| June 5th, 2024 | 2 Comments

A couple of weeks ago, in a moment of caffeinated inspiration/despair, I sat down and wrote a long Facebook post as to why we were ditching Google and switching to DuckDuckGo. Today I want to dive even deeper into this topic, and give you a first-hand account of how Google is killing hundreds of thousands of blogs and small publishers. 

And maybe give you some insight as to why they are doing so. 

But first, we need to start at the beginning, all those years ago when we were bright-eyed and innocent baby bloggers.

It’s All About the SEO

When we first set words to a page and published our first-ever article for Just a Pack, we did so without knowing anything about blogging. All we had was a dream to travel, a desire to share our travels with others, and hopes of maybe making a small income while doing so. We wanted to teach Americans that travel was more than just a yearly vacation, that it was something you could do without being rich, and that it was something WORTH doing. 

Hey, that’s us! So young (well, in a relative way), so innocent, and having so much fun!

So we sat down and banged out some articles. And then we banged out some more. We published them and…well…nothing really happened. We got some nice feedback from friends and family on Facebook (thanks everyone!) and then it was crickets. For months.

But hey, we kept on writing. As we traveled from Mexico to Belize, through Guatemala and Nicaragua, into Costa Rica and Panama we kept writing. France, Spain, Italy, Czech Republic, Poland, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam…we kept writing. And we started to notice that occasionally our articles would pop up in Google searches. 

This was back in 2014, when a Google search result looked very very different than it does now. We were gaining traction and we wanted more. We saw the possibilities and it was a red-hot inspiration. Our dreams of being like the travel bloggers we looked up to seemed possible. But we were missing something.

So we took some blogging classes. And that’s when we started learning about SEO. What is SEO you ask? 

Wait…What’s SEO?

Search Engine Optimization. In the shortest definition, SEO was a way to write blog posts so that Google would show them to people in search results. Ok, so essentially I had to compromise our style of writing to fit a certain mold, in order to reach more people. It didn’t feel good to change simply to appease Google, but it was the only way forward. You see, Google is responsible for a vast majority of search engine results worldwide. 92% or so, in fact. So if you wanted to play the game you did it the way Google wanted you to do it. 

And so I played the game. 

I shortened my sentences. I used keywords that Google could identify easily. I wrote in a way that allowed Google to understand our content, following a set of nebulous rules laid out by the overlords. The rules were never expressly stated, but trial and error from millions of people that came before our blog seemed to point to a common path. And that path was “Juicy Info Nuggets”.

If I wanted people to find our article on Prague in a Google search I had to call it something Google understood. And then I had to repeat what the article was about in the first 100 words. And then do it again and again in the content. It led to some less than stellar paragraphs occasionally, but I lived with it. 

Our blog was growing. We started making money. We sold hotel and hostel bookings in our content. We recommended things to buy for travel using Amazon affiliate links, we worked with brands. Eventually, we started inserting ads into our posts. Because that’s how you monetize information in the internet age. Unless you are selling a product or charge a subscription fee you have no other method of staying afloat. You compromise a beautiful clean blog post by inserting ads. You include a “Where to Stay” section when writing about Prague, or Bangkok, or New York. And so on. 

That’s the business of blogging. And we went with it. 

Meanwhile, Google kept Googling. Sponsored ads started dominating the top of searches.”Snippets” began appearing in search results, essentially taking content directly from someone who worked hard on writing it and presenting it right there for easy user consumption. You didn’t even have to click on the person’s site to get an answer. Those juicy info nuggets that Google trained us to write were now answering questions without people clicking on our sites. “Also Recommended”, and “People Also Ask” and side-scrolling wheels of information that may or may not have something to do with your search term were added to keep people in the search results themselves. Which meant more ad revenue for Google, and less for us. 

How much ad revenue for Google? In 2019 Google made 134 billion dollars in ad revenue. In 2023 that number reached a staggering 237.8 billion dollars

All of this raised some alarm bells, and started some conversations in darkly lit forums around the internet, but no one did anything about it. We were too busy trying to appease Google. Google being a gatekeeper sucked, but it was our reality. Just a Pack, and thousands of other websites, were just tiny entities, and Google was one of the largest monopolies in human history. Our politicians didn’t seem to want any part of taking Google to task, so we did what we had to do to survive in the SEO game. 

Rules changed, goalposts shifted, traffic went up and traffic went down, and we did our best to keep up. 8 million people visited Just a Pack. We were wary but grateful. For all of its faults Google was the doorway into the great expanse that is the internet. Thanks to Google an orderly highway was created among the endless cacophony and chaos that resulted from all of us humans communicating with each other at the same time. In the endless sea of data you were able to use Google search to find answers to the questions you were looking for, to discover content creators that spoke to you, inspired you, made you stop to think about new ideas, new possibilities…

Until the Blogging Apocalypse. 

It’s No Longer About the SEO. So What is it About?

A line graph showing losses
Bye bye traffic. It was nice having you over for tea! Have a safe trip home.

You may have noticed, sometime around September 2023 that your Google search results were starting to include a whole lot of Reddit. And a bunch of Quora. For those of you who love Reddit, great. It can be a valuable tool. For those of you who prefer to get information from verified sources it became just another result to skip over.

So what happened? Many people were asking that same question. In September of 2023 Google started rolling out what it called its “Helpful Content Update“. The stated goal of this update to search results was to reduce the amount of spam and AI-generated crap that littered the internet. The actual result? The destruction of small publishers, blogs, and the Rise of Reddit. 

Traffic started falling. At first a dip, and then a plunge, and suddenly Just a Pack and a thousand other blogs lost 90% of their users.  

So, why does Google suddenly think that RandomGuy69 on Reddit is the expert on everything? Well, in early 2024, Google announced it had joined into a 60 million dollar a year partnership with Reddit. What sort of partnership? It was training its language model AI on Reddit’s API. Essentially, training its AI to answer questions by learning from Reddit users. Ohh, sneaky sneaky Google! How convenient, pumping tons of traffic into Reddit and then using it to try and win the AI “space race”. 

The Rise of AI Answers

And then, in the spring of 2024 Google rolled out its “AI Overviews” at the top of search results. These AI answers took content from across the internet and regurgitated it, sometimes word for word. This led to some well-documented comedy, with Google’s AI suggesting that glue could keep cheese from sliding off of pizza, among other things. 

Well, everything hiccups occasionally, right? Especially in its infancy. I have no doubt that Google will refine its AI Overviews to iron out the rough edges. And hiccups aside Google showed us what it wants to be in the coming years. An “Answer Bot”, a system that answers all of your questions directly in the results, while feeding you a stream of ads. Ideally, an Answer Bot that one day answers questions you didn’t even know you wanted to ask. 

Sounds fun, right? Finally, an AI to tell me I need to switch to three-ply toilet paper, and to tell me it’s time to stop drinking beer and go home. 

And where does that leave bloggers, small publishers, and the like? Well, after years of training online publishers to write in a fashion that Google web crawlers could easily identify, in easily digestible nuggets of information, Google will be taking those nuggets and giving them away for free. Because hey, when you’re a huge monopoly you can do whatever you want. 

Now, you may say to yourself, “Self, this guy sounds like a disenfranchised blogger. Someone give him some cheese to go along with all of this whine.” 

Fair. 

However, please understand that I am not only speaking about Just a Pack. This is happening to almost everyone in the travel blogging community, and across the entire blogging sphere. 

So, What’s Next?

I have no idea. Whatever it is will probably move further and further away from the kind of information we have been supplying you for 10 years. Just a Pack, and thousands of other online publishers, have effectively been put out of business as we knew it. That doesn’t mean that this site will stop producing content, but it will have to drastically scale back from loftier ambitions. Which is a hard pill to swallow, but all good things eventually come to an end, Chaucer once said. 

Maybe that’s a good thing, overall. Maybe empowering thousands of people to start small online businesses that helped others learn how to travel, how to cook, or how to make the perfect Wolverine cosplay costume was a bad idea. Those people should get real jobs, and let Google’s AI tell you everything what you need to know about everything.

Maybe. But I doubt it. 

What do I personally think should happen? Web searches should become a public utility. They are our doorway into the great information age we are currently living in, and abusing that power can lead us all down a very dangerous road. Google’s monopoly over the internet needs to be investigated, documented, and broken apart. 

But that’s just me. 

Oh, and by the way, here’s how you can ditch Google and switch to DuckDuckGo

Written by Michael Miszczak

Michael has been traveling the world while writing, photographing, and sharing his stories and travel tips since 2010.

He is originally from New York City, and currently lives in Prague.

Posted in Blogs

Comments

2 thoughts on “How Google is Killing Bloggers and Small Publishers – And Why

  1. It is theft, plain and simple. Copyright infringement. Google scrapes all of our sites, steals the information, and makes money off the hard work and expertise of small business owners like you and me. They have such a monopoly and there’s nothing we can do about it.

    What happens when no one can afford to write new content and our blogs cease to be updated? What about when AI becomes based off other AI regurgitated information that’s outdated…a copy of a copy?

    Google has so much power and their decisions have quite a bit of influence on information and what gets seen and distributed. It can only be a bad thing when voices are silenced and only the big corporations are visible.

    Great article, thank you for sharing and being vocal about this. I hope that things can get better from here.

    1. Hi Lauren,

      It’s a good question re: new content. I wonder if the powers that be have considered that question. And if they think that simply training their AI on Reddit is sufficient now that they have scrapped the entire internet for content.

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