An online platform called DKB, with the tagline “Mostly researching better ways to search and organize information on the internet,” published a report titled “Google Search is Dying” on 15th February 2022 (1).
The report argues that many internet users no longer trust Google Search engine results, partly because of its ad model, which has made the engine difficult to use.
Apart from Google’s own sponsored links, most search results are gamed by SEO experts that pack their articles full of intrusive ads and affiliate links. Consequently, many Google users (primarily early adopters) have started to use faux-query modifiers to suppress SEO-optimized top page results (2).
Many users have started using Reddit as a search engine by adding “Reddit” as a search modifier, and it has made the platform the most popular search engine in the movement.
Paul Graham, co-founder and partner at Y Combinator (3), believes, also as depicted in the image below, Reddit as a social media platform has not peaked yet. It means that people using Reddit as a search engine is growing.
But why are people going to Reddit specifically? The short answer is that Google as a search engine is dying. And the long explanation is that most of the internet has become too inauthentic to be trustworthy.
We don’t mean to say that Google’s search technology is getting worse. But more people have now started to prefer actual discussions on platforms like Reddit from subject matter experts and enthusiasts, which feels more authentic and trustworthy.
As Google becomes overcrowded and loses its credibility as a search engine, we see new opportunities for smaller but more trusted search engines to siphon off users around niche communities.
Why Google Seems to Be Dying?
Before we dig on to know the reasons behind the possible dawn of Google as a search engine, we need to establish why specialists and enthusiasts think that Google is dying.
If you have been trying to search for a product review or a new recipe recently, you would have probably noticed search results filled with sponsored posts or SEO-optimized sites filled with ads and affiliate links.
Of course, you will still get decent search results on Google for several categories, especially when looking for factual information.
However, the point is that when we search on Google, we often self-censor ourselves from searching for most of the things we would have wanted to search for. And we are not the only one who thinks this way:
According to Daniel Gross, angel investor and co-founder of Pioneer.app (4), back in 2000, Google became popular because hackers realized it was better than Excite or Lycos. The same is happening again. Early adopters are no longer using Google.
“Google keeps “refining” its search results to suit the popular 80% of queries and getting worse for obscure or technical queries. Even forced synonyms and “people also searched for” are useless and almost infuriating. The search results worsen once we get off the first or second page. As we go further, pages are often entirely unrelated to the searched phrase. It seems like Google is testing some multi-armed bandit type optimization similar to YouTube’s search results where they show popular pages with no relevance to see if they get a click,” said posts on Ask HN (5).
Reasons behind Popularity Loss of Google as a Search Engine
It is pretty obvious that offering ads build misaligned incentives for search engines. Even the founders of Google themselves had pointed this out when they were getting started.
“At present, the dominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals don’t always correspond to offering quality searches to users. We expect that advertising-funded search engines would be biased towards advertisers away from the consumers’ needs. In addition, advertising income often offers an incentive to give poor quality search results,” said Lawrence Page and Sergey Brin in 1998 (6).
It is unfortunate that these thoughts on the failures of ad-based search engines seem to have been used as an instruction manual at Google.
Google has dialed it up to the max over the past few years to squeeze out every last penny before their inevitable descent.
Several people’s sole job is to make their way to the top of Google search results. Therefore, it comes as no surprise when we find deteriorated search results. Yes, it is probably an issue with every search engine. However, it is Google we are talking about; we expect it to come up with less gameable algorithms.
Google has recently also started not giving us the results for what we typed in. Instead, it is trying to be “smart” and figure out what we “really meant,’ besides personalizing things for us. All bets are off if we meant what we typed.
Even the (” “) exact match query operator doesn’t offer exact matches anymore, which is quite bizarre (7).
Why is Reddit Getting Popular as a Search Engine?
The Dead Internet Theory is a recently emerged fun conspiracy theory. It claims that most of the internet is bots, and there are no real people here anymore (8).
“AI networks generate large portions of the supposedly human-produced content on the web in conjunction with paid secret media influencers in reality. They aim to make consumers for an increasing range of newly-mainstreamed cultural products,” wrote a user in a thread made by IlluminatiPirate on a forum called Agora Road (9).
Although it is not true yet, it indicates some general sense that the authentic internet as we know it is gone. The SEO marketers have made their way to the top of almost every Google search result, and they may as well be robots (Suggested Reading: AI in Marketing: Strategies, Examples, and Everything You Need to Know).
In other words, this theory suggests that everything is commercialized with someone always trying to sell us something. They could be humans or bots, but they are decidedly fake.
And this belief has led people to regain authenticity. People today want to know what a genuine real-life person thinks about the latest OnePlus phone. And that’s how they have started to append platforms like “Reddit,” “stack overflow,” or “hacker news,” and other communities they trust.
Again, the reference article or this OPEd piece doesn’t claim that Google’s search technology is getting worse or people are no longer using Google for their queries. However, it seems that people have started to trust less of the Google search results than discussions on community platforms like Reddit.
Google can’t defend all its search networks because of its massive size.
There is a method smaller players can utilize to beat Google at its own game: focusing on a simple niche topic and building a search engine for it.
One famous example we could find was how Airbnb picked Craigslist’s room-share idea and made an entire product from it.
And by the time Craigslist stopped Airbnb from siphoning its users, it had already built a strong foundation to stand as its network. Of course, a platform like Airbnb is not a search engine by definition. However, its robust search directory unlocks a revenue-generating product that doesn’t rely solely on ads.
Moreover, a search engine built around a common interest community is garnering more trust than Google, as we discussed. It would allow launching a successful service with a built-in consumer base (Suggested Reading: Getting Started With Your Startup? Here is How You Can Find 1 Million+ Potential Users).
Community-Focused Search Engine
You can go after this vertically, like building the best platform for travel, electrical product, codes, etc.
The key is to build habitual recall to use your products over Google. For instance, both Amazon and Airbnb enjoy huge direct traffic.
You can also play the same game by:
- Becoming a stellar mobile destination: Using Airbnb directly feels more fun and smooth than using Google for Airbnb.
- Give users what they want the most: For instance, with Prime, Amazon made us stop comparing prices across other websites. It would get the product to us the fastest, which turned out to matter more than prices. Most of the time, when we open the Amazon app, it satisfies.
- Leveraging Community: Airbnb and Amazon are not primarily search apps. They help us find products or book homes. We may want our search app to become a destination for something else. And this is where community plays a role.
You can build a community around your search engine by picking a vertical that doesn’t have strong typeahead completions like fitness, fashion, recipes, etc. It is also recommended to choose verticals that don’t have giant conglomerates like Reddit or Github since it would be easier to build a community around them with your search engine on top.
Disclosure: We at Timesext use both Reddit and Google as information sources.