From Intellectual Hero to Zero
When Google first came about, its algorithm was based on identifying an expert or authority on a subject or topic and ranking it highly in its index.
Google’s early algorithms examined the writing styles used to express expert opinions. This is where H1s and bullet points first became important. Then there were the actual words. How many times was the keyword mentioned, and how was it marked up in HTML? Was it in bold or italic?
All search engines at the time had algorithms that could rank web pages using similar algorithms, where Google’s search engine surpassed all others by using external links as another very important form of authority validation.
The result: Just Google it!
You, the user, adopted Google, and the rest is history. You search and are rewarded with the right information at the right time. Google became a trusted brand. Just Google it!
My name is still Benedict
I have been optimising pages commercially to appear higher in Google search results for over 16 years.
I have worked with sales-led companies whose products and knowledge were poor and needed every optimisation trick in the book to appear on Google and with professionals and specialists from dentists to doctors, solicitors and accountants who were easier to optimise.
I also have worked with International leaders in addiction medicine and with the world’s leading light on Gladstone, Dr Peter Jagger, who is/was my Uncle).
Working with amateurs (unpaid enthusiasts) and professionals made my SEO life much easier. These clients knew their industry inside out. Google easily recognised their evident expertise.
Apart from breaking down their content into more manageable chunks and structuring their URLs more logically, little else needed doing.
Google’s algortym could identify their knowledge and expertise from their language and use of words that the search engine associated with ‘in-depth knowledge.
As backlinks were to help the user and not to fool Google and the fact that websites and people who were authorities were few and far between, external websites linking naturally to these sites occurred more often.
It is not about Google cluttering its search results pages with adverts and social media feeds.
People complain about Google ads and other panels they use to display products or Twitter feeds. Organic results seem harder to see.
However, that is another discussion. The problem is in their core algorithm.
It is very likely there is not one Google engineer that understands how the system works exactly. All the original creators have long since cashed out their shares.
However, in the last 8 years, Google’s algorithms have become too complex. Perhaps Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai’s background in software as opposed to Search is to blame.
Now it is virtually impossible for a new generation of experts and ‘leaders in their field’ to rank at the top of Google.
Google is not so interested in showing users the best information that correlates to their Search; they are focused on delivering webpages that indicate a greater understanding of a user’s Search; they do this by showing quality content, not necessarily accurate or in-depth content.
Google’s helpful content update was the last straw.
If you look at the search engine’s own documentation, you will see that ‘Content and quality questions’ comes before ‘Expertise questions’.
Google has changed what it defines as preferred content and has decided that quality content does not have to include wisdom, innovation or expertise.
A central part of Google’s current search results strategy is to ensure its result meet their ‘quality level’; but who dictates quality, is it clever code and new NLP tools?
Google has employed their own army of 0ver 16,000 humans. These are website viewing, content rating $15-$20 per hour, part-time workforce, trained by Google. It is also short contract work. (This is an outline of what they do.)
This is fractionally above the hourly rate for a barman. (Shame on you, Google!)
In reality, Google has employed a relatively low-level educated workforce to evaluate and identify high-quality content. It is interesting that to work at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway, you need a top degree and possibly a PhD, but to work for Google, you just need a laptop.
Their focus is two-fold; check a shopping list of quality attributes and, most importantly, see if the page answers the original search query.
This, unfortunately, is the often problem who have only been afforded a High School education. Not only do they not necessarily know the question, but they also don’t see that a question can be answered in many different ways, and there is rarely a RIGHT answer.
Perhaps they don’t always comprehend that there may be a whole new set of information that does not necessarily answer the question but leads to more questions and interest. This is the basis of intellectualism. It is also the basis of wisdom. This is what Google was good at. Now I am not so sure.
At its core, Search is about understanding language
A common discussion in SEO is, Is Reading Level A Google Ranking Factor? Google denies it because it does not fit in with its mantra of ‘do what is best for the user’; i.e. if your readers are professors, then bump up the number of long words. Miranda Miller at SEJ agrees with Google’s denial.
However, whilst Google champions its ‘quality content learning’ (the 16,000 underpaid quality checkers) and its newer machine learning using NLP and (2018) Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers (BERT).
What BERT does is convert words into code. ‘BERT uses WordPiece to convert each English word into an integer code. Its vocabulary is only 30,000. Google Research seems to have found BERT too restrictive and will soon switch to MUM. What the use of BERT and MUM coupled with Google’s short-lived Google “Reading Level” Search Filter points to is that the readability scores do matter.
I don’t think anyone would argue that web content has become dumbed down. Listen to any Youtube Guru on getting rich or happy, and all point to books as the source of knowledge, not the internet.
A recent search carried out by Potent studied 6,000,000 pages that ranked on the first page of Google and found that the majority of content scored ranged from 51.8–53.1, on the Flesch Reading Ease (FRE). (Lower numbers are harder to read, This post has an FRE of 42, so you are unlikely ever to find this article!)
That shows that Google favours content that is readable and understandable by 10th/11th Graders or in UK English 16-17-year-olds, pre-A-Level and a long way from university, a job where you sit down or any life skills.
Is Google chasing a lost audience?
Google can’t do social media. Google + showed that. So if Gen Z is leaving the sinking ship for their TikTok worlds, then surely this dumbing down of information into teenage chunks makes sense. Or is it a case that smaller chunks make the life of Google engineers easier? Or is it that if you want intellect and research, then head to Google Scholar.
We will never know; all we know is that if you want to know more about a subject, watch a video and buy the book. Just don’t just Google it!
- learning tools, like BERT and MUM.