The State of SEO & Debunking the SEO Reddit Conspiracy Theory

I haven’t blogged in a long time for a variety of reasons but the current scene on Twitter in regards to SEO is completely off the rails. To the point of cringe, so I decided to fire up the blog-o-matic one more time.

There is a ton of misinformation, and I want to take a second to provide my insights on it because I completely disagree with the conspiracy theory as to why Reddit has risen in visibility.

Let me preface this with I am NOT and SEO expert. It’s not what I concentrate on day after day. I concentrate on running a business and SEO is one of the many hats I wear.

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Follow the Experts, Avoid the Influencers

We live in a very fortunate place in time where SEO experts freely and publicly display their thoughts and insights for all of us to learn from. Lily Ray, Glenn Gabe, Marie Haynes just to name a few. You can find other reputable figures in the industry based on reading through their timelines.

This is a good way to avoid “SEO influencers” and stick to the professionals.

A general rule of thumb. If the person on Twitter hides their URLs, then they are probably not a great source of SEO advice. If the person on Twitter advertises newsletters and courses behind a paywall then they are probably not a great source of SEO advice.

The point of SEO is not not create niche blogs and rank for niche content based on keywords in that niche.

In my opinion, the point of SEO to help businesses and creators put their best foot forward with a better understanding of how search engines work.

If you currently run a niche blog, then try to create a company and brand with it. Soon you won’t look at things through the lense of an SEO, but through the lense of a business owner and entrepreneur.

Wrong way of thinking…. My SERPs have dropped lately but my content is good and well researched. Maybe I just need to become a travel agent to rank better. Surely that is a good ranking signal.

Right way of thinking…. I want to turn my niche blog into a business. It makes sense to take the next step and become a travel agent or partner with travel agencies to convert visitors into leads.

I am not an SEO professional but I like to pretend

I have been building companies since before social media was a thing. SEO was never my main focus. To be honest, I learn whatever I have to to ensure my business succeeds and SEO is one of many hats.

For example, did you know that originally all apps created for Twitter had follow links in each tweet?

Well, I did. And I used that knowledge to build my own app to generate follow links from the Twitter domain a long time ago. That meant learning the API, building the app, and to start tweeting.

The Reddit Conspiracy Theory

Essentially, the quick summary of the conspiracy theory is that Google partnered with Reddit prior to their IPO and inked a deal for $60 million for API access. Now with data access, they wanted to push Reddit visibility to further increase the value of their data and train their models.

Traffic has started to increase since Summer of 2023 and has continued to rise as this current March Core update is still ongoing. Not by a little, but by A LOT. An unprecedented amount.

Reddit Visibility over time

Some SEO influencers (not those listed above) across Twitter then got out their pitchforks and took to the streets of the internet to cry foul over unfair Google business practices. Surely, even Lily Ray is on it. Danny Sullivan, how could you do this?! Bro, weak sauce.

Case closed, no? We got em.

How We Got Here, the Data Arms Race

First, some facts. Google has a market cap of 1.99T. Reddit has a market cap of 7.41B. Reddit has never been a profitable company since 2005.

Keep in mind, Reddit does not pay for content. They do not pay for moderation. All of this is free and they STILL have not been able to turn a profit in their company’s history. Ouch.

There was a movement to close access to data since the rise of ChatGPT. Large Language Models (LLMs) are only as good as the data they are trained on. At this point in time, LLMs have gobbled up most of the publically available data. So what’s next?

Owners such as Elon Musk started to limit API access to Twitter in July of 2023. It also limited access to public URLs to avoid scraping data in large quantities. He listed a variety of reasons, like cost, but the real reason was most likely to prevent companies from using their data to train models for free without proper compensation.

The arms race on data begins. ChatGPT is king. Google and others need to scramble to catch up.

Meanwhile, Reddit is preparing for an IPO, so obviously they cannot continue to allow apps to dominate using their API for little to no cost.

By finally becoming a public company they decided to kill all third party apps and limit access to their APIs. Moderators revolted but in the end there was little they could do.

Spez (aka Steve Huffman) basically said we have the power and these apps have to go. Their revolt won’t last forever. All our data are belong to us. Boy was he right, but still very much an asshole.

As a public company Reddit needs to maximize revenue by all means necessary which includes 1) Selling data to companies who want access for LLMs, 2) Forcing users to use their official apps so they can make more money off advertisements and keep tabs on user metrics.

Ah yes, sweet sweet control.

But what About Google

As I mentioned earlier, Google was completely blown out of the water by ChatGPT. OpenAI was poised to dominate the next revolution of technological growth. And make no mistake about it, AI will indeed dominate the next decade in innovation.

Google had to act fast. That means data and fast.

Google announced an expanded partnership with Reddit for their data to train their LLMs and provide AI access for Reddit to help improve their search.

We’ve had a longstanding relationship with Reddit for many years, and today we’re sharing a number of ways that we’re deepening our partnership across the company

“Google now has access to Reddit’s Data API, which delivers real-time, structured, unique content from their large and dynamic platform. With the Reddit Data API, Google will now have efficient and structured access to fresher information, as well as enhanced signals that will help us better understand Reddit content and display, train on, and otherwise use it in the most accurate and relevant ways. This expanded partnership does not change Google’s use of publicly available, crawlable content for indexing, training, or display in Google products.”

O rly. Liar.

But Surely Google Can’t Be Trusted

Reddit data was as valuable two years ago and it is today. Increased visibility in search engine results DOES NOT make their data more valuable. Sorry, it just doesn’t. There is no correlation.

If you were to pay for access to all of the research papers on astrophysics, the visibility is low but the value is sky high for a LLM.

Plus, Google does not own a stake in Reddit the company. They do not care how the company performs as a publicly traded company. Google does not run specific ads on their platform to generate additional revenue for Google.

If this conspiracy theory held any water, they would have also announced an advertising partnership to funnel that money BACK into Google’s hands.

If you really wanted to be a conspiracy theorist, Google could intentionally tank the stock by decreasing visibility and forcing Reddit to sell to them. Now that’s evil and fits the narrative.

All to save what, $60 million dollars? Google does not care about $60 million dollars. Google has a 2 trillion market cap. Even that is a stupid idea.

Furthermore, this is what you know publicly. You do not know what other deals Google has for data. They could have deals with multiple companies to train data on, and Reddit is just one of many.

If I were Google, I’d want access to various types of data to train models on, and one of many is User Generated Content.

You have no idea what deals Google has in place or what data deals they are working on. Plus, you are most likely using Chrome to read this.

The biggest power grab in the history of the internet. They literally invented a web browser to maintain their control over market share in search. Yet, somehow, the big news is this data deal with Reddit?

Google inks a deal with Apple to be the default search engine for billions of dollars, but this data deal with Reddit is the big problem.

Move on. There is nothing to see here but a phase in Google’s history about adapting their algorithms to a new age in content creation. Reddit has way too much visibility. I think it’s a mistake and things need to be tweaked but that is a topic for another day. Forbes and other companies ranking for literally anything is also a huge gaping hole in fairness and accuracy.

If there is interest I will dive a bit into how I see the current SERPs and recent core updates. However, I am fairly certain there are qualified SEO professionals to take on that topic.

Rant over.