Management Assistance Program

The Rise and Decline of Google Search

By Jim Calloway

Google is a technology powerhouse. But it all began with Google Search.

It is a widely held view among technology experts that Google Search is not what it used to be—unless you are measuring corporate profitability. But that has become more apparent to many ordinary and occasional users.  Even though Google officials deny it, it seems that today you must scroll down past more ads and sponsored content to get to actual search results.

The Open Secret of Google Search by Charlie Warzel was featured by the Atlantic in its “One Story to Read Today” newsletter and I concur. In fact, if you have exhausted your free articles for the month in The Atlantic, I’d strongly encourage you to calendar a date next month to read the article—or use another computer or phone.

Google Search was amazing in its early years when the internet was more challenging to navigate. Warzel notes:

“One can’t really overstate the way that Google Search, when it rolled out in 1997, changed how people used the internet. Before Google came out with its goal to crawl the entire web and organize the world’s information, search engines were moderately useful at best. And yet, in the early days, there was much more search competition than there is now; Yahoo, Altavista, and Lycos were popular online destinations. But Google’s “PageRank” ranking algorithm helped crack the problem. The algorithm counted and indexed the number and quality of links that pointed to a given website. Rather than use a simple keyword match, PageRank figured that the best results would be websites that were linked to by many other high-quality websites. The algorithm worked, and the Google of the late 1990s seemed almost magical: You typed in what you were looking for, and what you got back felt not just relevant but intuitive.”

But today he says:

“Most people don’t need a history lesson to know that Google has changed; they feel it. Try searching for a product on your smartphone and you’ll see that what was once a small teal bar featuring one ‘sponsored link’ is now a hard-to-decipher, multi-scroll slog, filled with paid-product carousels; multiple paid-link ads; the dreaded, algorithmically generated ‘People also ask’ box; another paid carousel; a sponsored ‘buying guide’; and a Maps widget showing stores selling products near your location. Once you’ve scrolled through that, multiple screen lengths below, you’ll find the unpaid search results. Like much of the internet in 2022, it feels monetized to death, soulless, and exhausting.”

I encourage you to read the entire article. I already try to use Duck Duck Go for shopping-related searches and many lawyers use it for sensitive client-related searches because the search is not tracked. I haven’t used the Reddit technique mentioned in the article, but I do tend to add Amazon to shopping searches, so I get the Amazon product page first and can see all features and Amazon’s price.