It's not just you: Reddit is taking over Google

Coming from the other direction is an influx of posts from Reddit, Quora, and other internet forums that have climbed up through the traditional set of Google links.

Data analysis from Semrush, which predicts traffic based on search ranking, shows that traffic to Reddit has climbed at an impressive clip since August. Semrush estimated that Reddit had over 132 million visitors in August 2023. At the time of publishing, it was projected to have over 346 million visitors in April 2024.

None of this is accidental. For years, Google has been watching users tack on "Reddit" to the end of search queries and finally decided to do something about it.

Google started dropping hints in 2022 when it promised to do a better job of promoting sites that weren't just chasing the top of search but were more helpful and human.

Last August, Google rolled out a big update to Search that seemed to kick this into action. Reddit, Quora, and other forum sites started getting more visibility in Google, both within the traditional links and within a new "discussions and forums" section, which you may have spotted if you're US-based.

The timing of this Reddit bump has led to some conspiracy theories. In February, Google and Reddit announced a blockbuster deal that would let Google train its AI models on Reddit content. Google said the deal, reportedly worth $60 million, would "facilitate more content-forward displays of Reddit information," leading to some speculation that Google promised Reddit better visibility in exchange for the valuable training data. A few weeks later, Reddit also went public.

A Google spokesperson told BI: "Our agreement with Reddit absolutely did not include ranking its content higher on Search."

Indeed, SEO experts have watched this Reddit bump since August when Google rolled out a crucial search update six months before the deal was announced.

It's not just Reddit. Q&A forum Quora is getting a huge visibility bump in Google search results, per Semrush and Sistrix data. Google says "hundreds" of other forums and communities across the web are also getting the bump.

Still, given Reddit's size, its rise is the most noticeable. Per Sistrix data, Reddit is now as visible in top Google Search results as Instagram.

Steve Paine, marketing manager at Sistrix, called the rise of Reddit "unprecedented."

"There hasn't been a website that's grown so much search visibility so quickly in the US in at least the last five years," he told Business Insider.

Right now, Reddit ranks high for product searches. Reddit's main competitors are Wikipedia, YouTube, and Fandom, Paine said, and it also competes in "high-value commercial searches," putting it up against Amazon. The "real competitors," he said, are the subreddits that compete with brands on the web.

Giving the people what they want

Why is Google doing this, and why now?

The company's stance here is simple: it's giving users what they want.

"Our research has shown that people often want to learn from others' experiences with a topic, so we've continued to make it easier to find helpful perspectives on Search when it's relevant to a query," a Google spokesperson told BI. "Our systems surface content from hundreds of forums and other communities across the web, and we conduct rigorous testing to ensure results are helpful and high quality."

Responding to a post on X, Google search liaison Danny Sullivan said users not only like seeing "forum content" but that they "proactively seek it out."

This shift in search behavior has already been happening for several years. In July 2022, Google's search head Prabhakar Raghavan said younger users were turning to alternative sources such as TikTok and Instagram for information and recommendations. Last year, during the Reddit blackout in June, Google Search got considerably worse.

Google's Reddit deal and its endorsement of Reddit content in Search show how much it sees Reddit as a crucial part of the future of search.

"It's obvious that Google has this vision that they need more user-generated content," said Aleyda Solis, an SEO consultant for Orainti, who added that this is one way Google can respond to the rise in TikTok, Instagram, and other social spaces.

While Google might not be pumping Reddit results in exchange for training data, Google's AI systems would benefit from the more up-to-date information Reddit can give, especially when SGE rolls out in full.

Furthermore, a paper written by several Google employees, published in late 2023, claims that pulling information from an internet search can better improve the accuracy of chatbots.

Named FreshPrompt, the method would incorporate "relevant and up-to-date information retrieved from a search engine" to improve a chatbot such as Google's Gemini or OpenAI's ChatGPT.

Grifters can hijack search

The question is whether this Reddit bump will continue or Google will nerf it. There are risks associated with Reddit, which relies on unpaid moderators to police unsavory content and spam.

Google told BI its systems work on all websites, including Quora and Reddit. Still, there's evidence that people are already abusing the rise of these sites in Google rankings. In a February study, SEO blogger Glen Allsopp found that 51% of Reddit's top-ranking threads in Google Search's forums sections contained spam as a top comment.

YouTube already has heaps of videos offering advice on hijacking Reddit to rise to the top of Google Search. One of the most popular videos right now teaches viewers to purchase abandoned Reddit accounts, seek out popular Reddit posts to post comments filled with affiliate links, and then artificially inflate their popularity using "upvotes" purchased from third-party websites. This way, they can feasibly rocket to the top of Google.

It might not be that difficult. Search Engine Journal reported this week that one Reddit user climbed to top-ranking Google Search results in minutes (BI could confirm the post ranked in the top 10, but couldn't independently verify the time it took to get there).

A Google spokesperson said the company's anti-spam policies apply to all content and that it takes particular attention to searches for sensitive topics such as health or finance.

Still, it's unclear how much Google's spam-attacking systems, which just got a boost, work right now. Reddit is "heavily manipulated at the end of the day," and people can easily take advantage of it by posting content there, Solis said.

Lily Ray, vice president of SEO strategy and research for marketing agency Amsive, told BI she is concerned that Google is "shifting the burden" of monitoring abuse onto Reddit moderators. Neglected subreddits risk getting spammed with unhelpful or even false content.

Ray wrote on LinkedIn last week that she found an example of Reddit ranking prominently at the top of Google when she searched "How to lose 10 pounds in a week".

"A redditor suggested 'cutting your arm off,'" she wrote.

This raises questions about whether Google can keep bad content from being eaten by its AI-generated search engine, which often sources its responses from the top search results. Already, Google is fighting an influx of AI-generated content flooding the web. At the same time, rivals such as OpenAI and Perplexity try to steal Google's lunch with AI chatbots that work like search engineers.

A Google spokesperson told BI that the company's analysis did not find that more harmful content on Search comes from forums.

There's room to grow - and that's good news for Reddit investors

The assessment in the SEO community right now is that Google has leaned too hard into community discussion, and it may need to recalibrate once users start complaining that, actually, too much Reddit in Google results can be a bad thing.

Sistrix's Paine said 48.9% of the ranking content appears in the top 10 Google Search results, yet only 8% show in the top 3, according to a study from his firm — giving plenty of room for Reddit only to grow, which is something Reddit investors will be pleased to know.

Google may also decide to course-correct.

"Personally, I would expect this current dominance by Reddit to calm down once Google notes that the search experience has not been improved by the increased inclusion of Reddit," SEO consultant Natalie Slater told BI.

"One of the questions is, will it retain this visibility?" Paine said of Reddit. "On one hand, this is unprecedented growth, and there's a feeling that it must end soon."

On the other, he added, there's plenty of space for Reddit's presence in Google Search to grow even bigger.

For now, Reddit and Google need each other, and it may be in neither of their interests to stop a good thing.

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