Google has too much power

google with a crown

The older I get, the more I recognize that everything is just a series of compromises, and the true sign that you’ve “made it” is when you earn the right to spend most of your day on your terms. As soon as I accepted that, life got a little less complicated. I now know where I am, and I generally know where I need to be.

I’m still young enough to be naive though, and my simple brain hasn’t fully come to terms with the fact that powerful, external forces exist that can impose their will like a natural disaster. You plan for them and hope not to be caught in their wake, but some things are entirely unavoidable.

Exhibit A: Google search algorithm changes.

organic search drop

Due to reasons, Google has become the de facto gateway to the internet, and is the greatest driver of traffic to most websites. And their algorithm is like a medieval king. It sits on the highest of thrones, single-handedly willing the internet to bend a knee.

But this king doesn’t issue proclamations. He delivers messages like:

This week, we released a broad core algorithm update, as we do several times per year. Our guidance about such updates remains as we’ve covered before. Please see these tweets for more about that:

Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Some are focused around specific improvements. Some are broad changes. Last week, we released a broad core algorithm update. We do these routinely several times per year.

As with any update, some sites may note drops or gains. There’s nothing wrong with pages that may now perform less well. Instead, it’s that changes to our systems are benefiting pages that were previously under-rewarded

There’s no “fix” for pages that may perform less well other than to remain focused on building great content. Over time, it may be that your content may rise relative to other pages.

Great. That’s great. Things were business as usual, and we plebs were over here taking a long view of our product, making steady progress based on the typical set of compromises. With a small team, sometimes you focus on performance, then features, then whatever. But you’re working under a framework that the ground you’re standing on will remain somewhat level.

Then, boom! You notice an organic search drop… then another. You look to the king for answers, and the official word is “there’s no fix… just continue to live your best life.”

Super. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the noble king is also your competitor, and is a competitor on so many fronts that he’s everyone’s competitor. Your traffic goes down; his traffic goes up. Everything’s fine!

“They’re not really a competitor,” you say. “You’re just a blip on their radar” you reply to yourself. “They make all their money in search, and everything else is just meant to keep you in their ecosystem… it’s just business.”

Then the little brain troll whispers, “Maybe if you prioritized the right things from the start, the king would be rewarding you. This is your failure.” And the troll is right. Using Google’s web.dev tool (still in Beta, of course), our performance and accessibility had much room for improvement. I made the wrong compromises along the way. Simple as that.

Google Lighthouse old score

But then your ego pushes back. “What, so the king’s little passion projects get to sit behind the curtain and reap the rewards of seeing the algorithm in clear view while the rest of the internet is desperately looking for answers? That’s bullshit.’’ And it is bullshit. But the king is the king, and there’s nothing you can do other than write your local representative to break them up, or sillier yet, protest by not paying for their services (problem… they give most of their services away for free).

So the compromise forced on you is to temporarily divert everything to Google optimization. Maybe it’ll work. Who knows… we’re seeing positive results from our recent push, but the king is a fickle character.

Google Lighthouse new score