Some thoughts on why Reddit is all over your search results

Some thoughts on why Reddit is all over your search results

I thought I’d share some thoughts on why we may be seeing Reddit ranking for so many search queries. I think it’s mostly related to the value that Reddit gives in training Gemini on how people talk.

This tweet by Mordy Oberstein got me thinking. He searched for “What Reddit on the SERP means for SEO.” the entirety of the SERP was taken up with results from Reddit.com.

I think it’s quite possible that this is not the intended search result Google’s systems want to be showing people. Google probably wants to show more diversity in these SERPS. We’re currently in the middle of a very interesting core update. There are multiple systems updating and influencing each other. Perhaps this huge SERP filled with Reddit is somehow related to that.

It’s also interesting to note that once you scroll beyond the Reddit results, there really are no articles that actually answer this question. (Perhaps some smart SEO will write an article that deserves to rank for this query. 😜)  Most talk about how Google recently  signed a deal for $60m with Google. Why? The deal was for Reddit to make its content available for training Google’s AI.

I think there are very important reasons why we see so much Reddit ranking right now. It’s related to training Gemini how people talk about particular topics.

While it’s unusual to see an entire SERP filled with Reddit results, it’s not unusual to see Reddit ranking well for many queries these days. Ahrefs shows huge gains in organic traffic for Reddit. These gains started at some point before the August core update in 2023. (The update started August 22, but after far too many minutes of trying to get a screenshot with my cursor on that date, I have given up 😂)

Ahrefs showing Reddit's traffic increase

Ahrefs showing Reddit's traffic increase

Why is Google giving so much preference to Reddit in their search results?

I’ll share thought #1 first. But I think thought #2 is more important.

Thought #1: Often, Reddit is helpful

Google’s algorithms are built to predict which pages a searcher is likely to find helpful. It’s not perfect…it’s actually guessing with each search! I’ll soon be publishing my book, SEO in the Gemini Era – The Story of how AI changed Google search to talk much more on how Google’s AI systems use all sorts of signals that can indicate if a search has satisfied a user. They then feed this information back into machine learning systems that are working to predict which results are likely to be satisfying. 

In late 2022 Google published a blog post saying that they were adding an extra E, representing experience to the quality raters’ guidelines. These guidelines guide the quality raters who rate how well Google’s ranking systems are doing.

Sometimes what people find helpful is “a forum discussion from people who have experience with different services.”

For example, take the search, “Best South Park Episodes”. 

In mid August, 2023, according to Ahrefs, a Reddit post started outranking a well written article by a known authority, Indie Wire.

As an SEO, it makes no sense. But, if let’s put ourselves in the shoes of someone who has just searched for “best Southpark episodes”. What do I want? I would imagine many searches like this are done quickly, browsing for a quick answer…the Reddit page shows a list of episodes followed by discussions. Skimming tells me one reader thinks season 20 was the best. There are multiple short conversations on different episodes. 

The Indie Wire article is good…for readers who want to read an article. It meets a different intent. Is it more likely to be accurate? Yes. But we need to always be thinking about what it is that satisfies a search. 

If Reddit is ranking above you, it’s a clue about user intent. It can be easy to point out what’s wrong about this page ranking above you. But there is far more value in trying to understand why Google’s systems chose to rank this discussion.

I believe that much of what is ranking well on Reddit is doing so because Google’s systems are learning that people tend to engage with Reddit and find it satisfying their search. Much of Reddit’s content is helpful

For more reading on the helpfulness of forums I’d recommend checking out section 9.3 of the QRG, ratings for forums and Q&A pages. There is detailed information to instruct the raters how to rate forum discussions.

I think there’s more to the rise of Reddit than just helpfulness though.

Thought #2: Reddit helps Google’s AI systems

Reddit may help Google’s systems understand more about topics, and in particular, how people talk on that topic. 

Check out this Google research paper published in October of 2023:

FreshLLMs: Refreshing Large Language Models with Search Engine Augmentation

The abstract tells us that most LLMs are trained once and never updated. This means that they can’t adapt as the world changes. The paper talks about a technique that can be used to greatly improve Bard’s capabilities. (Bard has now become Gemini.)

The paper proposes a solution that can help language models stay up to date:

Take the user’s query and add to it by providing information gleaned from the search results.

The idea of retrieval augmented generation (RAG) to improve AI chatbots is not new. What’s interesting about this paper is that one of the things they found greatly improved RAG was using information from crowdsourced question and answer platforms. 

They specifically mention Reddit elsewhere in this paper.

FreshPrompt enhances AI chatbot responses. When a user asks a question, FreshPrompt searches Google and gathers relevant information, like answers from crowdsourced Q&A sites. The chatbot then uses this information to formulate a more comprehensive and informed response.

They’re augmenting the initial prompt with information from the search results.

The obvious concern here is that Reddit can be a cesspool of toxicity or inaccurate information. The thing to know here is that (assuming Google is using this technique to improve Gemini’s responses), what they are learning from the Reddit responses in a SERP is not facts. Rather, they are learning what the questions are and how people talk about this subject.

Learning is a key word here. The system is nowhere near perfect. 

Having just recently gotten access to Gemini 1.5 in AI Studio, I’ve just prompted, 

what does Google gain from having Reddit in the search results.

Here are a few things Gemini 1.5 told me. 

  • Fresh Perspectives: Reddit provides access to a vast and diverse range of opinions, discussions, and perspectives on various topics. This allows Google to offer users a broader range of viewpoints beyond traditional media sources.
  • Trending Topics: Reddit is often at the forefront of trending topics and breaking news. Integrating Reddit content allows Google to keep its search results relevant and up-to-date.
  • Niche Communities: Reddit hosts countless niche communities with passionate and knowledgeable users. This grants Google access to specialized information and discussions not easily found elsewhere.

Reddit helps Google understand how people talk 

Gemini 1.5 also told me a few more benefits of having Reddit in the search results:

  • Understanding Language: Google can analyze Reddit conversations to improve its understanding of natural language and slang, leading to better interpretation of user queries.
  • Identifying Expertise: By analyzing user contributions and community reputation on Reddit, Google can identify subject-matter experts and prioritize their content in search results.
  • Building Knowledge Graph: Information extracted from Reddit discussions can enrich Google’s Knowledge Graph, providing users with more comprehensive and informative search results.

Will we continue to see Reddit (and Quora) dominate?

I think that we will see things settle down and Reddit will not rank for as many queries as it currently does. I believe that right now Google is learning a lot about the nuances of language. Over time, it should learn how to communicate like a human without relying so much on Reddit and Quora.

I hope you found this interesting! There’s so much to learn about how these tools work and are improving.

More from me:

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