like Google’s algorithms haven’t created poor search results in the past.

  • Google’s Panda algorithm was designed to get rid of a bias for cookie cutter content.
  • The Reviews System is a patch to fix Google’s bias for content that’s about reviews but aren’t necessarily reviews.

If Google has systems for catching low quality sites that their core algorithm would otherwise rank, why do big brands and poor quality content still rank?

I believe the answer is that is what users prefer to see those sites, as indicated by user interaction signals.

The big question to ask is whether Google will continue to rank what users biases and inexperience trigger user satisfaction signals.  Or will Google continue serving the sugar-frosted bon-bons that users crave?

Should Google make the choice to rank quality content at the risk that users find it too hard to understand?

Or should publishers give up and focus on creating for the lowest common denominator like the biggest popstars do?



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