I’ve just come across this blog from back in Feb - Google Search Is Dying | DKB which points out that Google results are getting worse and that a hack that’s growing in popularity is to add “site:reddit.com” to the search. As you’ll be getting results back from “real people”. I’ve realised I’ve been doing this myself for some searches almost without thinking about it.
Has anyone seen any more research or analysis backing this up out there?
I’ve always taken “Google loves forums” as one of the bedrocks of persuading people inside companies that forums have value. But thinking about it after reading this, I’m not sure that’s anywhere as true as it once was.
It also explains where this new feature on Brave Search came from https://twitter.com/brave/status/1519418982943518727 which I also only came across this week (from this discussion on Discourse Meta).
So yeah it’s got me thinking and not just about how to wean myself off Google Search.
Google did love forums - but only until around 2009. Following the advertising collapse during the Great Recession, Google started to deprioritize forum results over authoritative (i.e., advertised) results. Things got progressively worse after 2016 (see: Cambridge Analytica scandal, the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, and the mainstream entry of “fake news”), whereupon forum posts - and all user generated content across the board - started to receive penalties. Now, it is highly unlikely that even well-curated forums will ever be indexed thoroughly by Google, and if they are indexed, the results will be down-ranked.
The best way to appear on Google is to have a corporate presence, minimize user generated content, emphasize site speed using modern (i.e., non-LAMP) technologies, and design your site for mobile-first.
But, like you, I think all of us should wean ourselves off of Google Search.
I am not convinced that google results getting worse is the major reason that the “site:” “hack” is popular. It’s also very useful to search sites which have terrible native search systems built into them. It’s also useful to search forum content which require one to login in, but which allow the google crawler to index.
Ok, so I should’ve set up analytics before, but I haven’t, but I will now.
I use privacy friendly analytics, but it does show how many results come from Google. Hopefully, it will produce data over time for this little forum.
I’ve mostly stopped using Google, not entirely, but I do go to places like Spotify, Twitter and Reddit to search content on specific topics.
I do feel that communities are ideal for being the starting places for finding out information, the start of a rabbit hole, so to speak. Overall I don’t think most communities see this as their role, please correct me if I’m wrong
I’m sad that Google doesn’t take forums more seriously, I wonder how this could be improved? How can we make forums more searchable? Or is it a lost cause?
What would we need to do to make this space more ‘searchable’?
This is fascinating.
Immediately I found myself thinking of Wikipedia, and before the internet Encarta and Brittanica (anyone remember those CD-roms? Gosh, takes me back), and even the Babel fish in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy for those familiar with Douglas Adams’ book.
It makes sense that specialised communities are more trusted, reliable, higher-quality repositories for specific information that one might be looking for.
I hadn’t even thought to use x-ray search (site:reddit.com) on Google to help find more useful, trusted information! (I used to use this previously for LinkedIn in my recruiter days; I suppose, as well as Reddit, this could be used for twitter.com, too. I may have to experiment with this over the coming days…
What an interesting discussion. Thank you Mark, and all, for contributing here.
There isn’t much more we can do honestly.
Things that we do and most other vendors do already include:
- Sitemaps for discoverability
- JSON-LD attributes for easier spidering
- Good SEO practise (H1, H2, correct tags, correct headers, etc)
- Monitor page-speed and meet Core Web Vitals
- Efficient robots.txt file
- Efficient use of nofollow, no index tags to send strong hints about what is thin content and what is not
Google see our stuff just fine, but how they rank it is down to them.
It would be cool to gather data on forum analytics.
Analytics for here are open now: Simple Analytics - The privacy-first Google Analytics alternative
There’s definitely something happening here. See: Google exec suggests Instagram and TikTok are eating into Google’s core products, Search and Maps – TechCrunch
Google search results have declined in quality AND people trust institutions less and want to hear from other people. I saw someone who said they planned their whole vacation on TikTok the other day, because they could SEE it and knew it wasn’t travel blogger BS.
Communities are going to be very valuable…
The problem for independent communities is how do you get discovered without Google?
Referrals and feeding other beasts?
Curated conversations making their way into newsletters. Threads shared to social posts. That sort of thing.
Anecdotally: I still end up on niche forums through Google. Usually when I’m troubleshooting something and looking for advice.
E.g., issues with our car will take me to one of a few owner forums. Gardening or DIY homeowner stuff takes me to boards that look like they’re straight outta 2008.
The amount of value locked away in those forums is incredible.
I’m switching to an EV and also getting solar panels and a home battery and the amount of help I’m getting in a single forum is amazing.
Slowly make friends on the internet.
Build a reputation.
Share people’s work.
Have forum as a sub-domain and the main site with useful and more SEO friendly content.
Use social media to your advantage.
Build a newsletter, it’s good practice anyways.
We’re slowly getting Google traffic here, a whole 6 views in the past couple of weeks.
I’ve been thinking about this!
I do the site:reddit.com about 70% of the time I am searching for recommendations etc. I am tired of the SERP being filled with biased affiliate sites when I am looking to purchase something specific or recommendations for travel etc.
Additionally, content is written for search engines, not people, which makes it a pain to sift through needless intros to articles when I am trying to find an answer to something simple like “how to make a moscow mule”.
Thanks but I, in fact, do not need to know the history of ginger beer, alcohol, and the world at large…I just want the recipe. But I understand why they do it.
Oh wow, great find.
I think you made my day, haha.
I can’t wait to see this in action and learn about what Google deems as search worthy as a lot of user generate content is thin. Perhaps it’ll focus more on the first post which usually has the most dense value compared to replies which can be conversational or even completely off topic.