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Google Giveth, And Google Taketh Away

Google Giveth, And Google Taketh Away

Google might be evil

Friends, I’ve come here today to tell you that Google is fucking scary.

Remember a while back, when the Lady Gaga fans kept crashing my server? And I kept getting tons of comments on that one post I made about Lady Gaga that really should not have been that interesting in the first place, but for some reason was? Well the mysterious origins of all that Lady Gaga traffic has finally been revealed (sort of) and like all mysteries, it’s rather banal once unraveled. As it turns out, a confluence of three factors at one historical moment led to the escalation in Gaga traffic: 1) the apex of Lady Gaga’s album release and publicity tour; 2) an image I had on my post about Lady Gaga that was unusual, apparently; and 3) some changes in the algorithms governing the way that Google determines rankings in image searches.

I know — Lame, huh? Even the Digg effect is a less stupid explanation for the Gaga traffic than what really happened.

What happened was, Google was dicking around with its image system somehow (and, BTW, they appear to still be doing this, because my numbers are going up and down still as of the time of this posting). The initial changes led to my site going up in rankings for images some time in mid-November. Around that same time, Lady Gaga was really hitting her stride in the publicity game, and her star was really rising, so many people were searching for images on Lady Gaga and many of those people found my site through those images. Then, they read the post about Lady Gaga, became incensed, and directed their Gaga friends to the site to tell me about how I’m limited because I don’t see the profundity of lyrics like “I want to take a ride on your disco stick.” Then my server crashed. Then it crashed again. This cycle repeated for two months, at which point my traffic went waaaay down, so far down, in fact, that it led me to believe that there was some kind of thing I had done to get blacklisted by Google, because the traffic was further down than it had been before the Gagas ever appeared.

I don’t really know anything about SEO, so I wasn’t sure if this was something I needed to address or not. After consulting some real computer SEO geeks about this kind of stuff, it looks like all of these changes are to do with Google and not to do with anything that I’ve done or not done. So basically, I have to just sit back and see what happens: I don’t know if the traffic change up or down will be permanent or not. Either way, fluctuations in Google traffic do not affect my regular readership, who come here independent of Google, but it does affect how many new people come here because of a Google search on its own. This is a small portion of my readers, but it does count for some of them, particularly on the Tech page.

Why am I telling you this? Well, basically it’s just because the whole thing has made me realize how fucking scary Google is. I suppose I already knew this. But the gravity of it was not clear to me until these slight changes Google made, just on images alone, had a real impact on my life. I will continue to find readers and grow my blog independent of Google searches, but I think everyone needs to realize that Google has a breathtaking ability to increase or decrease your traffic, right now, every day, and there does not appear to be any kind of checks and balances system governing this power. That is fucking scary. For me, it just translates into page views up or page views down, or the amount of bandwidth I use in a month. But imagine if your business was dependent upon Google searches to get customers. Google can control where you show up on a search page, if at all — independent of whether your product is relevant to the user’s search. Google can change something and make you show up on page 14 instead of page 1, and cut your business by 75% overnight. And why would they do that? Well, if your business is cut by that much, you’re going to do anything to get it back up to page 1, right? Which means you’re probably going to be willing to advertise, right? Like, say, with Google.

And it’s not just searches, either. Google uses apps to track where you are and what you do, what you buy and where you go. All of this information tracking can have good, purposeful uses that will enhance your every day life. But it can also be bad, bad, bad. I’ve always liked Google as a company, by the way. But I have this thing where I tend to become distrustful of companies once they reach a certain level of power. There is something inherent to the corporate structure that tends to lead good companies to turn evil. Like Apple with iTunes. Like Amazon with its Kindle proprietary stuff and the ass raping it gives to authors on their commissions. Like Microsoft — no, Microsoft was probably always evil. Anyway. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as George Orwell says. I’m not sure what can be done about it, other than there should be some kind of common recognition that something should be done about it.

Comments (12)

  1. Feb 3, 2010

    Google has pretty much freaked me out since a recent debacle involving, yes I am a loser, online yarn shops. In a nut shell it was an SEO legal nightmare based on who may, allegedly, have purchased words that may, or may not, have been directly related to a trademarked yarn name. When I realized the subtle nuances of how you can purchase the power to own a seemingly innocuous word and therefore direct all the traffic looking for a specific product to only find your product instead….well I kinda lost my rose colored glasses on Google. Suddenly they were less “groovy fun-loving company for the common man” and more like ” every other greedy corporation who serves other greedy corporations.” Then again, that is capitalism I suppose, and as you mentioned, give any good person/group/organization enough power and well…there you have it.

  2. Feb 3, 2010

    This explains EVERYTHING. I posted about Rachel Zoe a while back and include a picture of Her Majesty the Skeletor and it showed up as the second image on a Google search of her. So my traffic jumped considerably for about three weeks, until apparently people tired of Rachel Zoe pictures, or until Google changed their shit and bumped me back 10 pages, where I probably should’ve been in the first place.

    But hey, who’s arguing? I love a traffic boost when I can get one.

  3. Feb 3, 2010

    Wow. That explains my first two weeks in January too. I had a big traffic spike on a particular job-hunting post, even though I wasn’t posting new content at all. Then it went away.

    And it IS disturbing and creepy how dependent we are on them.

  4. Feb 3, 2010

    Yes! Exactly! Google has in effect created its own jurisdiction/virtual fiefdom, where they can make their own copyrights, etc. And because you have to be watching it really closely to pick up on these kinds of things, especially with the fluctuations in traffic, it’s really only SEO people who are aware of the severity of the problem. And because SEO people tend to be mistrusted, it’s not something that people really talk about.

    Can you imagine how much money is being funneled in directions specifically dictated by Google? Uggh.

  5. Feb 3, 2010

    Interesting! Many more people were affected by this than just me. And the thing is I don’t know what way is the “right” way, and what way is the mistaken way. Crazy.

  6. Feb 3, 2010

    That’s interesting that so many people are talking about traffic changes. The dates are interesting too, because the beginning of January is when I had the beginnings of the changes in the Gaga traffic.

    Across the board, it just shows how impossible it would be to build a website dependent only on search rankings, which is what so many people try to do with SEO. I think this is really bad for commercial, non-blogging sites, because it means they are basically going to have no choice but to advertise with Google AdWords.

  7. Feb 3, 2010

    On a related Orwellian note, you may enjoy this post from The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs:

  8. Feb 3, 2010

    That was awesome.

    And pretty much exactly on target too.

  9. Feb 3, 2010

    Yep. I don’t know why I haven’t been subscribed to that guy. Thanks for the links, Susan.

  10. Feb 3, 2010

    Hah. This quote reminds me of another behemoth in the blogging world: “Auletta suggests that the company runs into trouble because it is so wrapped up in the idea of itself as virtuous that it can’t understand others’ concerns about privacy or monopoly issues.”

    This problem with being so insulated and detached from outside influence seems to be running rampant lately. And it’s really strange, too, because this is all surrounding media that is supposed to be connecting people in new and innovative ways. Apparently, it’s connecting people but not all people are using it as an opportunity to grow or to increase the scope of their understanding.

  11. Mar 26, 2010

    Hmm, I clearly need to be posting more crazy images of celebrities on my blog. On the Google front, personally I’ve always found them broadly consistent, both on my Monevator PF blog and on huge sites in utterly unrelated niches.

    The key is to structure and deliver your content in a way that it can match an audience with a page. I appreciate it was a random accident caused by *their* changes, but the fact is the Gaga post didn’t meet the needs of the audience searching for Gaga images.

    It is frustrating that this testing has to happen ‘in the wild’ though.

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