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|The future: Info content over commerce?|
What's the future for affiliate sites--or e-commerce sites, period--in Google?
I think today's affiliate sites are comparable to mom-or-pop DTP businesses in the late 1980s and Web-design businesses in the mid- to late '90s. A lot of people jumped into those businesses and made money for a while, but the window of opportunity didn't last long.
Small DTP businesses were killed at the low end by do-it-yourself programs like Publisher, combined with cheap high-quality printers and Kinko's. At the medium and high end, they were killed by the adoption of digital processes by ad agencies, design studios, and printing firms.
Small Web-design businesses had a brief heyday when every business wanted a Web site but most businesspeople weren't familiar with the Web or how to code pages in HTML. Pretty soon, though, anybody could create an adequate low-end Web site with WYSIWYG programs like Netscape Composer, PageMill, FrontPage, Publisher, or even Word. The medium to high end of the business was taken over by ad agencies, studios, and Web-consulting firms that could offer e-commerce integration, database programming, art direction, project management, and other professional services.
Affiliate sites (the successful ones, anyway) have profited from the ability to get high rankings in Google and other search engines through clever SEO techniques. But that window of opportunity is closing, just as the DTP and Web-design windows of opportunity did, as Google gives more weight to relevant, original content and less to PageRank. I think we're going to see two types of sites emerge from the wreckage:
1) Large, high-quality e-commerce sites with original content. (Gorp.com might be a good example.) These sites would provide useful information to the reader even if you stripped out the "sell pages" and e-commerce links.
2) Editorially-driven content sites that are supported by affiliate or advertising income.
Of those two categories, I think the editorial sites are in the best position (in terms of free search listings) because they're information-based. Google could very well decide that it isn't a shopping guide, and commercial sites (even good ones like L.L. Bean or REI) should pay for advertising just as they would in the newspaper or magazine world.
In my admittedly biased opinion, it would be neither unethical nor unreasonable for Google to take such a stance. If Google were to say "We see ourselves as being like The Magazine Index, not The Yellow Pages," Google would be perfectly justified in removing shopping pages from its index or--more likely--giving them less weight than information pages. This would accomplish three things:
1) It would improve the perceived quality of search results, because information sites would tend to dominate the most-viewed SERPs. Readers would be happier, and Google would stay ahead of its competitors.
2) It would remove much of the incentive for SEO spamming by affiliate sites and other e-commerce sites.
3) It would encourage businesses to obtain shoppers and leads the way they do in the offline world: through paid advertising and direct marketing.
What do the rest of you think? Will Google continue to provide free referrals to affiliate sites and other e-commerce sites? Or will it find ways to distinguish between information sites and e-commerce sites, with the latter being required to pay for traffic?
>>Google didn't become the popular everyman index it is by directing people to the best places to spend money.<<
aaaahhh...beg to differ with you there.
All manner of google promotion has been propogated by the beneficiaries of an e-commerce friendly index. Those beneficiaries are at thier core, "promoters".
Can google survive long term without this core support? I don't think so.
To think of google as the be-all and end-all of SE is ludicrous, they have made one very significant contribution; they pioneered a business model. The model will be duplicated (without a doubt), and those who win the promoters will win the war.
I know...it's all hard to quantify, but thats the way it is.
>I don't think I ever said "People don't go online to shop". If I did, it was a mistake as i dont belive it in the slightest.
You didn't chiyo. What you actually wrote was: "I dont think people generally go to the Web in order to buy on-line. Even not in the US, and as far as I know that is the only country where on-line shopping has become even close to mainstream. They tend to go to find information."
>I did say that the majority (possibly great majority) of people who use search engines don't - especially in non North American markets.
Correct. You also have a good point that the ranking methododology, while it works well for information sites, isn't that great for e-commerce site in general. People running information sites tend to want to link to other information sites on the topic that cover it well. Competitors naturally don't want to link to their competition. Plus commercial sites are the ones that will tend to play SEO games to try and thwart the Google algo. This doesn't happen that much with info sites.
>All manner of google promotion has been propogated by the beneficiaries of an e-commerce friendly index. Those beneficiaries are at thier core, "promoters".
Care to back that up with actual evidence? I see a lot more evidence that it was Google's "geek appeal" that had to do more with its popularity.
|Care to back that up with actual evidence? I see a lot more evidence that it was Google's "geek appeal" that had to do more with its popularity. |
The quality of Google's search results may have helped quite a bit, too--that, and the decline in search quality at the established search engines.
BTW, in an earlier post, there was a mention of AltaVista's "new style" and how that might provide competition for Google. Don't bet on it. Try searching AltaVista for "(Major French City) travel." The top 10 search results are all for hotel booking sites and tour packages. You won't hit an information site until page 3. Does anyone here seriously believe that's what users are hoping to find when they search on "(Major French city) travel"? Or that Google can afford to follow AltaVista's example and surrender control of its search results to SEO abusers with affiliate sites?
>BTW, in an earlier post, there was a mention of AltaVista's "new style" and how that might provide competition for Google. Don't bet on it. Try searching AltaVista for "(Major French City) travel." The top 10 search results are all for hotel booking sites and tour packages. You won't hit an information site until page 3. Does anyone here seriously believe that's what users are hoping to find when they search on "(Major French city) travel"? Or that Google can afford to follow AltaVista's example and surrender control of its search results to SEO abusers with affiliate sites?
I was able to find general information about a certain major French city by replacing "travel" with things like "tourist information" and other relevant terms. And, I'd think so long as Google is #1 and on top they don't have much to worry about unless Altavista actually starts to do a better job than Google does. Besides, what percentage of Google's users ever travel to France?
The reason I started using Google is very simple. It did the best job of finding the information I wanted.
A couple of years ago I wanted information on pancreatic cancer. On another search engine I got obituaries while on Google I found the top cancer sites. Need I say more.
I believe that people go to Google for information. Shopping is secondary.
I just did a search on Google for pancreatic cancer. The SERPs looksed pretty good to me. Perhaps some of these heavily spammed out commercial SERPs are less than ideal. However, is this really a material problem?
|Perhaps some of these heavily spammed out commercial SERPs are less than ideal. However, is this really a material problem? |
It is if significant numbers of users are getting unhelpful or unexpected search results.
We aren't talking about obscure search terms here. (And by the way, I suspect that a lot of Google users do travel to France, which was the world's leading tourist destination in 2000 with 75 million visitors.)
And, how many people used Google in the last year? And, of those that did go to France, how many weren't intelligent enough to refine their search terms, or dig down a few pages to find what they wanted?
Look, if you choose to believe that Google doesn't think search quality is important to its long-term success, that's your privilege. But the evidence suggests that Google disagrees with your premise (which is why we hear so much keening and wailing on from SEO abusers on this board).
If you search for "(Major French City) travel." what are you planning to do? Travel to a major city in France would be my guess;) So if Google returns Hotel booking sites, airline booking sites..etc,etc...what is the problem?
If you want information on Paris, surely the search term would be "Paris Information" or just "Paris France"? Do that and you don't get the Hotels, Airlines or other sites attempting to sell something, you get information on Paris.
Someone wrote in a thread I read this morning that Google can't read the user's mind....applaud whoever it was...sorry I can find you right now to give credit. It is totally on the mark. Google has to assume the user has enough intelligence to use a search phrase that is most likely to return the results they are looking for.
A lot of users do type very short search strings. These are likely to return dubious results. The user then sees that they have a bunch of stuff they didn't want and tries something more sensible.
The first law of sales is "You can't sell to someone without a desire to buy". So if Google returns Hotels for someone who wants information about a city there is no harm done...a few seconds of the users life wasted, but the user learns to type a better search phrase the next time (maybe).
The internet is going to be dominated by commercial entities. Money talks! It is not dominated yet, otherwise "Paris France" would return a hotel or airline booker/affiliate;)
SEO is not dead, it has hardly got started yet. I deal in a category where people pay $5 per click for Adwords, yet getting their site to the top of genuine search results is not very difficult.
Sponsorship pricing for Adwords and Overture has increased dramatically over the last six months and continues to do so. If you are any good at SEO just think about how much money can be made/saved! Whether you are promoting your site, or a clients, an SEO specialist is the one initially taking away revenue from the SE's, and in the next hand giving it back to them because the competition is forced to pay.....everyone wins but the guy on a low budget....such is life!
The beauty of search engines is that everyone wants to be seen, but only a few can be visible. One way or the other eventually every one will end up paying to be seen or die.
The money will be split between sponsorship programs and the good SEO's. The low budget operators will be dead in the water. That is the way of the world. How many of you are paying for national TV commercials today? No, well why think you can get free advertising on SE's then?
>If you search for "(Major French City) travel." what are you planning to do? Travel to a major city in France would be my guess So if Google returns Hotel booking sites, airline booking sites..etc,etc...what is the problem?
Exactly my point. Why europeforvisitors is it such a bad SERP if people who enter into Google "(Major French City) travel" if what comes up is a bunch of sites selling travel services to that city? This was my point about refining the search terms. If I want *information* about a city, then why the hell just use the city name and add "travel" as the search term?
This is a most interesting post so thought I would give my two cents worth.
The reason Google is the leading search engine is because of the quality of their search results - period. Without their quality search results, they would quickly fade away into the realms of "search engines that were" such as Inktomi, AV and Infoseek. Judging by the lengths Google goes to in order to get rid of "spammy sites", it seems to me that Google recognizes that the relevancy of a search topic is of paramount importance and is the core of their business model. As a previous poster mentioned, quality search results is the "goose that laid the golden egg" for Google, and it would be incredibly stupid to kill the goose by going the way of Inktomi and AV and implementing something along the lines of PPC for all sites.
That said, it is certainly inevitable that Google will try to generate more revenue through their search results. However, I don't think they will ever differentiate between "affiliate" sites and pure "e-commerce" sites and "informational" sites, simply because there is no clean line between them. Amazon.com would be considered a pure e-commerce site, yet by the same token, you can find lots of good information there, too. In more than a few searches I have seen amazon pages come up with helpful information about this or that. There is just no clean way to draw a line.
While this seems simplistic, I believe that Google will continue to place primary importance on information since that is what searchers want. As more and more websites come online (like 500,000,000 more in the last update!), many if not most of these site will be informational sites or a mix of informational/affiliate sites. Since these sites will often outrank pure e-commerce sites due to their content and information (as mentioned previously), pure selling sites will get thrown farther down the ranking order. Result - e-commerce sites that have little content will spend ever more money in things such as adwords, sponsorships and other PPC models - all of which go into the coffers of Google as these businesses bid more and more to get seen.
In short, it strikes me that by placing primary and absolute importance on the quality of a web search, Google will continue to make more and more money in adwords, sponsorships and partnerships (and other ways they might think of in the future) since the pure e-commerce sites without helpful information (which is what the majority of web searchers use the web for) will be found way back in the rankings.
The result of this is that the web searcher wins by having quality search results and that the e-commerce sites will, like they do everywhere else (as mentioned previously), have to pay for exposure to searchers - either by paying affiliates to promote their products for them or by using things such as adwords and sponsorships and other PPC models.
Hope this makes sense!
Jim, I think you are right on the money, except for one thing. E-commerce sites will add the neccessary informational content if it means good SE positions. The cost of adding the content is minimal given the potential returns.
I already preach to my clients that content is king, and they should pay me to add it;)
Some do, some don't, they will all learn in time :)
Quite true. What I meant was the e-commerce sites like you often see today (all products, no info) as well as the "affiliate directory shopping sites" that have lots of links to various places but no information to go with it.
It only makes sense for e-commerce companies to add more and more content about their products. After all, the net is all about information. So a company should add as much info. as possible about their product - not just for SE placement but also for customer satisfaction, too.
The net is a place for information and people, inevitably, will go where it is.
Jim, could not agree more ...!.
OMG - I'm getting tired of this crap. We seem to have a regular thread on the same two topics.
It's either "My site's being buried by sites with keywords in their domain name"
"My informational site (with just a few affiliate links;)) is being buried by E-Commerce / Affiliate sites"
Wake up you guys!. Whilst a search engine such as Google ranks pages via a complex automated process without human intervention then people are going to study that process in order to get their sites at the top of the SERPS. The people who are best at such optimisation, in other words the people that frequent this board, do this for money....it's their livelihood. The companies that can afford to hire these SEO's are running commercial sites that are making money from the internet.
People such as EuropeForVisitors have this holier than thou attitude that because they build informational sites (with just a few affiliate links;)) they have a God given right to be ranked above all commercial and affiliate sites. They argue that people are searching for information and that sites with commercial content (unless it's just a few affiliate links ;)) should be banned or pushed aside into a commercial directory. But then we'd get into endless arguments about informational sites (with just a few affiliate links;)) appearing / not appearing in the main SERPS. Can you imagine it "my competitor has 5 affiliate links on his site yet he's 10 positions above me in the results and I only have 3 affiliate links". Handbags at 10 paces...it doesn't bear thinking about.
My advice to EuropeForVisitors and his supporters is to make the most of their time at the top of the SERPS, those SEO's are studying the new algo very carefully, and they're not going to let you stay there for long!.
"What do the rest of you think? Will Google continue to provide free referrals to affiliate sites and other e-commerce sites?"
Well I dont hope so, if there wassent any affiliate links on pages alot of small free services would go away, because it is there main income and you will not see the chiefs (from this forum) page with free recieps for food.
Affiliate program is a great way to deliever free information and other stuff on the internet and Google would go down big time if they changed there system against affiliate sites/part affiliate sites, it would be boring and you would not see manny new sites anymore.
The truth, here, is being missed by everyone. It's a numbers game. Commerce and Afiliate sites have simply more sites on the web than they did even 2 or 3 years ago. Pure afiliate sites, while it's possible to make them rank well for popular terms, just simply won't have the conversion rates necesary to be around next Christmas.
If they are keying on the "buy words" and getting traffic for that, then fine - they'll have a nice income and prosper with continued traffic from Google and other places. If they focus on "information search words" and don't provide the information, then they'll have to be happy with one sale from everyone 10,000 visitors.
Google and others already do everything they need to to get rid of the sites like this that (many of) you seem to loathe - they drive up the bandwidth costs and provied them with no sales.
In the end, the window's been closed for a while, now. Sure, a site may rank well now and may continue to do so until the initial funding runs out. As time goes by (probably by the end of this Christmas shopping season), we'll start to see a turn in the types of investments people make and we'll see fewer of these pure afiliate sites targeting your precious "information terms" for their "buy" geared site. As the "peeps with the pockets" wise up and realize that "traffic <> profit" and that "1 qualified hit > 5,000 unqualified hits", everything will work itself out - with no changes made by the search engines.
Damn it, we should go back to the old NSFnet days, when making commercial use of the Net was a no-no and likely to get your access revoked...
While we're at it, I think the web went downhill when they added graphics support...
Danny - whose profile site is image-free and non-commercial :-)
|Exactly my point. Why europeforvisitors is it such a bad SERP if people who enter into Google "(Major French City) travel" if what comes up is a bunch of sites selling travel services to that city? |
Well, let's use an analogy. You go to the public library and say "Give me information about Thanksgiving," and the librarian hands you 20 advertising circulars for Butterball Turkeys, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, Libby Pumpkin, and so on. You came to the library looking for information, and you're walking away with a stack of ads.
Granted, you didn't refine your search by saying "history of Thanksgiving" or "Pilgrims and Indians at the First Thanksgiving" or "Thanksgiving turkey recipe." But a professional librarian would have assumed that you were looking for a magazine article, book, or video about Thanksgiving, not a collection of ad flyers.
It's the same with something like Elboniaville travel. In the absence of a highly targeted search ("Elboniaville hotels," "Elboniaville hotel rates," "Elboniaville hotel discounts)") a typical user would expect Google to return listings for the Elboniaville Tourist Office, Time Out: Elboniaville, or a New York Times Travel Section article on Elboniaville, not 20 links to hotel affiliate sites.
Now, you may argue that an ad circular for Butterball turkeys is just as valid as a book on Thanksgiving when you ask a reference librarian for materials on "Thanksgiving," or that "Elboniaville-hotel-discounts.com" has the same relevance as Time Out: Elboniaville or Fodor's Elboniaville when you search on "Elboniaville" at Google. The question is, does Google share your view? That seems unlikely, given Google's roots in academia and its information culture. And from a business standpoint, it makes sense for Google to skew search results toward non-commercial pages so that marketers will have an incentive to pay for referrals.
|I don't think they will ever differentiate between "affiliate" sites and pure "e-commerce" sites and "informational" sites, simply because there is no clean line between them. |
Yes, but we need to remember that Google indexes pages, not sites. If I search on "kayaks," Google can display listings for REI's "How to buy a kayak" page or Gorp.com's "Exploring the Amazon by kayak" article, but it doesn't have to display an REI catalog page for kayaks or a Gorp.com listing of kayak adventure tours.
Of course, sometimes a page consists of e-commerce and information in equal parts. A good example would be an Amazon.com book page, which has catalog copy and e-commerce links followed by reviews and reader comments. How does Google know that this is less of a pure "information page" than a New York Times Book Review page about the same book if the NYTBR page includes ads and affiliate links? That's a good question--but I don't think it's an insurmountable problem for Google.
Again, I'm not suggesting that Google would or should exclude "commercial" pages. I'm merely suggesting that, in the interests of user satisfaction and its own profits, it might choose to improve search quality and encourage ad sales by being like a librarian who assumes that--in the absence of targeted commercial queries--users would prefer to have information delivered first, with ads lower in the pile.
|While we're at it, I think the web went downhill when they added graphics support... |
I wouldn't go that far, but I think the Web went downhill when they added mouse rollovers, Flash, and pop-up ads. :-)
|People such as EuropeForVisitors have this holier than thou attitude that because they build informational sites (with just a few affiliate links) they have a God given right to be ranked above all commercial and affiliate sites. |
Not at all. If I search on "Microsoft Windows," I expect the #1 result to be the main Windows page at Microsoft.com. But if I search on "Jesus," I don't expect the #1 result to be an affiliate site for plastic dashboard ornaments.
|Well, let's use an analogy. You go to the public library and say "Give me information about Thanksgiving," and the librarian hands you 20 advertising circulars for Butterball Turkeys, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, Libby Pumpkin, and so on. You came to the library looking for information, and you're walking away with a stack of ads. |
A search for "information thanksgiving" and "thanksgiving food" produces several info sites before any commercial listings - and the commercial listings (on the first page) are not purely commercial.
Your whole point here is that Google is too spammy, but your above analogy doesn't work.
I think you've got "sysopia". This is a term from the olden days where system operators developed a certain blindness where they'd only see how their systems "weren't ranking" as opposed to seeing why other systems "were ranking". Another symptom of the disease is that the webmaster only uses control terms that "should" bring up their own site in their own mind, but doesn't. Obviously, you've chosen the wrong terms to optimize for and rather than fixing that, you're fixated on getting those people who DID optimize for the right terms out of your way.
As Douglas Adams said, "The answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42. Now if we could only figure out the question."
<added> A search for Jesus brings up nary a commercial site until page three - you're right, though - it is for Jesus action figures.</added>
Ross, correct o mondo.....i couldnt agree more
|Your whole point here is that Google is too spammy, but your above analogy doesn't work. |
My analogy was just that: an analogy. It wasn't meant to be an analysis of a specific Google search term. (If you'll recall, I was talking about the public library, not Google.)
If you find the analogy unhelpful, then let's use "Paris travel," which works for both the public library and Google. If I go to the library reference desk and say, "Please give me information on Paris travel," a good librarian will give something like The Michelin Guide to Paris or the Eyewitness Guide to Paris, not a stack of sell sheets from hotel-reservations services.
If, on the other hand, I asked the librarian for "travel brochures" or "hotel listings" about Paris, I'd expect to be given travel brochures (whether from the tourist office or tour operators) and hotel information (whether it was the Michelin Red Guide or a Paris hotels brochure).
Also, I don't think Google is "too spammy." I think certain SERPs are too spammy. I'll bet Google does, too. :-)
|I think you've got "sysopia"...Obviously, you've chosen the wrong terms to optimize for and rather than fixing that, you're fixated on getting those people who DID optimize for the right terms out of your way. |
Nope. I come up #1 to #4 for my most important keyphrases, and I'm also #1 for quite a few keywords and keyphrases where I wouldn't expect to rank at or near the top. (For example, I'm #1 for the name of a certain cruise ship, ahead of the cruise line that owns it--and that isn't the result of SEO; I just wrote a very comprehensive report on a Mediterranean cruise.) So I'm not complaining about my rankings in Google. I'm simply trying to encourage an intelligent discussion of where Google could, should, or shouldn't go in differentiating between information and commerce. (Or is discussion for discussion's sake impossible on this board?)
Also, just for the record, I wouldn't expect my pages to rank #1 for "Paris travel," because I have only a few dozen pages about Paris and don't pretend to be an authoritative source on Paris. That's why I link to sites that are authoritive sources of information on Paris--sites that I'd expect to rank ahead of hotel booking sites in a search on a general keyphrase about Paris travel.
I still contend that the term "Paris travel" is the wrong term to find information about traveling in Paris. (Again - ask the wrong question, get the wrong answer). The term, as above, seems to say, "I'm traveling to Paris - give me information on how to do so." Therefore, Hotels and Flights are valid responses.
To illustrate: the term "travel paris" (or: "I'm in Paris and want to travel") still brings up some hotel sites in there - because you MIGHT want to stay somewhere if you travel in Paris, but there are more tourism sites ranked higher than in the previous question.
Go one step further since "travel paris" could mean "travel in paris" or "travel to paris", try "traveling paris" and the results get even better.
And finally, if I go to the Library and simply ask for something as mundane as "paris travel" I could expect one of two things from the librarian: either a) a bus schedule or b) a question to help the librarian home in on whether I was looking for places to see, places to day-trip to, do I like museums? Tourist stuff? Am I on foot? Did I rent a car? etc. etc.
Again, the search engines (most anyway) are doing a wonderful job of guessing what someone's searching for by the bonehead terms they choose to use. It's not their job to decide if I'm looking for information or products - unless of course, I specify it in my search, and if I do, they do a wonderful job of ranking those results as well.
|It's not their job to decide if I'm looking for information or products - unless of course, I specify it in my search... |
So how do you think the search engine should rank results? It has to make assumptions; that's what relevancy algorithms do.
I'd contend that a search on "Paris travel" is more likely to mean "Paris travel information" than "Paris flights," "Paris hotels," or "Paris tour packages" in the typical user's mind. The natural assumption would be that the person researching a Paris trip is interested in general travel information, because he hasn't indicated a subtopic, and that--if he were looking for a hotel--he'd search on "Paris hotels," "Paris hotel guides," or even "Hotel Plaza Athenée."
Similarly, if the user were searching on "operating systems," one would expect the SERP to list articles and other resources about operating systems in general--not a page devoted solely to Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. And especially not a page that contains nothing but e-commerce links for Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X software.
Still, you're entitled to your opinion, and I'm entitled to mine. The real question, in the context of this thread, is the one that I posed when the discussion began:
"Will Google continue to provide free referrals to affiliate sites and other e-commerce sites? Or will it find ways to distinguish between information sites and e-commerce sites, with the latter being required to pay for traffic?"
Yes. In the same way the phone book gives businesses a free listing in the White Pages, search engines (if they are on a free model) will continue to offer free listings for all sites.
(And don't get started on - Yeah, but white pages only search by name, and not by topic. Yup, search engines now offer a free step up to Yellow Page type listings for individuals.)
I can see the future now: Yellow Pages-style SERPs dominated by affiliate sites with names like AAAA-Hotel-Discounts.com." :-)
Surely every good site contains info. - commercial or not. And a good algo will give prominence to sites that do contain useful information.
I wouldn't buy anything unless I knew a great deal about it - so good e-commerce sites are bursting with relevant information.
And where better to do this than on the Net?
The INet's origins are in information, and it will continue to be primarily a source of information. This has been stressed again and again on these pages.
People want easily navigable sites, with informative text -and graphics only where they support that text.
As for spinnin', dancin' flash stuff - you won't find any of that on my site. You can get that by closing your eyes and bashing your head against your keyboard! (and you won't have to wait 5 mins for the download either ;) )
<2 self edits - grammatical/minor>
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