Google is broken’: How an algorithm tweak cost livelihoods

 Google's recent major updates to its search algorithm and spam filters, aimed at eliminating low-quality content, have inadvertently caused significant harm to smaller websites, leading to catastrophic drops in traffic and financial challenges. This has forced many online businesses to consider layoffs and even site closures.

Case Study: HouseFresh

Gisele Navarro, who runs the HouseFresh website with her husband, experienced a severe impact from these updates:

  • Niche Market: HouseFresh specialized in honest product reviews for air purifiers, earning commissions through Amazon clickthroughs.
  • Traffic Drop: The site’s daily referrals from Google search plummeted from 4,000 to around 200 after the update.
  • Business Impact: The drastic reduction in traffic has led to considerations of shutting down the site and starting over with a new domain name.

Challenges and Frustrations

  1. Lack of Clarity: Google's secretive nature regarding its algorithms has left many businesses and SEO experts scrambling to understand the changes and their impacts.
  2. Content Changes: Navarro noted that search results increasingly feature ads, AI-generated content, and user-generated content from sites like Reddit and Quora, rather than high-quality, original reviews.

Google’s Perspective

Google claims the updates aim to provide users with more relevant results that feel less optimized for search engines and more genuine. The company states that these changes have been rigorously tested to ensure they improve the quality of search results.

Broader Impact on Businesses

  • News Websites: A European news website reported a 20-30% drop in referrals from Google, with irrelevant content from Reddit outranking their articles. This has raised concerns about cutbacks in an already tough market for independent publishers.
  • Fintech News Outlet: Another business saw their competitors, who employ SEO firms to buy traffic, fare better post-update. This has made it challenging for them to maintain their position without resorting to similar tactics.

Adaptation Strategies

Affected businesses are seeking alternative ways to attract and retain audiences:

  • Video Reviews and Newsletters: Navarro has pivoted to these formats to reconnect with her audience.
  • Exploring Alternative Search Engines: An uptick in referrals from DuckDuckGo has provided some relief.
  • Diversified Content: Writing newsletters, making podcasts, and other strategies are being explored to reduce reliance on Google search.

Despite the setbacks, Navarro remains optimistic about the web’s potential and the support she has received from her audience. She is determined to continue leveraging the vast knowledge available on the internet, even if Google’s algorithms have posed significant challenges.

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