Have Google searches felt…off to you lately? A lot of people think so, and you likely know someone who adds the word “Reddit” to the end of Google searches to get better results.
Just look at some of these recent headlines:
- Fast Company: Is Reddit a better search engine than Google?
- Android Authority: You told us: Most of you include ‘Reddit’ at the end of your search queries
- The Verge: Brave Search no longer requires you to append ‘Reddit’ to your searches
- The Atlantic: Is Google Dying? Or Did the Web Grow Up? (This was later retitled as “The Open Secret of Google Search.”)
Yikes. That would make you think Google’s about to kick the bucket. Yet Google has almost 92% of the global search engine market share. The other 8% is Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo, Baidu, YANDEX, and literally every other search engine combined.
To be sure, Google’s market share is not in peril any time soon. It’s hard to unseat that sort of market dominance in any time frame short of several years. That’s why I’m a skeptic of the narrative that “Google is dying.”
Yet more and more people are adding “Reddit” to their search inquiries to get more human, authentic, and useful results. This amounts to one massive desire path being carved into a computer system we use every day, as people try to fix their poor user experience. There’s a very real problem here that cannot be ignored forever.
There are even some people out there who are convinced that, as of about 2016 or 2017, the internet is mostly fake. That is to say, some people believe that most content on the internet is the work of bots and algorithms, which may or may not be controlled by corporations or governments. The idea is called “dead internet theory.”
Now, of course, it’s a wild theory and impossible to prove or disprove. But when a conspiracy theory like that takes off, it can only do so because it connects with people on an emotional level. Remember: this is happening at the same time that an increasingly large subset of people are trying to thwart Google’s search system to get better results.
The fact that more and more people are “Reddit” to their searches has deep implications for marketers and business owners alike. It’s not just some weird quirky internet behavior. It’s the natural result of some business decisions that Google has made in the last decade.
So with that in mind, let’s talk about why people feel the need to do this in the first place.
5 reasons why people are adding “Reddit” to their Google searches
1. Google has more ads than ever before.
The YouTube skit embedded above is actually what inspired me to write this post. In it, Ryan George does an excellent – and hilarious – job of demonstrating just how much of an ad-driven platform Google has become.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love Google advertising for ROI. It’s actually really good for certain kinds of businesses, particularly B2B. But good grief, as an average Googler, it takes forever to actually see what I want to see. Many search inquiries require you to scroll down in order to see organic results. That means whatever comes up first is likely to be a screen full of advertisements. Perhaps text ads at the top, shopping ads on the right, and a map containing businesses at the bottom of the screen. Then the unpaid stuff shows up after you start to scroll.
It wasn’t always like that. I never had this problem in high school in the late 2000s. This was not a problem when I was in college through the early 2010s. Even in the mid-to-late 2010s, I don’t recall this being a problem, but at some point, it became one.
But, of course, this is just one contributing factor.
2. Google is using “dark patterns” to make it harder to tell ads and organic results apart.
Take a look at this image from this tweet by Google Ads marketing professional, Ginny Marvin. In it, you will see how ads have looked on Google over the years.
As you’ve no doubt noted, up until 2010, ads were very clearly noted. They were shaded in a different color, differentiating them from organic, unpaid search results. They also said “sponsored link” in the top right corner.
Then around 2011, Google got right of the “sponsored link” disclaimer. Pretty soon after in 2013, they dropped the color shading, differentiating ads only with the word “Ad.” That standout word increasingly got smaller and then ultimately started to blend in more. Now, if you look up anything on Google, it will say “Ad” in black, bold text. It’s very easy to miss.
So not only is Google running a lot more ads than it used to, but the ads tend to blend in pretty well too.
For example, when I Google “iPhone”, here’s what I see – ads are circled in red. Note that it takes up the majority of my 1920 x 1080 monitor.
Now check out what happens when I Google “iPhone Reddit” – note how all the ads disappear, and everything displayed is now an organic result.
3. Medium-quality content machines often outrank “good” content.
Now Google can advertise all they want, but they will inevitably brush up against the tremendous human power of inattentional blindness. In other words, people don’t go to Google to read ads, so they fail to even register their presence.
But that doesn’t mean that the first real Google search is likely to be helpful. Or even the first few. Enter the medium-quality content machine.
Medium-quality content machines are websites that create posts that follow all the SEO rules and appear to be useful, but ultimately don’t provide detailed, human, specific advice. There are so many sites like these out there that it’s hard to really name them all, but two come to mind for me: WikiHow and Healthline.
Example: looking up a supplement on Healthline
Let’s suppose you’re trying to see if l-theanine, a common nootropic dietary supplement, is safe to consume. You can read a decent article telling you about what it is, how it works, and what the side effects are. But when you get to the bottom, it will tell you “there’s been no conclusive research, a safe L-theanine dosage recommendation isn’t known.” And to be honest, that’s the correct answer. It keeps Healthline out of trouble and encourages people to talk to pros.
But honestly, if you wanted to know if you should take l-theanine, that would be awfully annoying to read. So that’s why a lot of people go to, say, r/nootropics to read about the individuals who have tried it out for themselves. In other words, someone looking up “l-theanine Reddit” wants to know about personal experiences.
And yeah, you’ve got to be really careful about what strangers on the internet tell you about things like supplements. But let’s also be realistic here: people often keep searching until they feel like they get a human answer.
Example: looking up life advice on WikiHow
Now let’s go in another direction. Let’s say that you want to ask a girl out, but you don’t know what to do. So anxious young man or woman you are, you Google “how to ask a girl out.” Then you wind up on WikiHow and see an article advising you to plan what you’re going to say, wait to ask until you’re fairly certain she’ll be a good mood, and so on.
Ugh. Such empty advice. So instead it’s time to Google “how to ask a girl out reddit” which will yield everything from detailed advice to personal anecdotes to weird dudes telling you that you’re doomed because your face is the wrong shape. This can be a real mixed bag, but at least it’s advice from people who talk like HUMAN BEINGS.
Reddit isn’t good or evil here – but it’s always human
Humanity is really the crux of it here. To quote a wonderful piece I read on the subject:
In theory, we crave authoritative information, but authoritative information can be dry and boring. It reads more like a government form or a textbook than a novel. The internet that many people know and love is the opposite—it is messy, chaotic, unpredictable. It is exhausting, unending, and always a little bit dangerous. It is profoundly human.The Open Secret of Google Search, Charlie Warzel, The Atlantic
I couldn’t agree more. Reddit is really neutral here – it’s great for getting real product reviews and great for personal stories. It’s also home to people anonymously giving bad advice and promoting conspiracy theories. But Google is giving people subjective stories less and less, hence people adding “Reddit” to their searches.
4. Influencers and bloggers pack their content with affiliate links.
Power users have been wising up for years to the fact that influencers, bloggers, and the like often promote products regardless of quality. All of this means that if you find a random person’s product review blog, there is a good chance that anything you buy because of them gives them a 15% cut of the Amazon revenue. This wasn’t nearly as common, say, 10 years ago.
In the earlier days of the internet, when Google was starting to pick up steam, people who made websites did so out of enthusiasm. They didn’t necessarily make hobby websites in order to turn their side hustle into a full-time gig. That means they just said what they thought, simple as that.
But these days, even small-time websites can have financial links to the products they review and promote. Since so many people use Google to find product reviews, the lack of trust created by this prevalent affiliate marketing system causes people to seek unvarnished, unpaid reviews. Hence, again, adding “Reddit” to Google searches.
5. Looking to Amazon for reviews doesn’t help as much as it used to.
For a while in the 2010s, Amazon was big enough to be a household name and trustworthy enough to be a pretty good site to look for objective reviews. Of course, you’d never know that by looking at some of these headlines:
- CNBC: Amazon is filled with fake reviews and it’s getting harder to spot them
- CNET: Amazon’s never-ending fake reviews problem, explained
- Wirecutter: Let’s Talk About Amazon Reviews: How We Spot the Fakes
- TechCrunch: Amazon deflects responsibility on fake reviews but admits 200M were blocked last year
That Wirecutter article came out in 2016, mind you. This problem has been going on for the better part of a decade, and people know about it.
Amazon is head and shoulders above all other eCommerce platforms in the world. It has 2.73 billion visitors every month, which is three times as much as eBay, and six times as much as Walmart. This kind of absurdly dominant market share should make Amazon the de facto town square of objective reviews, but this steady drumbeat of complaints about their review system leaves people looking elsewhere. Again, this makes Reddit more enticing.
The limitations of using Reddit as a keyword
Even with all these very good reasons to doubt Google results, influencers, and even Amazon reviews, I want to be very careful about making a blanket recommendation to use “Reddit” as a keyword. It’s great for things like product reviews and personal stories, but it’s dicey in other areas.
Even in the best of situations, Reddit is contentious and contradictory…just like real-life people. It’s hard to find two people who agree on anything. Some people will say that product you’re looking up is the best thing ever. Others will call it garbage. It’s up to you to read the full text to make an informed decision.
And, of course, we’re starting to see an uptick in marketers who create their own subreddits and even people who act as shills for their own products. In my view, this isn’t a dealbreaker for Reddit’s usefulness as a search term yet, but it could create a problem just like what Amazon has five years down the road.
Plus, on top of all this, Reddit is known for some controversial and often conspiratorial content. Relying on Reddit for information means opening yourself up to the best and worst sides of humanity alike.
Here’s what you should do about it as a small business owner
I would be remiss if I didn’t end this article with some practical tips for you as a business owner. After all, organic Google searches make up the lion’s share of the organic search traffic needed by far-away content creators and your local plumber alike.
Here are five tips.
- Make the perfect product for your audience. In other words, achieve product-market fit. If you make a product or service that specific people are just dying to spend money on, then you’re going to inevitably generate word of mouth. And what does word of mouth look like these days? In many cases, it looks like posts on Reddit.
- Don’t ditch SEO. I know, I know. But making sure you rank well in a search engine is going to be crucial even if Google dies. The internet is impossible to navigate without a decent search engine, so the concept isn’t going anywhere. Spend time improving your search ranking – it will pay off.
- Use case studies and testimonials to prove your quality. Because our internet ecosystem is so rife with garbage Amazon reviews, affiliate-linking bloggers, and overabundant Google ads, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to convey that your products and services are actually good. It’s a trust issue. The best counter available today is to have your customers leave reviews on places like Trustpilot, and then use those as the basis of case studies that you write. Better yet: ask them to leave video testimonials – it’s a lot harder to fake a happy customer’s smile and unique voice than it is a vague 5-star bot review.
- Build up a presence on Reddit. Marketers are afraid of Reddit. Don’t be. If you go in with the intent to mindlessly self-promote, you’ll make a fool of yourself. If you go there to genuinely help others, make friends, and spread the word of your business in natural – but not obnoxious – ways, then you will likely do well. Reddit runs on genuine human interactions, so be a human!
- Use Reddit in your own Google searches (sometimes). When you’re looking for things where subjectivity matters, like product reviews, use Reddit as a keyword. It gets good results!