How Google ruined the Internet
An opinion piece by CyberMat

The following article is an opinion piece exploring the state of internet/web publishing and isn’t intended to be taken too seriously.

We’ve all been there - facing a screen and needing the answer to know something trivial like the name of the third highest mountain, who played whom in that film, or the recipe for pancakes. There’s the Internet right? How hard could it be to find out this sort of thing? Straight to Google of course - tap tap tap. Cookie permissions already set, so not too many nags. Results!

A search for pancakes on my iPad is not helping with my intended rant about ads and the feedback loop created by ‘affiliate marketing’ platforms. Or maybe it is. The first result is a page on which paints its front door with a pop-up offering an email sign-up, and a cookie policy message that must be addressed.

Once passed the relatively mild cookie passport control, there’s the recipe basted in half a dozen ads fed through from Google’s ad distribution network.

Effing Affiliates
The following explainer may contain traces of eggs that grannies know how to suck, but hey.

Affiliate marketing programmes and other distributed ad systems pay website owners and content publishers for clicks. If you have a busy website you can earn a few quid by including a feed of ads. If you’re a super busy website you can charge big advertisers big money to run awareness campaigns, but for the army of those feeding towards the bottom end of the online ad pond, you need clicks - not impressions/views. Sounds simple. In some ways it really is. However, just have high traffic numbers isn’t enough. A million visitors to a website about fishing might not lead to many clicks for ads for vegan headscarfs - I’m guessing - I’ve not researched this specifically.

The feedback loop

Imagine a new craze Zoigbotting becomes a thing. Merchants selling Zoigbot gear are making fat margins and are happy to pay top dollar for leads. Every online cent-shaker gets an alert - like a John Wick hitman - that there’s money in search terms related to Zoigbot and so start posting articles about the history of Zoigbotting, the top ten Zoigbot trends, how to Zoigbot like a pro and so on. Quite quickly the first three pages of search results are filled with meaningless thin drivel that rank well due to the way the content has been engineered, and possibly because they’re plugged into Google’s ad programme? Maybe. I couldn’t say.

If you used Google in its early days, you’ll remember their big thing was ranking pages based on value or worth. Sites that tried to cheat the system were penalised. BMW’s main website was blacklisted for 'cloaking' - publishing lots of keyword-rich content that bots see but visitors don’t.

I think early Google would have added something to the ranking algorithm to penalise sites full of ads and click-bait. Now they seem to reward and encourage it to the point where a search for anything on the radar of the SEO world produces a set of results which is dominated by paid ads, followed by page after page plugged into distributed ad networks, which inevitably means tons of tedious cookie preference setting pop-ups.

I’m not sure I’ve made my point particularly well, and might need to edit this without thinking about being stuck in a loop.