Sure You Need This Toy


Article from Issue 283/2024

Google rolled out a new search algorithm in March, and it is causing a lot of conversation with the SEO crowd. A major change to the Google algorithm is always big news.

Dear Reader,

Google rolled out a new search algorithm in March, and it is causing a lot of conversation with the SEO crowd. A major change to the Google algorithm is always big news. Google is like a front door to the Internet for many people, and when the algorithm changes, it always seems like the Internet itself has changed.

Google search is so powerful that whole businesses spring up around niches created by the search algorithm. You don't need direct mail or a dedicated marketing team – just let Google search bring customers to your site. And I'm not just talking about people who pay money for a higher search position. If your content is valuable enough, Google will want to rank it at the top. The whole Google business model is about delivering high quality links to users. Or at least it used to be. They seem to have a new business model that is more about assembling instantaneous sales catalogs.

The Google PR team got a big head start on framing the new algorithm rollout. The reason for the upgrade, we are told, is to de-emphasize AI-generated content, so the user doesn't have to waste a lot of time wading through low-quality, barely coherent snippets cobbled together by bots. According to the blog post titled "New Ways We're Tackling Spammy, Low-Quality Content on Search" by Google's Director of Product Management, Elizabeth Tucker, "We believe these updates will reduce the amount of low-quality content on Search and send more traffic to helpful and high-quality sites. Based on our evaluations, we expect that the combination of this update and our previous efforts will collectively reduce low-quality, unoriginal content in search results by 40 percent" [1].

I applaud Google's desire to stop letting computers write news stories based on other news stories, but it truly seems like something else is going on. There was a stark post this month at the Retro Dodo site, which offers insightful, human-written news, reviews, and articles on retrogaming topics. According to Retro Dodo founder Brandon Saltalamacchia [2], "Retro Dodo is on the brink of collapse … because of Google." Saltalamacchia says that, rather than linking to high quality content, the search engine now scrapes the content in the background and "learns" the answer to queries, which it then presents to the user as its own, thus depriving the content provider of the traffic and depriving the user of the deeper and lengthier treatment of the topic.

AI might be part of the problem, but I'm starting to wonder if the real issue might be much simpler than that – like maybe Google isn't satisfied with the information business and wants to be a universal purveyor of retail products. Try your own Google search for "Retrogaming." The whole screen fills up with rows and columns of catalog-style pictures and prices depicting retrogaming products. On my laptop, I had to scroll down below the fold to reach the first informational site. I found a few links to Reddit (Google recently signed a licensing agreement with Reddit) then a Wikipedia entry, then what appears to be some sponsored links, then at least 20 more catalog-style pictures and prices. Whatever happens below that hardly matters, because who is going to bother to scroll down that far.

The rule of thumb for search engine optimization used to be that you needed to score in the top five in search rank. If your subject matter happens to fringe on a product niche, that all seems to be out the window. I'm wondering if search rank even matters at all. It looks like Google is positioning Reddit as a gatekeeper for homegrown, enthusiast content and keeping itself as a gatekeeper for everything else. Of course, if your subject matter doesn't fringe on a product niche, you might not even notice the change.

If you're a hobbyist or devotee who is immersed in one of the Internet's thousands of thriving subcultures, you'd be well advised to save bookmarks to all the most relevant sites. No sense in wading through the gift shop every time you need an answer.

Joe Casad, Editor in Chief


  1. "New Ways We're Tackling Spammy, Low-Quality Content on Search," The Keyword:
  2. "Google Is Killing Retro Dodo & Other Independent Sites," Retro Dodo:

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