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Google starting to reserve top spot for itself
londrum




msg:4066931
 9:38 pm on Jan 24, 2010 (gmt 0)

I know this is not exactly new, but i was wondering what people think about this.

we all know that google puts a few ads above the serps, which is perfectly fair, because everyone knows that they are ads because they say so, and print them in different colours etc. even the dopiest of internet users can tell they are different to the serps.

but what if they styled those ads to look EXACTLY like the serps? and what if they all pointed to google's own products?

to me, that is unfair. because that is an example of google highjacking the serps for the own benefit.

but that is exactly what they are doing: search for a big cinema in a big city. if you get the same results as me then you will be looking at a blue link (looking identical to the serps) and a snippet which contains blue links (looking identical to site links) all pointing to google's own products. that is a total of 9 links providing pretty much everything the searcher is likely to want -- which films are showing, ratings, show times, reviews and trailers -- all styled to look like position 1 in the serps. there is no coloured background like the ads have, and not a single mention of the word 'google' to show they are links to google's own sites.

position number 1 has effectively been taken over... its been hijacked... and what percentage of people click position 1? something like 45%, i can't remember.
45% of our traffic has effectively disappeared.

clued up people like us release what position 1 no wis, but i reckon 95% of people will look at that and not be able to tell that it's related to google at all. they will just assume that it's the best site in the serps.

and don't get me started on what really winds me up... it's the fact that it's all done with OUR content.

 

tedster




msg:4066985
 12:11 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'd sum up the future this way. If your online business model has been to be a middle man passing on information and attracting traffic via the search results, then it's time to re-think your strategy. Make sure you offer a value that CAN'T be taken in merely by looking at the SERPs.

We've got other threads discussing this topic:

Google's 'Answer Highlighting' and 'Rich Snippets' for Events [webmasterworld.com]
Finally #2 in Google but can't be seen above the fold? [webmasterworld.com]
Nine startup dreams and industries Google crushed in 2009 [webmasterworld.com]

TheMadScientist




msg:4067004
 12:43 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

to me, that is unfair. because that is an example of google highjacking the serps for the own benefit.

Unfortunately, that's business, and if you didn't use the top spot for your own product on your own site I'd wonder what's wrong with you... I'm not a big Google fan right now, but at the same time business is business and as I've posted previously, what tedster said in different words: Placing your income in the hands and at the mercy of a business you have no control over doesn't seem like a very good plan to me...

There's no requirement for Google to send anyone traffic. They're obligated to their shareholders, not you or your site, or even serving SERPs at all if they can make more money doing something else. Again, they are not obligated to serve search results in any way shape or form and they certainly are not obligated to give another site top billing if they can make more money and retain their visitors by serving their own first.

loudspeaker




msg:4067017
 1:15 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

There's no requirement for Google to send anyone traffic.

Except that's the only reason we tolerate their bots on our sites. They can tinker with this model at their own risk.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067042
 2:05 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

IMO They can and will and if someone removes their site there's another one waiting to replace it, because a bit of traffic is better than no traffic at all... Have you (or others) banned MSNBot and Slurp because Bing and Yahoo! don't send the same traffic Google does? I suspect not...

The only real win for the individual webmaster IMO is to find traffic without the engines, which means you have to build sites of value which get word-of-mouth and other types of traffic. It's just making the web a tougher place to compete and the more of this they (and others) do the more running a web business becomes running a business rather than a 'spammer's paradise'.

IOW: It is what it is and it's not going to change (IMO) so better to start doing something about it than waiting and hoping they'll stop.

Reno




msg:4067095
 6:43 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Except that's the only reason we tolerate their bots on our sites.

Google takes our content and reproduces it for their own purposes, which is to give its own visitors the best quality SERPs. If I understand copyright law correctly, that content is copyrighted upon publication on our own sites. We tolerate (and encourage) their reproducing our content because there is something in it for ourselves. If there is nothing in it for us, then there's no reason to allow or encourage the reproduction. I doubt that there is anything that the individual siteowner can do other than try to block the googlebot, but really, after years of a mutually agreeable relationship, it does appear more and more that Google is seriously tilting the table in their own direction.

....................

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:4067150
 9:43 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

after years of a mutually agreeable relationship, it does appear more and more that Google is seriously tilting the table in their own direction.

Yes, this is becoming more and more evident and gathering speed.

What is clear is that Google is clearly starting to really upset many webmasters with these new practises. OK they have always done this but many of the these new "features" are getting pretty close to copyright infringement. What they are now doing is cherry picking content for their own benefit. It's an interesting time and what is clear is that the Gorg is no longer being perceived as a cuddly monster. But then what do these guys care?
[theregister.co.uk...]

This is a transitional period. It could be the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning in Internet terms. Just prepare for the worst because it's not going to get any easier.

Placing your income in the hands and at the mercy of a business you have no control over doesn't seem like a very good plan to me...

Of course not, and most people are well aware of this. But we have all done it and have to live with it. It WAS a good plan for many years and we have to continue to live with it for the moment. That does not suddenly make us all stupid now does it?

The only real win for the individual webmaster IMO is to find traffic without the engines, which means you have to build sites of value which get word-of-mouth and other types of traffic.

Yes this is quite obvious but for the "individual webmaster" it's also very much easier said than done. What is also obvious is that it is impossible for all of us to do that. You may as well tell the aspiring pop star practising in his/her garage that the best way forward is to get a hit record.

Pass the Dutchie




msg:4067176
 10:58 am on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I agree with you tedster but not quite to that extent. If your site gets hit by a ban this could potentially drive those of us who rely on SE traffic out of business. If they continue to clog up the SERPS with news, blogs, maps, tweets and videos (not very helpful for majority of our visitors) then it is somewhat relative. People will still search to find what they want whether it be on Google or in a telephone directory. As long as the playing ground is not torn up in Google’s own interest then it should remain relative.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067397
 5:38 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Of course not, and most people are well aware of this.

So, should we stop telling people? If no one ever says anything any longer, what is understood to some is not know by many...

But we have all done it and have to live with it. It WAS a good plan for many years and we have to continue to live with it for the moment.

I disagree... I think a good plan would have been to take advantage of the situation and diversify rather than thinking the status quo would not ever change. IMO it's always wise to stay ahead of the game, and if people can't then maybe they shouldn't be playing in the first place? This is not like a job where if you do 'blah' you get a promotion or if you've been doing it for N years you get an automatic increase in pay or vacation time. It's an unfair game and if you can't stay ahead of it, then maybe you shouldn't be playing?

What is also obvious is that it is impossible for all of us to do that.

Then as tedster has said, 'Maybe people need to rethink why they are online.' moving forward more than I thought was necessary before. If you really can't build a site of use and interest without a freebie, then is there really a need for your site or what you do in the first place?

Out in the 'real world' customer development costs money, and if you cannot spend money to make money without free SE traffic, then you should probably rethink your strategy. How many sites do you think are really unnecessary because they use search traffic to promote AdWords? IMO MFA (even without the appearance of being MFA) is dying in a big way.

You may as well tell the aspiring pop star practising in his/her garage that the best way forward is to get a hit record.

That's exactly how many get started... Renting a studio and burning CDs is not too expensive, and if you're good you can pay the bills by selling them individually, which gets you word-of-mouth promotions and establishes a 'following', so you can continue following your dream. It's actually much like starting a website... Most can't make it and IMO you'll have to be able to attract visitors more and more without search engines moving forward, or you're probably not cut out for the game.

londrum




msg:4067462
 6:57 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's an unfair game and if you can't stay ahead of it, then maybe you shouldn't be playing?

and that's why google will continue to play unfairly, because they know that the majority of webmasters will just shrug their shoulders and say what you're saying.
what we should be doing is complaining about google's unfair practices, not suggesting that the put upon webmasters give up and find another job.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067471
 7:03 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm not saying to give up.
I'm saying to build a better website and forget about free traffic from search engines... IT'S GOING AWAY!

How is it unfair to put a site they own above yours?
It's absolutely fair IMO they put their sites first... ANYONE WOULD!

Please, just explain to me how it's unfair for a company to put their own sites above a 3rd parties, because I don't get it? Seriously, who would think it's unfair for ANY OTHER WEBSITE to link to their other websites before linking to other people's? Basically all Google is is links... Why is it unfair for them to place a link to their sites before they place a link to other people's, when if you said the same thing about another website you'd get looked at funny?

Personally, I think it's unfair you don't link to me from your site(s) since you most likely link to other people. Do I really have any right to complain?

Reno




msg:4067519
 7:46 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's absolutely fair IMO they put their sites first... ANYONE WOULD!

There are 2 parties here -- the search engine and the webmaster. Each can benefit from the other, so it can be mutually beneficial. When one party shifts the status quo to their own favor, then the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial. In this case Google has built it's empire on goodwill that it successfully nurtured over an 8-9 year period. Now they are intentionally changing the balance so the content that they've taken for free will still draw in visitors who will still click on sponsored ads, but the owners of the content are seeing their positions lowered to a point where it is reasonable to question the validity of the arrangement. Yes a person can block Googlebot or use Bing, but still Google is enriching itself at the expense of others, who are no longer benefiting as in the original understanding.

I don't know that anyone can realistically do anything about it -- legally or otherwise -- and I totally agree with you that webmasters had better pay attention and look into other traffic/monetary models, but I disagree with what appears to be a defense of this latest Google practice (re the quote above) -- the fact that they own the mall does not mean they should channel a significant percentage of the traffic to their own store -- and away from other stores -- not when they are using those others to attract the traffic that comes in the front door.

............................

[edited by: Reno at 7:47 pm (utc) on Jan. 25, 2010]

londrum




msg:4067521
 7:47 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Please, just explain to me how it's unfair for a company to put their own sites above a 3rd parties, because I don't get it?

it's completly different. our sites don't consist of snippets and quotes from other people's content, so there's no need for us to link to them.

when google puts up a page listing all the movies that are showing at a cinema, complete with ratings, reviews and film times, then that information has not come from them. it has come directly from us. if i go to the page now, i can see that the reviews are all reprinted from other sites with a few sentences and five-star rating. above that is a quote from another site giving the directer, complete cast and summary of the plot. and then you've got ten more cinemas listed underneath where it's also showing, with the locations and screen times.
google has basically written their own page filled with 99% of what the searcher is likely looking for, and promoted it at position number 1 in the serps, with no real indication that it is in any way different to the normal serps.

100% of the information contained on that page has come from us, the lowly webmasters like you and me. it's been taken, compiled and regurgitated in a different format. everyday their bots come, take the info, and leave. and all we get in return is a listing in the serps (below theirs). they are effectively taking our info and using it to beat us down a place in the serps.

you say that it's perfectly fair for a company to promote their own stuff above someone else's, and of course that is true. but it's not their content is it, it's ours, dressed up as theirs.

its like we're supplying them with our own bricks, so they can build a wall to keep us out.

ogletree




msg:4067524
 7:51 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Google is doing this all over the place. Google seems to be tired of being the wholeseller of clicks. They want to send traffic directly to wear it should be going. They are working toward making Google a list of links to destinations not links to destinations to destinations. If your site is designed to get people to visit other sites you may not have a future at Google.

StoutFiles




msg:4067529
 7:58 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I believe Google can do whatever they want with the SERPS. If they want to link to their sites first, so be it.

It's like people don't understand that the Internet will be just like real life in terms of small and big buisnesses. If you own a small website, unless you're REALLY, REALLY good at what you do, you will be pushed aside and left for dead for a larger website. This process will continue until the future is just nothing but large websites. Small websites will exist of course, but they won't be making anywhere close to the money they are currently, just like most aren't making the money they used to be making.

zett




msg:4067555
 8:16 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

When one party shifts the status quo to their own favor, then the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial. In this case Google has built it's empire on goodwill that it successfully nurtured over an 8-9 year period. Now they are intentionally changing the balance

Reno, this is what I called "war declaration by Google" in another thread. This shift will break Google's neck, sooner or later (and I think rather sooner than later). Of course, Google knows this. That's why:

* Google continues to ignore concerns over copyright
* Google launches new products that seek to implement new business models (e.g. Chroms OS, Nexus One)
* Google founders will continue to sell their equity, and fast

And they try to speed up, because they feel that their time is running out; they are destroying the eco-system that helped them to grow to the size they are now. They make enemies whereever they go. Main stream media. Webmasters. Writers. Map services. Ordinary people (over Google streetview). Even countries.

Their bubble WILL be bursting.

BeeDeeDubbleU




msg:4067556
 8:17 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's absolutely fair IMO they put their sites first... ANYONE WOULD!

Anyione is not Google - organising the world's information and telling us all for years that it is sacrosanct that the search results are decided by the algorithm.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067561
 8:23 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

100% of the information contained on that page has come from us, the lowly webmasters like you and me...

How many people can truly say that? Seriously, I wonder how many people who frequent these forums can truly say they are the original source of the information they provide? I doubt if it's anywhere near as many as the one's who are getting beat at their own game and can't build a quality website...

...it's been taken, compiled and regurgitated in a different format...

By whom? The webmasters making a living off AdSense and Affiliate Programs, or by Google, or more likely IMO, both? It actually makes me chuckle a bit to hear those who regurgitate information as if it were their own whine because Google's doing it better.

Google's doing the same thing every MFA, scraper and content gatherer is, only they have the traffic to put the garbage and regurgitation sites in the disposal. I'm not saying you specifically, but in general it's about funny to listen to people say, 'That's not right...', because they're getting beat at their own game, don't you?

There I go defending Google AGAIN, not because I like them and everything they do necessarily, but because some of the arguments made against them are just plain silly... Like they should be treated differently than any of us because they're bigger. LOL. That's a poor argument at best IMO. Google started out as a website and dream just like everyone else, the owners just did a better job of living it than most. They couldn't even get $Mil for Google when they started out, but instead of quitting they built bigger and better. What's really interesting is they didn't go a buy 1000 sites so they could rank in other search engines, they just kept building a better website... Personally, I think people are just jealous and/or afraid they are going to lose their handout.

londrum




msg:4067574
 8:34 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I wonder how many people who frequent these forums can truly say they are the original source of the information they provide?

if someone sits down and writes a review of a movie, that is not reguritating material, is it. because it is their own opinion. it is a unique thing. so every single site that google has taken those reviews from are the original source of the information. but google doesn't write their own reviews, they don't provide anything new. they just re-print other people's reviews. that is completely different -- its regurgitation.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067578
 8:38 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I'm not saying you specifically

How many other sites scrape and regurgitate exactly the same information?

if someone sits down and writes a review of a movie, that is not reguritating material, is it.

Obviously it's not...

Reno




msg:4067590
 8:50 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

this is what I called "war declaration by Google"

I don't see it as a declaration of war so much as a declaration of independence. That is, Google seems to be saying that the long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship between themselves and the webmaster/siteowner community (that I referenced previously) will no longer be the status quo. All these latest changes that we've been discussing here taken individually may not seem unfairly disruptive to business as usual, but taken together it's a new paradigm. MadScientist is right about one thing -- anyone doing business on the web and counting on Google had better wake up and smell the gunpowder.

.................................

TheMadScientist




msg:4067594
 8:53 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Here's another way to look at it:

How much do you think those reviews are worth in the real world?

I don't know what a movie reviewer makes, but let's pretend an unemployed movie reviewer needed work and they can make $20 an hour reviewing movies independently which is well above minimum wage, so they go watch a movie (2.5 hours time spent) and then they write a review, and we'll pretend it's long (3 hours time spent) and they get reimbursed for popcorn and drinks, so they get an extra $20.

5.5 hours x $20 = $110 + Free popcorn and movie.

The review is worth about $130 using those numbers, so 5 movies per week = $650 total... They don't keep getting paid week after week unless they keep reviewing and they don't keep getting paid for the same review, but it seems like people are complaining because they are not overpaid for posting their review on the Internet when, if their reviews were incredibly important to a large number of people, they would be working for a Newspaper, Magazine, Television Station or HAVE THEIR OWN FOLLOWING and they would be profitable and make money WITHOUT GOOGLE.

The people who can do the preceding are few and far between, so why should they feel entitled to a freebie when they post on the Internet? What entitles them to the level of income they've had when they cannot develop a following without free traffic from search engines?

If the reviews are really that good and important TO OTHERS and people think Google is going to cut into their profit then they can block GoogleBot in their robots.txt or find some other way to secure their information (EG make people subscribe or pay for admission). My guess is most of those sites are not that important to people, because they cannot attract a following without Google's free traffic, so, in 'real-life' why should they keep getting paid for something most people probably aren't interested in? That's not the way things work most of the time and the Internet is becoming much more like 'real-life', where instead of being able to make money through manipulation you're actually going to have to be good at what you're doing and what you present to visitors, otherwise, you might have to work for a living.

anyone doing business on the web and counting on Google had better wake up and smell the gunpowder.

LMAO... My point exactly!

londrum




msg:4067618
 9:22 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

My guess is most of those sites are not that important to people, because they cannot attract a following without Google's free traffic, so, in 'real-life' why should they keep getting paid for something most people probably aren't interested in?

but google is using that exact-same content to attract traffic to themselves.
our content is worth something to google -- because their entire movie listings pages are created with it.

saying the content is not profitable is a bit disingenious when google is busy creating their own pages with it. if they sent us traffic in return then okay, that is payment, of sorts. but when they skew the listings to keep people on their own site, and give us nothing in return, then that's when the webmasters start thinking maybe its time to take their football back.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067631
 9:44 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

then that's when the webmasters start thinking maybe its time to take their football back.

And I'm saying go ahead and make your reviews pay-to-view if they're really that good... No Joke. If that's what you do (I really have no idea, but it seems to be) then ban GoogleBot so they don't have access to your reviews, make the reviews pay-to-view and let word-of-mouth and quality take care of you... IMO: You'll know what they're really worth to people if you do.

If you can't then IMO you should rethink what you're doing. Sorry for the dose of reality if that's what it is, and I wish I could say something different or give you some better advice, but free traffic from search engines IMO is drying up and IMO it's not likely they're going to 'rain visitors' again any time soon.

The more visitors they take, the more they make and it's an ugly spiral for everyone else, because once they set a standard for a level of revenue they CANNOT go back, because they're a public corporation... They MUST INCREASE REVENUE. It's their sole obligation as a publicly held corporation.

I have sites which are noindexed and some which only allow the home page to be indexed, and slowly but surely they are developing traffic WITHOUT GOOGLE because they're unique and serve a purpose IOW people seem to like them.

I'm not just telling people what to do, moving away from SE dependence is something I'm doing...

pdivi




msg:4067649
 10:13 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

free traffic from search engines IMO is drying up

I disagree...somewhat. I think free traffic from GOOGLE might dry up, but I think there will always be a play for a company that directs users to websites regardless of whether or not those websites pay for advertising. G is under the gun to deliver insane growth to justify its insane valuation. It will continue to make decisions that boost its bottom line, which will likely force it to edge a lot of very interesting websites from its index. But at some point, those of us (users) who are not very interested in looking at the same-old-stuff search after search will start searching elsewhere.

Google might become the 1999 AOL of search; great for your average Joe, great for your mom, but not the place for folks who take their internet seriously.

True, a big chunk of free traffic will be lost, but some company will find a way to pick up and deliver a piece of that lost traffic.

Just a guess, but that seems to be how things work when companies get too big and too clumsy. Someone steps in and takes up their crumbs.

Staffa




msg:4067657
 10:27 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Someone steps in and takes up their crumbs.

... and it's happening already.
Lately, I have had visitors coming via SEs that
a) I didn't know existed and
b) that I thought were long gone

A shift in user behaviour ?

wildbest




msg:4067680
 10:59 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

Google starting to reserve top spot for itself

This is why I've stopped using Yahoo for PPC advertising years ago. They simply started selling everything. There is no point to pay somebody advertising money just to see their competing product in front of yours!

Now I see Google following the same path towards annihilating their own PPC business. Maybe they don't have enough PPC business these days and they think that their own ads will help keep PPC bids high. But if you've used bidding leverage to the max you should expect the de-leverage effect to be of the same size. Trying to use your own ads to slowdown this process is a very shortsighted strategy... What has happened to Yahoo is a perfect example!

dstiles




msg:4067707
 11:37 pm on Jan 25, 2010 (gmt 0)

I think the future may be meta engines that do not rely on any single engine for results. I've used one of them almost exclusively for a couple of months now and generally got better (or at least as good) results.

There are a lot of SEs that I've previously blocked for various reasons that I am now looking to let back in - SEs that have grown from the useless to the useful over the past few years. In most cases they would almost never return results in their own right because 99.9% of traffic (in MY case) comes from four or five SEs, even when the others were allowed. If the topmost of those SEs is suiciding then it's time to let in more of the tiny ones and hope meta search builds up.

Apart from that, it's all very well saying "stop relying on google for traffic and build your own by word of mouth" but how many people can actually do that? I run several local information & history sites where the information is compiled from many sources, mostly old paper in library archives and walking the streets with a camera and notebook. The sites are "hobby" class but draw a lot of visitors world wide. If I blocked them from google how on earth could I promote them? I certainly couldn't afford to pay signficant money, even for adwords. So world-wide the internet would be poorer as our content disappears from view. This is so in a large number of cases. Most people here are talking spending money to make money but this concept does not apply in our case. Everything is free apart from a small hosting fee (on my own server).

Google "promised" it would show my sites to the world. In return I helped promote google, verbally and by links, over the other engines of the time. Now I'm about to change allegiance and promote at least one other SE before we lose all of our traffic through google's "monetising" of the SERPS. They haven't yet (as far as I can see) begun pushing my content onto their home page but when they do I will look seriously at adding googlebot / disallow to robots.txt and blocking all of their IP ranges.

TheMadScientist




msg:4067719
 12:00 am on Jan 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

Apart from that, it's all very well saying "stop relying on google for traffic and build your own by word of mouth" but how many people can actually do that?

I understand, but how many people can compete at a high enough level to do what they are apparently getting paid to do anywhere else? You know write movie reviews for a magazine, or produce syndicated articles for a paper, or do many of the things people have been making a living off search engines from doing at a lower level and with less expertise than is required in most industries?

I think this is the beginning of the need for more professionalism WRT making a living off the Internet. I see many unprofessional sites showing up at times and think some of the changes eliminate some of those sites. Just because it's gone on for a long time does not mean it's going to continue. IMO the bar to make a living on the Internet is being raised...

The sites are "hobby" class but draw a lot of visitors world wide. If I blocked them from google how on earth could I promote them?

I'll give this one some thought before I answer much more than to say: If it's free to everyone and you're not making any money on it, IMO you're not placing a high enough value on your time, because you're saving people the time it would take them to do the research themselves and IMO you should get paid for that time, and I said in another thread I think the people at Google are smart because what they are doing IMO creates an inflationary spiral in their favor, so if people want to have the information you provide and Google makes it so your visitors drop or you need to Pay-To-Be-Seen, then IMO you should act accordingly and pass the cost of your research and promotion on to those who benefit from it, and if they want the information that badly they can either pay you a fair amount for your time and promotion cost, do the research themselves, or not have the information... IMO they will pay for convenience.

The issue here most people are not realizing IMO is Google has such a huge amount of information you might very well be hosed, which is why I think some of the new developments are a slippery slope. Like I said before I'll have to think about it a bit more before saying too much more.

loudspeaker




msg:4067790
 2:03 am on Jan 26, 2010 (gmt 0)

I disagree...somewhat. I think free traffic from GOOGLE might dry up, but I think there will always be a play for a company that directs users to websites regardless of whether or not those websites pay for advertising.

The only catch is.. who is going to replace them? AltaVisa? Lycos? WebCrawler? Cuil? (That last one - not impossible, but unlikely). You need tens, if not hundreds of millions of investment dollars to get anywhere near the level Google is at - *even* if your algorithms are vastly superior.

We need to seriously consider the possibility of the "pro-" web changing drastically in the next few years. It's quite likely that as more and more small players die unable to compete with Google playing squarely against them, the surviving few will go through a very fast DNA mutation process, forever changing the nature of what constitutes "professionally made web sites". (Amateur sites like blogs and niche resources can probably remain roughly the same as they are now).

For the surviving species, I see, at the minimum, a move towards more content permanently closed off to Google and other spiders/aggregators/scrapers. Probably more and more AJAX and images, as well as more stuff behind password walls. More prominent site brands and more custom-made-for-this-demographic web sites promoted exclusively via social networks. In other words, if the old strategy of opening up as much content to Google as possible and letting anybody have it becomes your delayed-action poison pill, rethink and reload. For the rest of us (you lucky folks with day jobs), sit back and enjoy watching web evolution in a fast-forward mode.

It would be interesting to see if some (professional/legitimate) webmasters actually try to unionize to defend their rights together. It's difficult to do when you are millions, but once only a few thousand are left standing, suddenly it's easier to find common ground. This could actually lead to a more transparent industry.

Finally (have you thought about it?): why is having our pages in Google important? Visitors, right? And why are visitors important? Selling advertising! Could it be that we've been betting on the wrong horse all along? Could advertising be an evolutionary dead-end? Sure, web sites supported by advertising are doing better than others for now - but so did dinosaurs, by the way... for a while. Until it gets cold and all the food has been eaten by Google.

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