It seems like a lifetime ago since Google emerged from Silicon Valley as a refreshing tech prospect branding the slogan: “Don’t Be Evil”. Now, in 2017, that heart-warming slogan is no more and Google is simply one element of its parent company Alphabet, which seems hell-bent on taking over the world.
Progress is good, too. Alphabet is a global leader in artificial intelligence, life sciences and a range of technologies used by the military. The tech giant is quite literally everywhere and it’s on a mission to know everything about us and the world we live in, which makes for some scary aspirations when you think about it (omnipresence + omniscience + omnipotence = God).
Alphabet’s global takeover started with Google, of course, which managed to pretty much steal the internet from under our feet in five simple steps. This is no exaggeration either. It’s already happened and, if you don’t realize it yet, it’s already too late.
Here’s how Google stole the internet.
#1: Algorithm updates: the war on spam
The first Panda/Farmer algorithm update in Moz’s Google Algorithm Change History
When you want to take over the world, the first thing you have to do is start a war. America chose the war on terror and Google followed this classic formula by declaring war on web spam in 2011 with its first Panda algorithm update.
For the next five years webmasters around the world trembled at the notion of Google algorithm updates as change after change hit online businesses where it hurt most – their search rankings.
By the time 2016 came around and the dust started to finally settled from Google’s relentless campaign, the search engine had built a very different relationship between itself and website owners.
All Google has to do now is tell us to make our sites mobile-friendly, migrate to HTTPS, stop using popups, sign up to AMP or whatever else it wants – and we automatically do it.
Google’s war on web spam did a lot more than put a few blackhat SEOs out of businesses. It established Google as the authority on everything we do as web designers, web developers, website owners, marketers, publishers and anyone with an online presence to maintain.
#2: Google the dictator
After years of algorithm updates and search penalties, our relationship with Google had changed. Now, whatever the tech giant says, goes – and Google knows its in a position where it can call the shots on how we design, optimize and maintain our websites.
Google’s mobile friendly test tool
Google’s favorite trick is to tell us how we should optimize for mobile. Even in the early days, the tech firm told us we should use responsive design as our solution for mobile optimization, even though it had no impact on ranking – at least not back then.
However, we’ve since had two “mobile-friendly” updates and Google announced last year that it will move to mobile-first indexing in the near future (bad news for separate mobile sites). The frustrating thing is Google’s standards for “mobile-friendly” are pitifully low a whole bunch of bad mobile experiences get the OK from Google.
A key point of emphasis for Google’s algorithm shakeups is how websites use ads. Pretty much all of Google’s money comes from advertising and anyone who compromises this experience will have to pay the price.
So now Google tells us where to place ads, how many we should have, what they should look like and the kind of messages we should create. Get too creative with your ads and you can expect to get slapped by a search penalty.
The influence these two advertising giants have over the advertising industry is insane – and it comes with a worrying conflict of interest. Google has just announced that Chrome will come packed with ad blocking features, meaning Google will essentially decide which ads the majority of web users see and which ones they don’t. Google will also allow publishers to charge users for using third-party ad blockers, making it harder for people to control which ads they do/don’t see for themselves.
This brings all kinds of ethical issues into question.
In 2014, Google decided to make secure encryption a ranking signal. So websites using HTTPS get a small boost in search in search results and, of course, website owners around the world jumped on board with the idea.
Now, more than half of websites are believed to be HTTPS and that means everyone is magically safer – yay! – except Google only checks the URL of sites to make sure there’s an “S” after the “HTTP” so you can forget about any guarantees of safety with this move.
Luckily for Google, it knows it only has to dangle a carrot (aka ranking boost) in front of us and we’ll do whatever it says, like good little donkeys.
Google best practices
You don’t have to go far to find Google best practices for marketing, web design, development, advertising, security and whatever else. In fact, you don’t need to find them because Google makes sure you get the message one way or another – normally from mouthpiece sites like Search Engine This, Search Engine That or whatever they’re called.
Actually, half of online publishers simply repeat what Google says with fluffy dialogue. Trying to take over online advertising translates to “building a better web for everyone” and pinching all your content is “speeding up the web by changing how it works“. Yeah, sure it is.
The point is, Google shouldn’t be the voice of authority when it comes to web design, marketing or anything else – and it certainly shouldn’t be the authority on advertising. This is a search and advertising giant that looks out for its own interests (fair enough) but we’re allowing it to call the shots on things it shouldn’t have a say in.
#3: The walled garden
Google’s walled garden creates an online experience where you can pretty much do everything without leaving Google’s connected infrastructure of services and products. You search on Google, grab addresses from Google Maps, check pictures on Google Images and make the purchase via Google Shopping.
Of course, it only makes sense for Google to cover as much of this online journey as possible. The longer you’re involved with its platforms, the more of its ads you’ll be exposed to – and this is pretty much Google’s entire business plan. Google makes pretty much nothing from Android handsets (Nexus included) but more than 80 percent of mobile users are blasted with Google ads on a daily basis.
All it takes is one Google account and the majority of your online actions are tracked by the tech giant – across devices, wherever you go. And all this data goes into Google’s machine learning system to create more advanced ad targeting and a “smarter” search platform.
That’s the scenario from Google’s perspective anyway. For the rest of us, this walled garden makes for a convenient but costly platform where less traffic makes it to our websites. Google Maps replaces directory listings websites, Google answer boxes replace visits to websites for trivia-style queries and Google Now replaces the need to search for content.
All of this is old news, though. The long-term plan is to have users locked into Google Assistant between mobile, Google Home and other devices. Which means more bad news for websites as they get pushed even further out of the online experience.
If Google gets its way, visitors won’t even reach your site when they click on your content or ads.
#4: AMP: The ultimate digital land grab
Some of the guys over at Google get a little bit irritated when people say AMP is a Google project. Bless their poor little souls. But, let’s face it, AMP is absolutely Google project – and it’s the tech giant’s most blatant attempt to grab the web for itself, no matter how much it bangs on about it being a collaborative, open-source project.
Let’s just quickly sum AMP in a few bullet points:
- It’s neither the fastest or mobile-friendliest solution
- Google stores you AMP content on its own servers
- You don’t get AMP traffic
- Users have to click out of AMP to access your site
- One swipe and users see one of your AMP competitors
- You give up all design and development freedom with AMP
- Your analytics options are greatly reduced
- AMP is incredibly difficult to leave
- AMP results all look the same – no branding, just the Google experience everywhere users turn
There are various other concerns with AMP, but the point I want to focus on here is how much control you hand over to Google by signing up. It’s hilarious that Google criticizes Facebook Instant Articles when it’s using AMP to hijack content and keep users locked into its platforms.
It gets worse, too. Google recently announced it’s bringing AMP to landing pages, which means handing over one of the most important parts of any website to the search giant. And website owners are jumping at the chance to sign up, of course. Because Google says its a good idea and you get geniuses on sites like Search Engine Land banging on about how great AMP is.
#5: Killing the competition
The only thing left for Google to do now is kill off any potential competition, but luckily it’s already been doing this for years. The tech giant faces a string of antitrust lawsuits around the world, charged with illegally using its market share to stifle competition and favor its own products.
Google’s long-standing antitrust case in the EU should come to an end over the next few months with a $9 billion settlement rumored. This comes after a $7.8 million settlement in Russia following complaints about Google forcing Android phone manufacturers to preload their devices with its own apps.
There have been two antitrust cases in India, as well as investigations in South Korea, Brazil and various other countries. Not to mention the massive antitrust case against Google in the US that suddenly disappeared after the White House cozied up to the tech giant.
Google stole the internet (but it’s got company)
The good news is Google faces some strong competition from the likes of Facebook, Amazon and its other rivals. Sadly, it doesn’t really matter how the web is divided up among the tech giants anymore, though, because Google’s already set the framework for its rivals to follow. You only have to look at Facebook’s own walled garden and aggressive approach to competition to see this. Either way, the ultimate loser is website owners who want an open web where they can connect with people, without having to jump through hoops and pay advertising dollars to feed Google’s endless appetite.