What Is Google Clamping Down On? Spring 2024 Updates — Whiteboard Friday

So one of them is a lot of SEOs right now, and a lot of website owners are saying that they feel independent sites have recently, and especially in these recent updates, been heavily punished. Small independent sites have done much worse than they have done historically, or maybe they’re being outranked by larger sites with the exact same content that was stolen or this kind of thing.

Now, this is very anecdotal, I must say. It’s quite challenging to produce hard data on this kind of thing, which I’ll come back to in a moment.

This is a narrative that is getting some traction, and I want to talk about two of the reasons why this could be and two explanations for why we might feel an effect like this.

Reddit is being pushed heavily by Google

So the first one is, as a lot of people have noticed, Reddit is being pushed heavily by Google, and Quora as well to a slightly lesser extent. And I don’t know if you remember, but one or two years ago, there were a lot of people complaining, “Oh, these days, in order to do anything sensible with Google, I have to put reddit.com on the end of my query in order to get a sensible result.”

Well, it seems like Google really took that to heart. I pulled together some quick data. So I looked for, I think, the first Sunday in April, comparing year-on-year what percentage of top 10 organic results were Reddit. And this is the MozCast query set, so it’s got 10,000 head terms, US and UK.

And this went from 0.06% to 0.7%, so that’s more than a 10x increase. And then for totals, so this includes non-organic results, such as discussions in forums. For example, Reddit went from 0.1% to 1.3%.

And for that, I used the top 20 because, obviously, I had to cut it off somewhere. There are more than ten results on the front page if you’re including non-organic results. And obviously, this is pushed heavily by discussion forums, a feature that has seen a huge gain in traction in the last year.

Now, I point out Reddit as a potential explanation for why independent sites might be feeling a little bit hard done by at the moment because, to some extent, search is a zero-sum game. And if Reddit is getting these huge jumps in visibility on queries that call for a sort of personal experience and this kind of thing, well, if Reddit is getting much more traffic, then someone else has to be getting less.

So that’s one potential explanation, for which we do have data, of why something like this could be happening.

Google is facing existential threats

The other thing that I might speculate on here is that Google is facing three concurrent existential threats at the moment.

AI content

So AI content, the search results filling with AI content, particularly if it’s bad, is an existential threat to Google.

AI competitors

AI competitors, I think just before I recorded this, Perplexity announced that they were going to produce an LLM search engine. OpenAI have said something similar. I don’t personally agree, but some people think that ChatGPT is a Google competitor.

So, if you believe any of these things, that is also an existential threat to Google.

Search quality

And then lastly, there have been these comments for many years now about how search quality is seemingly declining. That is also an existential threat to Google.

And arguably, brand signals, turning up the dial on how important brand is to ranking, would be an answer to all three of these.

So this is something that Google could be doing as maybe a bit of a panic reaction or maybe quite a sensible reaction, which, again, would be felt most keenly by independent sites.

So this is just speculation on my part; two potential reasons why that could be true.

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