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Google Search Enshittification

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Updated May 17, 2024 at 05:49PM EDT by Zach.

Added May 17, 2024 at 02:06PM EDT by Aidan Walker.

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Overview

Google Search Enshittification refers to the user experience and market situation of Google Search in the 2020s, an era that saw significant changes to the core Google Search product and a marked decline in market share and usage, as well as an increase in complaints and negativity toward the product online. During this period, memes and posts by internet users about Google Search expressed frustration, arguing the search engine was no longer useful and had become clogged with too many advertisements, AI-generated spam and low-quality or unhelpful results.

Background

Google Search was founded in 1997 and developed into the core product at the heart of Google as the company expanded into other domains such as software, data storage, and artificial intelligence. Search was monetized through advertising revenue, remaining free to users but making money by letting companies pay to connect their content to particular keywords, meaning that their sites would appear when a user searched for the keyword.[1]



Creators of websites were incentivized to make them in such a way that Google's algorithm would rank them highly in search results for relevant keywords and direct clicks their way. This led to the development of SEO (search engine optimization) a set of strategic methods to create content that performs well on Google. Throughout the history of Search, Google tweaked its algorithm many times, seeking to outmaneuver creators of spam and low-quality content.

Prabhakar Raghavan

In 2019, Google appointed Prabhakar Raghavan as the new head of its Search division. Raghavan had previously led Search at Yahoo! during the era of that website's precipitous decline in market share and usage. According to internal tech emails released to the public during the course of the 2023 Google Antitrust trial, Raghavan's appointment came after Google determined it was not making enough revenue from Search and needed to increase usage and profitability.



In order to do this, Google overhauled its search algorithm and changed features, including making ads less difficult to distinguish from regular results and allowing the display of more ads before regular results.[2] Critics also argued that Google had changed things on the back end, allowing lower-quality sites that did not answer questions to perform better so that users would spend more time on Google Search looking for the right answer.

Memes started to arrive on social media platforms in which users complained about poor search quality during the 2020s. For example, on March 1st, 2024 Redditor u/Duskull posted the Big Brain Wojak and Brainlet meme (seen below) to /r/memes and received over 24,000 likes in two and a half months.[13]


GOOGLE BEFORE 2023- Yes, here are the results to what you're looking for! GOOGLE AFTER 2023= AN My search results are better than what you're looking for!

"The Man Who Killed Google Search" Article

Tech journalist Ed Zitron, in his viral article "The Man Who Killed Google Search" in April 2024, described Raghavan as a "management" type, intent on increasing profitability. Zitron went on to criticize Raghavan's role in the purported deterioration of Google Search like this:

As I’ve argued previously, we – with good reason – continually complain about the state of Twitter under Elon Musk, but I’d argue Raghavan (and, by extension, Google CEO Sundar Pichai) deserve as much criticism, if not more, for the damage they’ve done to society. Because Google is the ultimate essential piece of online infrastructure, just like power lines and water mains are in the physical realm.

Developments

Study On Google Spam

In January 2024, German university researchers put out a year-long longitudinal study about Google Search results and their quality. The researchers found through a rigorous analysis that the number of spam sites and content mill sites in search results had increased dramatically and that sites that we "more optimized" for SEO, engaged in "affiliate marketing" and featured "lower-quality" text were consistently ranking better than higher-quality sites.[4]


amazon.com youtube amazon.de findthisbest pinterest nytimes thespruce bestreviews.guide nymag bobvila goodhousekeeping walmart forbes etsy popularmechanics thespruceeats insider houzz cnet healthline expertreviews techradar ebay tomsguide gistgear gadgetreview familyhandyman pemag byrdie independent momjunction bestproducts dontwasteyourmoney homedepot distrotest reviewed msn foodandwine pdhre usatoday A Longitudinal Investigation of SEO Spam in Search Engines 11 Authentic Review Site Magazine Review Farm Web Shops Spam Social Media 0 1,000 2,000 3,000 4,000 realsimple bhg techgearlab Helpful seriouseats Content cnn Update outdoorgearlab cherrypicksreviews Aug 28 reddit Product Helpful Product Product thisoldhouse Review Content Review Review amazon.co.uk Update Update Update Update Sep 20 Dec 05 Feb 21 Apr 12 quora Helpful Content Update Sep 14 24 26 11 Aug Oct Nov 25 19 12 27 10 27 14 27 11 24 05 Dec 'Jan 'Feb Mar Apr May 19 06 'Jun 16 30 23 19 Aug Sep Number of Pages from a Site across different Crawls Figure 3. The 30 most common sites from the Startpage SERPs and their frequencies over time (as page counts per scrape). Blue lines indicate Google's ranker updates. Sites were manually categorized based on the content they served at their first retrieval time.

A graphic (seen above) from the study, depicts the 30 most frequent web addresses encountered in the results, which the researchers tested over the course of a year. They found that spam results consistently achieved high search rankings and that Google's various updates (marked by blue lines in the chart) did little to stop the flow of spam content.

These findings were largely in line with reporting from outlets like The Verge and what the study called "anecdotal" accounts of decreasing search quality from internet users.

In comments to 404 Media, Google pushed back against the idea that more spam than before existed in its search results.[5]

Google AI Overview

In late 2023 and early 2024, Google began rolling out its new feature of AI-generated "overviews" of search results seeking to answer a user question without ever directing them to a website. This new move met with immediate backlash from many creators and publishers, who argued that by using AI to give answers, Google would take page views and money away from the actual makers of web content.[9]



Thinkers like Cory Doctorow, the theorist behind enshittification argued that the AI overviews would make Google and the internet overall even less useful.[10]

Users also objected to the amount of screen space taken up by the AI overviews in May 2024 and pointed out its unreliability. For example, @SEOKeval on X posted on May 15th, 2024, an AI overview result advising that he drink urine (seen below) and received over 100 likes in two days.[11]


Keval Shah | Ecommerce SEO @SEOKeval May 15 Everyone: Google Al overview is going to steal organic clicks! Google Al Overview: how to pass kidney stones qui. Al Answer Learn more: Drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, or fruit juice, can help pass kidney stones more quickly. You should aim to drink at least 2 quarts (2 liters) of urine every 24 hours, and your urine should be light in color. ^ Comprehensive Urology How to Pass a Kidney Stone in 24 Hours Comprehensi... What are some effective ways to pass a kidney stone quickly? You can pas... Mount Sinai Kidney stones - Information | M Drinking extra water Eating more of some 20 17 17 101 19K ☐

On Reddit, users also shared nonsensical answers given by the Google AI overview. A December 5th, 2023, post about this (seen below) by Redditor u/VoiceoftheJingle on /r/AtetheOnion received over 240 upvotes in five months.[12]


5:01 1 Images Shopping Videos News Generative Al is experimental. Info quality may vary. Learn more Showing results for who makes disney's turkey legs Search instead for who makes disneys turkey legs youtube.com Scientists Reveal Disney "Turkey Legs" Are Actually... Sep 29, 2023 - scientists revealed that Disney turkey legs are actually made from Elk. these scientists were... Delish According to a source in Mousetrap News, Disney has a secret farm where they raise elk that produce turkey legs. Each elk can produce eight turkey legs, which is four times more than a turkey. Disney can also raise elk faster than turkeys. Show more : 33 Maps (d) https://www.delish.com food > dis... 9 Things You Never Knew About Disney's Giant Turkey Legs Aug 15, 2018 - Whispers that the turkey legs were actually emu were made public when Tangled actor Mouse Trap New Scientists Reve "Turkey Legs" Sep 21, 2023 - Acce internal source, Disn farm where they rai

Online Reactions

Adding "Reddit" To Google Search Queries

A user tactic that consisted of adding "Reddit" to Google searches in order to find relevant results from Reddit rather than the spam and ad websites Google recommended became increasingly common in the 2020s. A November 25th, 2021, post to /r/rCasualConversation discussed the trend. The post received over 3,800 upvotes over three years.[3]

Discussions about using "Reddit" as a search operator also spread widely on other platforms. On TikTok, user @shawtyarabia received 1.4 million views and 279,000 likes in seven months for the video (seen below, left) describing the "add Reddit" search method.[6] On October 10th, 2023, TikToker @1amsoup posted a similar video (seen below, right) that earned over 826,000 views and 101,000 likes in six months.[7]

https://www.tiktok.com/embed/v2/7282150958447004971
https://www.tiktok.com/embed/v2/7288024424593378603

On X, posters also shared about the "Reddit" search method. For example, X user @naval posted about the usefulness of "Reddit" in searches on Google on November 22nd, 2022 (seen below), earning over 22,000 likes in a year and half.[8]


Naval @naval The biggest threat to Google Search is Reddit. 12:46 AM Nov 22, 2022 1.1K 172K 24K ☐ 1.4K <]

Redditors Confusing Google AI by Saying "Bazinga"

Redditors Confusing Google AI by Saying Bazinga is an attempt by Redditors to confuse Google's Vertex AI training by using the word bazinga as much as possible on the site following an announcement that Google would be training Vertex to be integrated with Reddit to enhance search capabilities on the site. The announcement was made in late February 2024 and the bazinga campaign began a few days later, inspiring numerous memes and posts using the word. Some shared the opinion that this campaign was flawed and would not work as Google could simply filter the word "bazinga" out of the artificial intelligence's training.

Enshittification

Enshittification is when an online platform becomes more monetized and less user-oriented the longer it lasts. The term was theorized by Canadian writer and thinker Cory Doctorow to describe the trajectory of platforms like TikTok, Amazon and Twitter. He argued that platforms start out serving users by offering features that lure them in, then they serve advertisers and third parties by offering ad targeting and deals, and lastly they serve themselves and their shareholders by cheating and exploiting both advertisers and users. Doctorow calls this process "enshittification."

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