Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
According to Statista.com, as of April 2019 Google controlled 88.47% of the world's search engine market. Photo: Reuters

As many publishers across the world know well, US search giant Google can make or break an online business. A tweak in its ranking algorithm can render a website invisible overnight and cause traffic to plummet, which is exactly what happened after a major Google search function update last week.

Google divulges very little about the mechanisms behind what it considers worthy or reputable as a news website or information source. The highly secretive search algorithm is tweaked frequently leaving webmasters and news editors scratching their heads as to what they might have done wrong in the eyes of the tech monopoly.

 The company announced its June 2019 Core Search Algorithm Update on its Twitter feed but, in typical fashion, was extremely coy about what changes were being made and what websites would be affected. Last year it did shine some light on its update methodology. “Each day, Google usually releases one or more changes designed to improve our results. Most have little noticeable change but help us continue to incrementally improve search.”

This month’s update seems different and was so large in scale that it was still rolling out days after its June 3 release. Industry outlet Search Engine Roundtable published a live update which was inundated with comments from hundreds of webmasters across the globe reporting that their traffic had virtually dried up during the ongoing update.

Although Google did not appear to intentionally target crypto news outlets with its recent adjustments, they do seem to have been one of its biggest victims. The fallout was so bad for some sites that they have been forced to close down, following a massive slump in web traffic.

Crypto outlet crushed

One of the crypto industry’s more popular news outlets, ccn.com, announced that it was doing exactly that following a drop of over 70% in mobile traffic overnight leading to a 90% slump in revenue, which is all advertising driven.

Jonas Borchgrevink, director and founder of CCN, was far from amused when he announced the closure. “If Google thinks that CCN, all of a sudden – remember, literally overnight – is bad, then why not give us the chance to understand the why and give us a way to change before any major update. Instead, we are kicked in the teeth overnight with zero knowledge of what we have done wrong, impacting a team of 60+ people. 6 years of work is evaporated.”

What followed was something of a call to arms from fellow editors, directors and journalists to prevent the ‘dictator deciding your destiny’ which was leading, says Borchgrevink, to a so-called ‘Googlemocracy’. There can be no doubting that Google does dictate what people can and can’t find on the web. According to Statista.com as of April 2019, Google controlled 88.47% of the search engine market.

And CCN.com was not alone. Two of the industry’s longest running news websites, Coindesk and Cointelegraph, also reported major traffic losses of 34% and 21% respectively. And even UK news outlet the Daily Mail also has reportedly experienced a massive dive of 50% in traffic since the update.

This has led to speculation that the search giant wanted to reduce “clickbait” headlines which the tabloid Daily Mail was well known for.

What remains ironic is that Facebook, which for many, is the biggest clickbait platform on the planet, has come out unscathed and is busy tweaking its own algorithms to dictate what people can and cannot read online.

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