Google Search is shit

I have to admit that the inspiration for this post is anger. Pure unadulterated rage.

As many would know, last year I launched my own product review site, bttr.com.au. I’ve been working hard at trying to make it great, I’ve experimented with some things (including AI content), and have seen a reasonable level of growth.

Nothing worth getting too excited about, but enough to make me feel like I was moving in the right direction.

But this month, Google rolled out its core update, and has effectively wiped BTTR from its search results.

For the sole writer/proprietor of a small business, that’s pretty shit. Here’s a quick pic of what search impressions looked like over the past 3 months:

A graph showing how Google has effectively removed BTTR from its search results

The end result is a very real question of whether I should bother to keep pushing with the site. I have to say that for a few days I was sorely tempted to give up.

But the thing is, I know that this isn’t my problem. It’s Google’s problem.

I’ve been doing some level of SEO work for the past 10 years, overlapping with journalism and writing. I’ve been using Google since 2002 at Uni when my tutor suggested its results were better than AltaVista.

And I can say with absolute confidence that the results that Google recommends are far, far worse than they used to be.

An example: I reviewed the Oppo A18 budget smartphone. I was one of the first Australian sites to publish a review.

If you search for “Oppo A18 review”, the first result is a review from Cybershack. This is a good result – I don’t particularly enjoy the Cybershack review style, but at least it’s an expert analysis based on first-hand experience.

The second and third results are news articles announcing the phone from Gadgetguy and Reviews.org.

Now, if there were no other actual reviews, that would maybe be okay. But if you scroll another 3 slots, you have Gadgetguy’s actual review of the phone.

So Google is somehow ranking a news article from a publisher above the review for that phone when someone searches for the phone’s “review”.

There are dozens of other random shit overseas sites with “specs” and “benchmarks” articles, plus retailers, before you get to another proper review.

And for the sake of completeness, right now, at P35, there is a link to my LinkedIn post sharing the BTTR review!

Like, in what universe is that good for users, Google?

(I understand that this really looks like BTTR has been penalised in some way shape or form. Fucked if I know what for or how to fix it though.)

Because I’m feeling especially ranty on this, here’s another example:

The search term “best phones Australia”.

Now this one is special to me because I’ve been chasing it for 10 years. I owned it at TechRadar, and I got to P2 at Finder. BTTR got as high as P8, which I thought was pretty good for a new site.

If you look at this result now, P3 is Finder Shopping, which is the page I created about 7 years ago and got to P2, before handing responsibility to my editor of the time, Alex, whose byline stills sits on the page.

The title of the page is “The 10 best phones in Australia in 2024”. The date in the SERP is February 2024.

But if you open it up, the first subheading states clearly in big bold writing: “Best Phones in Australia (February 2023 update).

That’s right, friends. Thanks to understaffing and cost cutting, nobody has actually updated that article for over a year.

The phones recommended here are at least 12 months old, pushing as high as 2 years in some cases.

Yet Google’s algorithm has deemed this page as the third best result for the query…

Even worse, if you scroll just four results lower, Finder appears again with its “11 best budget phones in Australia” page. This one isn’t as clear in disclosing when it was actually last updated, but it features phones well over a year old as well.

Go a little bit further down and you get articles like “What we liked and didn’t Like about the phones of 2022” from Gizmodo…

Now, no shade on the team at Giz, but please tell me, who the fuck wants to know about phones from two years ago when they are searching for the “best phones”? Current availability is implied!

What upsets me about this though is that I have literally reviewed dozens of phones and run research across ten leading review sites every single month since I launched BTTR to come up with a robust method to rank the best phones.

It takes me about an hour every month to rerun the research, plus dozens of hours reviewing, and yet BTTR no longer appears in search results…

So yeah, Google is shit.

But what makes Google’s shittiness stand apart is that in the fallout of this, most of my (meagre) traffic is now coming from DuckDuckGo and Bing,

And I have to say that DuckDuckGo’s results are much, much, much better.

For those two queries above: Oppo A18 review - you get Gadgetguy’s review, GSMarena user reviews and Cybershack’s review followed by my BTTR review.

For best phone australia, you get PC Mag, TechRadar, Tom’s Guide, Reviews.org, Choice, PC Mag again (for Android phones), T3 then BTTR.

It’s still not perfect though. The Reviews.org result in there is from January 2023, so doesn’t include 2 generations of Galaxy S phones.

But I feel like the result set is a better match for the intent, and not just because I’m in the top 10.

A quick look at Bing shows that on the Oppo A18 review term, the results match DuckDuckGo’s. On the best phones, there’s a metric shit-tonne of ads - only 3 actual results on page 1 – but at least those three results are current (TechRadar, Tom’s Guide and PCMag)

I know this has been a long and windy rant, and I kind of feel better getting it out of my system.

I know it’s not going to change anything. Google is too big and too successful to even consider the rants of a small business owner.

But I’ve decided to make DuckDuckGo my default search engine. Hopefully some of you may do the same.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep plugging away, writing reviews and news and best guides and hope that eventually something will change.

Nick Broughall @Bruff