Google Revenue Culture, Meh-AI Content, Divestiture Drama

Google Revenue Culture, Meh-AI Content, Divestiture Drama

Man vs. Money Machine

If you haven't yet read Ed Zitron's incendiary article "The Man Who Killed Google Search" you've probably read comments about it on Twitter or LinkedIn. Zitron pinpoints the moment when Google's decline either began or accelerated, depending on your perspective. With material drawn from Google antitrust trial exhibits, he describes an internal "code yellow," where ad receipts were falling behind for the quarter. The ads and growth executives wanted to "hack search" to generate more PPC revenue to meet Wall Street expectations. Then head of search Ben Gomes objected. Zitron says what followed was a rollback in search quality, the blurring of ads and organic results and the replacement of Ben Gomes with Prabhakar Raghavan, then head of ads. Zitron describes Gomes as a principled "hero," while Raghavan was allegedly willing to compromise to meet business goals. Zitron squarely lays the blame for Google's enshittification at Raghavan's feet and argues he was equally responsible for the decline of Yahoo search while he worked there. Zitron also blames former McKinsey consultant and current CEO Sundar Pichai for supporting Raghavan's approach: "Google’s finance and advertising teams, led by Raghavan with the blessing of CEO Sundar Pichai, actively worked to make Google worse to make the company more money."


Our take:

  • If we combine Zitron's narrative with AJ Kohn's "It's Goog Enough," you get a powerful (though still partial) explanation for the current state of search.
  • This piece on "robber baron rents" by Tim O'Reilly is also part of the story, as is the influence of CFO Ruth Porat and Wall Street on Google and its culture.
  • Raghavan may have been instrumental in Google's decline; however, he's not solely to blame. There are a mix of factors that got us to where we are today.

Content: Moving Beyond Meh

Google is in an existential battle against spam and mediocre content. And that appears to be intensifying, as more frequent algorithm updates struggle to parse and reward unique, authoritative and authentic information (think: quality raters, brands, UGC and EEAT). Reversing an earlier position, Google decided against a blanket prohibition for AI content because: 1) some AI-aided content can be good and 2) Google faces practical challenges in detecting it. So it has chosen to focus on content quality rather than methodology. Three recent articles take on the issue of content quality and share similar perspectives on what's now required to succeed. Wil Reynolds (Sea of Sameness), Kevin Indig (Information Gainz) and Amanda Natividad (You Are Your Moat) all contend that previous SEO content strategies often produced mediocrity (see Skyscraper content). All argue for a more grounded approach based on experience, serving users, enhancing brand value and delivering real utility. They don't argue against AI but advocate using it selectively. Kevin Indig says, "Competing in SEO means surfacing and finding new and relevant insights." Wil Reynolds and Amanda Natividad both agree that you must be better than ChatGPT or you shouldn't even try.

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Our take:

  • The views expressed in these articles are exactly what Google is advocating, even as search quality is declining. It's a "small batch" approach.
  • But the "fast, cheap and good enough" mindset with AI is being rapidly embraced by publishers and many SEOs.
  • The content methodologies advocated in the three articles fly in the face of that mindset and the "AI content at scale" culture that's coming in.

TikTok Probably Not Going Away

TikTok, which is now a major B2C marketing and ad platform and search competitor of Google among younger users, was put on notice that it must sell itself to a non-Chinese buyer or face a ban in the US. TikTok's forced divestiture was signed into law as part of the recently passed foreign aid package. Now the clock starts running. The law requires TikTok's parent ByteDance to sell the company within a year, effectively. China has said it won't allow the sale. TikTok intends to fight the law on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment of the Constitution. An earlier, similar ban imposed by the state of Montana was blocked by a Federal judge on several grounds, including the First Amendment. The US will seek to overcome the Constitutional objection using national security arguments. For example, there's evidence (here, here) that the Chinese government has access to the personal data of more than 100 million Americans, which could be used for espionage. There's also concern than TikTok is or could become a propaganda instrument. Indeed, there's some evidence that the Chinese are fueling antisemitism on TikTok – a claim denied by the company – as part of plan to sow discord. Like other major tech companies whose revenues are threatened by government action, TikTok argues that millions of SMBs will suffer.

TikTok CEO Shou Chew

Response to TikTok Ban Bill

♬ original sound - TikTok - TikTok

Our take:

  • While we're waiting to see the outcome of this drama, here's how to optimize your content on TikTok and for Google SEO.
  • The case will be a nail biter and wind up in SCOTUS, which will extend TikTok's lifespan by years perhaps. No ban is imminent.
  • If the law is upheld (I believe it will be), TikTok could continue under new ownership. But "creators" should still diversify into other platforms.

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