Google Zero is here — now what?

Google Zero is here — now what?
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We’ve been covering big changes to Google and Google Search very closely here on Decoder and The Verge. There’s a good reason for that: the entire business of the modern web is built around Google.

It’s a whole ecosystem. Websites get traffic from Google Search, they all get built to work in Google Chrome, and Google dominates the stack of advertising technologies that turn all of it into money. It’s honestly been challenging to explain just how Google operates as a platform, because it’s so large, pervasive, and dominant that it’s almost invisible.

But if you think about it another way — considering the relationship YouTubers have to YouTube or TikTokers have to the TikTok algorithm — it starts to become clear. The entire web is Google’s platform, and creators on the web are often building their entire businesses on that platform, just like any other.

I think about Decoder as a show for people who are trying to build things, and the number one question I have for people who build things on any platform is: what are you going to do when that platform changes the rules?

There’s a theory I’ve had for a long time that I’ve been calling “Google Zero” — my name for that moment when Google Search simply stops sending traffic outside of its search engine to third-party websites.

Regular Decoder listeners have heard me talk a lot about Google Zero in the last year or two. I asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai about it directly earlier this month. I’ve also asked big media executives, like The New York TimesMeredith Kopit Levien and Fandom’s Perkins Miller, how it would affect them. Nobody has given me a good answer — and it seems like the media industry still thinks it can deal with it when the time comes. But for a lot of small businesses. Google Zero is now. It’s here, it’s happening, and it can feel insurmountable.

Earlier this year, a small site called HouseFresh, which is dedicated to reviewing air purifiers, published a blog post that really crystallized what was happening with Google and these smaller sites. HouseFresh managing editor Gisele Navarro titled the post “How Google is killing independent sites like ours,” and she had receipts. The post shared a whole lot of clear data showing what specifically had happened to HouseFresh’s search traffic — and how big players ruthlessly gaming SEO were benefiting at their expense.

I wanted to talk to Gisele about all of this, especially after she published an early May follow-up post with even more details about the shady world of SEO spam and how Google’s attempts to fight it have crushed her business.

I often joke that The Verge is the last website on Earth, but there’s a kernel of truth to it. Building an audience on the web is harder than ever, and that leaves us with one really big question: what’s next? 

Folks like Gisele, who make all the content Google’s still hoovering up but not really serving to users anymore, have a plan.

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