google london hq

A Brief Meeting With Google After The Apocalypse

It’s not often I get invited to Google’s headquarters. In fact this is only the second time I have ever been invited. The first was many years ago, before the founding of Retro Dodo, and it was actually an invite by YouTube to check out their studio for creators (which no longer exists).

This time however, was focused more on the devastation that has occurred thanks to algorithm changes that infected the web back in September 2023… almost a whole year ago now.

For those wondering, we are still 90% down, I have unfortunately had to get rid of my entire team, bar one, who is my editor-in-chief and one of my good friends. We’re hanging on for dear life, and still losing money to keep Retro Dodo afloat.

I have spent all of my businesses money on keeping my team onboard for as long as I can, but 10 months of loss has eradicated any profits I have made over the lat 5 years.

It’s not a fun time, especially as I have just become a father.

So I was fairly surprised when Google Search Liason, Danny Sullivan asked to meet me in person to discuss what’s happened, to hear my story, and to listen to my opinions on what Google should be doing to support creatives.

I was there in a flash. An opportunity to help those who have no idea what the heck is going on? Sign me up, Danny.

Inside The Google HQ

Being able to explore Google’s HQ in London was undeniably a fun experience. It had countless amount of cafeterias, hang outs, and desks, all compacted into a multi-story building with glass windows and pixel art scattered everywhere to make it feel geeky.

Heck, there was even a gym, pool tables, a roof top coffee shop that overlooked London, a collection of VHS tapes big enough to keep any Disney kid happy for life and many happy employees that was seemingly unaware to what’s happening to small independent publishers.

It had the vibe of the movie The Internship, minus the spinning Google hats… which I really wanted to see at least once!

The building is modern, secure and filled with lots of people doing their work in any environment they please. I witnessed lots of collaborations, lots of discussions and what felt like a interesting and relaxed work environment.

But that’s coming from someone who hasn’t had an employer for over 5 years.

It’s a cool place for sure, although Danny had to tap every door he wanted to access, which felt as if we were being controlled like a rat around certain areas of the offices. Some doors wouldn’t open for us, and it felt like other Googler’s who did have access would subtly swipe their card and smiled in disgust as they passed the peasant publisher trying to get to the free food.

I did get my free food eventually, in fact it was everywhere, there was no payments needed for anything. They even had small businesses showing off their food samples within the office, so on my tour I was stuffing my face with jelly beans and brownies like Harry Potter and Ron when they’re on the Hogwart’s Express, not paying for a thing!

I was hoping there was a stall that would give me traffic to my website, but I couldn’t find it. Maybe that was behind the locked doors that only large media companies, Reddit and advertisers could access, who knows?

SEO Discussions With Danny Sullivan

brandon saltalamacchia danny sullivan

I will make clear that Danny didn’t and couldn’t share any actionable advice, which I wasn’t expecting anyway. The last thing Danny wants is me sharing “Google said this, and Danny said that to rank” on the web, and I respect that.

There’s countless amount of folks out there that simply want to take full advantage of the SERP’s for financial gain, all while making Google Search a sh*thole of a place to discover great websites like my own, and Danny knew that too, and is a part of the reason why we are where we are today.

This discussions throughout the day was fairly one sided, with Danny asking questions about how they can better support creators in this dark period, and in all honesty, that’s why I accepted his offer to meet.

If I can’t get actionable advice, I at least want to share with Danny a few pointers that I think would help creators like myself in situations like this.

Firstly, the fact that Danny even invited me down to talk is heartwarming in itself, and after speaking with Danny on calls and face to face over the last couple of months, I do genuinely believe Danny wants what is best for us, and I trust that he is trying his hardest to work with Search Engineers to put his advice to action.

Though, I think most of his advice gets denied from the engineers, but that’s just my guess, because at the end of the day Danny is the middle man, he doesn’t make the changes himself, instead he advises the engineers and it’s up to them to take his advice or not.

I mentioned that creators like myself simply want real guidance, and solid advice that we can genuinely trust from Google employees that we can also trust.

For example, the SEO Guidelines that Google constantly share are over-complicated and contradictory. They need simplifying alongside proof of them working within their search engines.

The Search Console should also be a place that creatives can go to to enhance their website experience and it should show actionable advice on how to make better, more helpful content. All it shows me right now is how my content is losing traffic, why not share insights into when my visitors are leaving, where my visitors are clicking via a heatmap, or a traffic light system that shows individual posts and how Google see’s them?

I have been making YouTube videos for over 10+ years now and I am constantly in the YouTube Creator Studio seeing how my content is performing, what the CTR is, the view duration, and simple graphs that show the part of my video the user is most engaged and the part that viewers leave.

Why don’t publishers have this type of studio/console? This Creator Studio for YouTubers has only HELPED users make BETTER content, never the opposite, and that’s one major thing I think Google are struggling with.

One of the bigger opinions I have is that Google’s guidance goes against what is showing in the search results, again increasing the distrust with its users. It feels pay to win, alongside it feeling like it’s just down right broken.

One main take away from my conversation with Danny is that he did say to hang on, to keep doing what we are doing and that he’s hopeful that those of us building great websites will see some signs of recovery over the coming months.

He said Google isn’t perfect and they know that, so hopefully they are on a path to fix that which he is hopeful will benefit us creators.

It can’t get any worse for myself, so i pray that Danny is right.

What I Think Google Is Struggling With

I got the vibe that Google are really struggling with how they come across to web creators. The Search Liason team and the Search Central team as a whole have a dang difficult job keeping their users updated and more importantly keeping them calm during these storms.

They want to help creators over SEO’s and I feel like they very much want to move away from “SEO advice” and rather want to turn SEO’s into genuine creators that care for their content (this matches the Tweets that their accounts are publishing).

Danny was certainly worried about creators leaving or stopping the production of the great content because of algorithm changes. “We’re not perfect, and we are trying to fix it” was one of the moments that stuck with me. Almost like Danny put his hands up which is kinda what I wanted to hear because Google certainly isn’t perfect right now and the admittance was welcomed.

It was also evident that they are worried about new creators coming onto the platform and falling for SEO advice, or tips that don’t actually work from third parties. Danny was aware that many creators get suckered into courses or SEO audits that don’t actually help, and I reacted to that swiftly because these third parties are at times the only ones actually wanting to help, and the only ones creators can feel like they trust.

Creators should not be having to buy courses, or SEO audits, or have to crawl through leaked Google Search documents for guidance, it should be coming from Google in a humanly way. Their accounts shouldn’t be linking creators to guidelines, or forums or contact forms, instead there should be someone or accounts they can go to for guidance and trust that are controlled by a team of humans that actually want to help and make the web a better place.

Engineers have their place, let them engineer Google Search into that better place. Leave the advice and creator management to a genuine creator or someone that actually wants the web to be open and fair.

Danny does have a long and respected history creating content for the SEO industry before joining Google, but I feel like he needs more help and to partner with genuine creators that are currently in the trenches building great brands. This would not only help him, it would help the engineers, it would help Google in general, but most importantly it would help creators.

My Proposal To Google Search

google london rooftop

Google Search needs a new position, and desperately. If they want to keep genuine creators building human content that has heart on their platform they need someone who can guide creators and publishers into creating that content all while building trust and making creators feel heard.

Danny’s role is certainly apart of this, but nothing against Danny, he is an engineer, a SEO nerd who knows how to speak to SEO’s.

Google Search doesn’t need anymore SEO’s right now or websites over-optimising the way it looks, it needs real creators, hobbyists, reviewers, travel journalists and website owners with true passion for what they are writing about. So, they need a real creator as a part of their Search Team to motivate other real creators who don’t want to know SEO techniques, instead they want to know how to CREATE.

I pitched a few ideas to Danny that I am happy to share. I called the role a Google Search Creator Advisor, someone who doesn’t necessarily advise on SEO techniques, but more of a focus on RFO, reader first optimisation and advising creators how to build other revenue streams away from Google Traffic.

A role that does the following:

  • An advisor who wants Google to be an open, and fair eco-system that motivates creators to build helpful and professional websites that search users will enjoy consuming and finding.
  • An ambassador that not only advise on Google Traffic, but someone who shares advice on how to build websites/brands that obtains revenue/traffic streams elsewhere.
  • This GSCA would create content that actually helps, for example a monthly video podcast featuring website owners that are building incredible brands. Face to face, fun, informal discussions to give other creators advice and motivation.
  • A yearly awards ceremony that celebreates the creators who are helping make Google Search a great place. Pull 50 of the best website owners under one roof to collaborate, and give some of them awards to show Google cares. This will also show other creators what sites Google like seeing, just like the YouTube play button given at huge milestones. It bloody works! It motivates and it guides content creators.
  • The role would assist the real engineers build better guidelines, and products that actually assist creation, for example revamping the Search Console to emulate that of YouTube studio.
  • This role would also visit creatives face-to-face in countries around the world like Danny done with me, to discuss, share advice and help one another make Google the search engine everyone wants.

This is a role I genuinely believe Google needs if they want to stop their search from becoming a mass-AI produced pile of garbage, owned by machines and large media conglomerates that have no care for the content that is being produced.

Many great creators follow terrible SEO-advice from third parties, and are using tactics that damage their site, I am one of them! It’s easy for creatives like me to follow the trends, follow the SEO sheep and accidentally create mediocre content, all because Google won’t actually tell us how to build right…

Google are so scared of showing its creators what they actually like seeing but now is the time to do just that, not using actionable tactics via a forum or over complicated guidelines, instead showcasing the creators that are building the right way and celebrating them while they do so.

That’s my pitch, and I hope they do something like that, as I know myself and many others would love to see that come to reality, because lets face it, AI Overviews, lower ad-rates and cookie removals are here to stay, and it’s looking like an incredibly difficult future for creators/publishers.

Google needs to keep them, and show that they at least care.

Is There Hope For Independent Publishers?

I honestly couldn’t tell from this meeting. The invite was welcome, the tour was memorable and the Google goodies will be used but at the end of the day I need Google to stop making my website invisible.

I got the sense things won’t change fast, nor anytime soon. We spoke about new revenue streams, and social traffic alongside AI Overviews and the dominance of Reddit which I think is here to stay.

Gone are the days of easy Google traffic. Now publishers need to adapt, find traffic from other sources, create videos, podcasts, products and events to stay afloat.

While we do that Google needs to find a way to better build trust with the publishers that make search great, because if they don’t we will all just stop creating and it will quickly become the closed web, not the open web.

Google are listening which is appreciated, but now we need to see action from them. Is this simply a PR stunt? Time will tell.

Google please, guide us, motivate us and help us make your search a place we want to explore.