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|Casualty of Penguin - Diversity (vs a privileged club of few)|
Penguin, with all its good intentions ensures -
1. SERPs are getting more resistant to any hint of manipulation
2. Only sites that gain links naturally are rewarded. In other words, sites that command authority, visible offline and online and are brands.
3. Sites grow organically and with time, not before their time
4. It is Branding, PR, Advertising and Promotion that is the new SEO, not SEO by itself. A great product/service may or may not really count, unless that product is in a less competitive niche.
5. Size matters - A monster of a portal that stocks 101 product range will hold an upper hand as against a single-product niche site. Economies of scale.
6. The bigger and popular a site grows or a brand is, chances of it being white-listed is more, making that site rank perpetually and immune to SEO mistakes and competitor sabotage.
All this is fine and helps ensure Google is not a battlefield of SEO manipulations. But how does the other side of the coin look like?
Are you seeing more of the same sites that didn't need a Google to know about or could we well have used just a site search? Are we able to unearth smaller but interesting ecommerce sites from where we can buy stuff that you don't see in every second household?
Could we have an Authority Filter just as we have an Adult Filter?
The word "diversity" caught my eye.
I have just upgraded a global site in the travel and tourism sector. Part of the task was get rid of links to lightweight sites and add links to authority sites. So over a period of several days I was running hundreds of searches that involved most countries and major cities, along with their most popular attractions, transport networks, restaurant guides etc etc.
The overwhelming result from all that searching was that the same group of top ranking sites could be counted on the fingers of one hand. It was the same group of authority (aka big brand) sites in almost every single search. The thing that screamed at me from the searches was the predictability and lack of diversity.
When you see results like this up close and personal, and can look past you own self interest, you have to wonder if Google's emphasis on what it sees as authority is in fact robbing the internet of diversity... which is exactly the thing that the internet is meant to provide.
Yeah. I run a small but popular site.
But not as many visits as before. Six months ago, I was getting a million views per month. Now I get less than half of that.
I am always adding pages, some pretty significant ones recently. I do NO "link building", yet I am acquiring new links at the rate of about 1,000 per week. Yet my traffic from Google continues straight down.
Who is getting my traffic? You got it. BIG NAMES. So, I concur with your conclusion about lack of diversity, 100%.
I hope this trend does not continue. If it does, I may just walk away, since I am about to get a new source of income. I don't mind working my butt off, but for diminishing returns, there is a limit.
Pop quiz - what is the domain name for amazon or ebay? Would you NEED to Google either of those companies to find their sites or could you type their addresses into the address bar yourself? I'm fairly certain most of you could get to them quite easily without a search engine so what value is Google providing if it features these sites too much?
The real value of Google was finding sites you didn't know about that were cool and had good information that there was no way you'd find on your own. You can't do that with Google anymore unless you wade through the big brands, I hope they realize that soon.
|The real value of Google was finding sites you didn't know about |
I completely agree. I got tired of searching Google for products because each query left me thinking duh, I knew that. For all intensive purposes, Google's search results are so narrowly focused on big brands that I would consider their search results thin. Google's product search is even worse now that paid entry is required. With the holidays approaching, I can tell you one place where my online shopping will not originate at - Google.
I don't know if I would chalk these ranking problems up as being mostly Penguin related, but rather a public display of defeat to the spammers. When Google lost control of the search results, engineers hit the panic button and shot brands straight to the top and are keeping them there. It's safer and easier for them this way. With the dial cranked that high on brands, few small businesses and spammers can overcome a lack of these signals. Of course everything Google does is profit driven, but I'll cut them a little slack by saying all businesses exist to profit. However, few businesses can sway entire industries as Google can. That gives them a greater responsibility to be fair, and the serps don't show a lot of fairness to me.
|The real value of Google was finding sites you didn't know about |
For some. I would bet not for most.
|The real value of Google was finding sites you didn't know about |
The only value in google for me these days is I use Streetview if I'm going to a new building that I have never been to before. I scout the property for a good solid iron fence or bar that I'll be able to lock my bicycle to when I get there. Saves me time when I arrive :)
Count me among those sites hit by the big brand bias. Let me see if understand this: for the past ten years, the big brands have been alive and well, but not coming up in the top spot for all the searches they're getting now. Did Google have it wrong all those years by offering the best match for the query? I doubt it. If I didn't know better, it almost smells of collusion between the big brands and Google. Must be nice being a big brand these days. Traffic has to be through the roof!
|For some. I would bet not for most. |
Doesn't mean it's the best result though, and the user is not a measure of what's always best. Google directs the thinking. Sheep follow - that's where the "most" comes in.
Hypothetically, forcing search terms like " Brand name - widget " on users would more equal user intent. But serving up a result "widget" synonymous, with a brand is limiting. If a market vertical is limited to a few brands, then you do have uninteresting results that will go stale.
Try requesting a result, "alternatives to brand x" - there's not much out there.
Excellent post turbocharged. Google's social responsibility is something I've touched on many times. Google shopping, since it went paid, is full of ebay shops now in my niche. The SERP's are also full of eBay & Amazon listings. Makes me wonder whether there is a backroom deal going on here. How can it be in Google's interest to list eBay & Amazon so much? Keep doing that & even the lazy "searchers" will just type the URL in their address bar cutting Google from the loop.
Old habits die hard, I spent hours yesterday trying to find something on Google, gave up & went to Bing. It was like using Google prior to all these crappy updates.
|Martin Ice Web|
|The overwhelming result from all that searching was that the same group of top ranking sites could be counted on the fingers of one hand. It was the same group of authority (aka big brand) sites in almost every single search. |
In my niche every search Shows the same 3 brands + Amazon + ebay in a different order. Annoying is that this sites show up even if the pages is not related to the search. So if MC says there is no bias to big brands then there must be some very big errors in the algo. Prior to Panda/penguin i did not see unrelated sites on first page. This all went into a fuzzy state with penguin/panda.
I believe it is more of an SEO Hate than Brand Love. Google giving little leeway to any hint of link manipulation (not just black-hat automated link schemes) a majority of websites had some footprint that went against Google's ToS. Big brands never relied on your link exchange or directory submissions or article directories, the staple of most start-up websites. When such websites went out of the equation, what remained were Brands.
A case in point. An ecommerce site that sold a particular line of clothing, went on to be a big hit and earned a 9.5/10 review rating on a reputable reviews site, based on thousands of real customer reviews. It specialized in that niche and catered to only that niche. Now, only those who remain ranked are the Macys and the Victoria Secrets, who sell hundred other things apart from this line of clothing. This ecommerce site had an opportunity to be appreciated by people, thanks to SEO how we knew it then.
On Google's part, if you would permit me to say, it has become an SEO obsession, where there is no consideration for the value a website offers nor user behavior metrics. Even when there is evidence of how much people like a particular website, one silly SEO mistake can relegate you out of the map, unless you are whitelisted. There isn't balancing of priorities between SEO prudence and value a website offers.
|The SERP's are also full of eBay & Amazon listings. Makes me wonder whether there is a backroom deal going on here. |
Let us not forget that Amazon, eBay and other leading players in their sectors have joined Google in creating a Washington D.C. lobbying group called The Internet Association. One can't ignore that these corporations are already working together in a lobbying capacity as "the unified voice of the internet economy." For the record, this lobbying group does not speak for me or any other small business that I am aware of.
Tin foil hat time.....
& of course Pay Pal is part of eBay. We've had weeks where our traffic (& sales) seem capped by monetary value! Almost like Pay Pal discloses how much we have taken in any given week to Google. I'm talking to the point where if we have a great Monday & that means we take what we normally would in a week in that single day the rest of the week dies a death in terms of trffic & of course conversions. All we will get is repeat custom which they have no control over.
There are fundamentally two categories of websites -- those that provide information (think Wikipedia, the BBC and Frommers) and those that sell something (think Amazon and eBay).
Participants in this forum work on both types of sites, many ecommerce sites also provide information, and many information-providing sites generate revenue by selling ads or through an affiliation with someone who sells things. What all of the participants in this forum have in common is that over the years we have all spent uncounted hours trying to figure out how to get more traffic from Google by using various techniques -- most of which fall into the broad category of activity referred to as "SEO."
In turn, Google hasn't been pleased with many of those efforts -- primarily because SEO is the primary expertise of spammers, and the exploitation of various weaknesses in Google's system have allowed various forms of spam and garbage to appear on the first page or two of the SERPs -- embarrassing Google and irritating them, since money being spent on SEO is money that is being spent on Adwords.
Although Matt Cutts only talks about fighting "spam" Google efforts in that regard have had the effect of making all forms of SEO more costly and more risky.
The end result has been to reduce the value of virtually all types of promotion and marketing on the web -- virtually any method used by small sites to try to get traffic other than purchasing Adwords has become more risky, because today's "white hat" SEO may become tomorrow's "unnatural manipulation" of the SERPs.
Not coincidentally, the ongoing battle against spam has made it harder to get traffic except by paying Google (Adwords and listings in Google Shopping, etc.)
But, I don't think this is the primary focus of Google's efforts, nor do I think the current situation is stable.
Google probably knows, or soon will realize, that it has gone too far in pushing nearly all small sites down off the first page. It's not just the spammers that have been pushed down, it's all sorts of small sites that are mistaken for spammers or are sending off signals of attempting to promote their site through SEO. But, these firms were using SEO that was once considered acceptable, or at least hard to detect, but those same forms of SEO are now considered to be manipulative (or at least Google is noticing them more).
This has led to an extreme imbalance in favor of large, branded sites and against small sites that aren't household names, and can't afford to advertise on TV. Interestingly, the problem is affecting both information sites:
|...in the travel and tourism sector ...over a period of several days I was running hundreds of searches that involved most countries and major cities, along with their most popular attractions, transport networks, restaurant guides etc etc. |
The overwhelming result from all that searching was ...the same group of authority (aka big brand) sites in almost every single search.
and Ecommerce sites:
|The SERP's are also full of eBay & Amazon listings. ...How can it be in Google's interest to list eBay & Amazon so much? Keep doing that & even the lazy "searchers" will just type the URL in their address bar cutting Google from the loop. |
These quotes confirm observations I've made in my own niche -- both types of small sites are suffering. These sites don't have the marketing heft or budgets to run TV ads or otherwise get traffic, and they can't make money without a strong flow of traffic from the search engines -- and Google controls the vast majority of that traffic (70-90% depending on the country and niche).
But I don't think this imbalance can last much longer, because it fundamentally undermines the value provided by a search engine in the first place -- helping users find things they would have difficulty finding on their own.
Times are tough, but I believe this too will pass -- the current situation is NOT a stable equilibrium.
For its own long term interests Google HAS to finally figure out how to identify and list good small/specialist sites on the first page of its results. The problem is that it has never figured out how to find the true authorities/specialists in small niches -- it has always gotten the signals of authority/quality confused with the signals of successful SEO efforts, which in turn has led to confusion about spam/garbage sites that are very good at SEO, or do it on an enormous highly efficient scale.
The end result is that over the past few years Google keeps doubling down on its attempts to stamp out spam, and any form of SEO which it feels is too manipulative -- and the "safe harbour" of acceptable SEO has gotten smaller and smaller.
The end result is that it has become extremely difficult for small sites to survive financially.
Whether or not SEO will survive as a viable form of marketing is an open question. Conceivably, Google will create so much risk that SEO will become too risky to be cost effective.
But one way or another, I believe the environment has to eventually change to allow smaller specialist sites to become profitable again. The current situation, with large brands dominating the first page of so many searches, while smaller more specialized sites are pushed out of view is not fundamentally stable. It detracts too much from the essence of what Google does as a search engine -- helping users find obscure sites they don't already know about, and couldn't find on their own, without using a search engine.
|The real value of Google was finding sites you didn't know about |
Yes! And we keep getting told that this is just a geek thing, so I just informally polled three friends and what they said tracks with what I've heard from everyone else I've informally polled over the years:
--Yes, they usually start with a search engine or their browser bar (which leads to an engine), unless they know of a more specialized directory site. I.E., Yelp for finding restaurants and local services, Pinterest for crafts, fashion, etc.
--One of them strongly prefers Google to Bing, the other two use whatever comes up from the browser's URL bar and don't see much difference.
--Once they see the engine's results, they ignore the adsunless one really jumps out as awesome.
--If the top results are Amazon or some other site they already knew about, they skip over those results. (Exception: Wikipedia, which they regard as a good source on most any topic it has info on.) All three said they skip known sites. One said he couldn't imagine anyone doing otherwise because search is to find stuff you don't already know about.
By no means am I suggesting a few random people I know constitute an ideal polling sample. It might be worth our while to try to conduct some formalized polling, somehow. But there ya go, worth what you paid for it.
|Google probably knows, or soon will realize, that it has gone too far in pushing nearly all small sites down off the first page. |
Google knows exactly what they are doing. They have realized more income in pushing small sites off the first page, and I think they will continue doing this as long as they can make more money and avoid a major outcry from website owners or government regulators.
For most of the searches that I do (or that I monitor at least casually), there's a pretty good mix of big sites and small sites in the top 10 results. The problem isn't a lack of diversity, it's quality: Most of the featured pages aren't very good, some aren't what the user is looking for, and others are outright spam.
- If I type in "[keyphrase] review," I expect to find reviews, not corporate sell pages or retailers' pages with boilerplate marketing text.
- If I type in "[city][keyphrase]," I expect to find a list of pages with useful information, not spam pages that got into the top 10 because of a location-based EMD.
Also, people on this forum love to hate Wikipedia, but if Google is going to rank megasites at the top of its search results, I'd rather see those pages come from Wikipedia than from About.com.
> and avoid a major outcry from website owners
That's already been happening for awhile now, years really. Google and the other SERPS apparently could care less. Government regulators? Maybe one day, although there don't seem to be any in sight as far as I can tell (at least not here in the USA).
But what's the alternative?
Heading over to Bing or Yahoo? Not really. Staying with Google? Not really. Right now there's unfortunately not one searchengine with good results.
If you search with Google, you'll always be shown the same websites. If you search for any SEO terms, it's usually searchengineland on top. If you search for apartments, it's usually trulia on top. If you search for local sites, it's usually yelp, yellowpages or facebook on top... and so on.
Bing and Yahoo give definitely a better diversity but it's often old information. If you set on Yahoo "last month", you'll often get pages published months or years ago. Same problem with duckduckgo.
I usually use Google first and then do a second search with Yahoo. Doing two searches is a pain in the ass but I don't see a way around.
One could argue that displaying a C+ page from a megasite at the top of the rankings makes more sense than displaying a page from a no-name site that could range anywhere from A+ to F- in quality. It may not delight the searcher, but at least it's branded with a familiar name and probably isn't outright spam.
That doesn't necessarily mean that Google has written its algorithm to display megasites on page 1 of its SERPs. IMHO, it's more likely that the megasites are simply benefiting from how the algorithm works and from Google's inability to tell good content from indifferent or bad content.
I'd also point out that the Web was a lot different in its early days (and in the early days of Google), and expectations may have been lower in those days. Back in the '90s, a search on [topic] wasn't likely to return millions of possibilities, and a searcher might have been happy to find anything of value on the average topic. I can remember how delighted I was when I was able to find Geocities hobby sites about travel destinations, dog breeds, or whatever.
And conversely, people who have been burned by buying something from a small site might prefer to deal with a big brand, and their search/click behavior reflects that.
In our niche, the same brand site does tend to dominate for all the head terms. However, we do really well for the long-tails. A lot of our head term rankings went down last month but we still did well because of the long-tails.
Not being in the eCommerce sector and thus speaking as a consumer, if I am using the Internet to buy something, the only diversity I really need is in price.
Anyway, this thread is interesting so I decided to do a couple of eCom searches in google.co.uk (a new phone, new book by a favourite author and vacuum cleaner - see, I know how to live!) and see what the smaller sites further down the results offer me that the big names can't.
The main difference (and to a degree, selling point) between the sites seems to be in the layout - some seem easier to use "at a glance" to be fair - and in some instances, small price fluxes but not obviously significant on these terms. But nothing jumped out at me as that original or unique in any offering (brand names included).
I hope you realise I am not saying this to be confrontational or patronising but just to try and add some alternative thought to the debate .
Since the brands added user reviews, I reckon I buy 99% of my mainstream stuff from Amazon or a familiar/high-street brand because I feel comfortable with that. To visit a name I don't know would need a significant price difference and even then, I'd probably research user opinions on that retailer before I purchased.
I'd use a price comparison site occasionally but you only need one of those...they mostly tend to offer up the same retailers from experience.
One thing I think smaller sites could do better is opinionate on the products they sell. If a site offers up some honesty in it's reviews and told you why a product wasn't as good as another, that would be beneficial - and unusual.
The bottom line is that unless there truly is something superbly unique abut a smaller site, I would buy from a name I know and consequently would prefer to have these near the top of SERPS. I agree site crowding is rubbish but that wasn't an issue in my searches.
|Not being in the eCommerce sector and thus speaking as a consumer, if I am using the Internet to buy something, the only diversity I really need is in price. |
I've always preferred evaluating service before making a purchase. Especially for items that require delivery by a freight truck, Amazon uses the absolute cheapest people they can find. I actually had something delivered from Amazon that came in a beat up UHaul truck. Providing customer service does cost money, and I realize that paying more for an item helps to cover this expense. Should I have a problem with what I bought, I rest knowing that I can pick up the phone and make a call. With Amazon you just can't do that.
|One thing I think smaller sites could do better is opinionate on the products they sell. |
Or, better yet, they can supply helpful information that makes me want to buy from them. When the paper-transport mechanism of my old but industrial-strength laser printer started misbehaving a few years ago, I went online and found a site that sold a repair kit and had a video on how to make the repair. I'm not a DIY type by nature, but the video made the repair look like something I could do, and I didn't even bother looking for the repair kit somewhere else: I just ordered it from the guy who'd made the video, because I knew it would be the correct set of parts.
I'll also buy from specialized vendors when they have items that aren't readily available on sites like Amazon--say, obscure kitchen and food items, or products for my breed of dog.
In other words, the small e-commerce site needs to provide some kind of added value (not just a competitive price) to get my attention: useful content that gives me confidence in the vendor, unique merchandise, or--ideally--both. (And no, the site owner's SEO skills don't fall under the heading of "added value" when I'm shopping for merchandise online.)
|The real value of Google was finding sites you didn't know about |
That's not the real value of Google: it's the real value of a search engine. They're not the same thing any longer. Sure, g### is the world's leading search engine-- but it's also the Internet access point for the staggering number of people who refuse to learn what an address bar is.
On one side are people looking for something they don't already know about. On the other side are people who know exactly where they want to go, but need the search engine to take them there.
"Something they don't already know about" may also mean a site where you spent a long time the week before last, but neglected to bookmark it. Ever tried using a search engine to find a specific place that you already know exists? The words and phrases that you remember may have nothing to do with how the page comes up in searches. Safari-- and maybe other browsers I don't know about-- now does the search engine's job by running a full-text search of your cache. Looking for the page that went on and on about furry widgets? It was www.example.net/sprockets/skinless.html. Well, duh.
That's assuming for the sake of discussion that the user knows where to find the browser's History page.
|On one side are people looking for something they don't already know about. On the other side are people who know exactly where they want to go, but need the search engine to take them there. |
Good point. Whenever I'm in the mood to watch a certain MSNBC political news and commentary show on my computer (I don't have cable), I search Google because the show's URL is some obscure MSNBC address that I can't remember and haven't bothered to bookmark.
Not that Google is always helpful--lately, I've had to append "msnbc" to the name of the show to get the right result on page 1 of Google's SERP. (Where's personalization when you need it?)
"Lately"? I've been unable to get the desired domain out of Google for over a year unless I add its name to my query, and often "domain.com" is required. True of Bing, too, and this is why I'm so disappointed by both anymore.
Increasingly I'm just learning to save every article I might ever want to read again to Evernote via a bookmarklet or plugin thing for the browser, because I can never go back and find them in any search engine. I've helped a few friends set this up for themselves after they complain that "I did the exact same search and the site wasn't there anymore."
Getting back to the topic, I just cannot find these people who actually want Google to remind them Amazon exists. I can find people who type everything into the URL bar, and that may make it SEEM like they are thrilled to have Amazon come up in Google searches. But I think Google would be wise to look for a way to distinguish searchers coming from the URL bar and searchers using the search field of their browser (or a search page). As far as I can tell, the URL bar searchers want really obvious things like Amazon and are merely using Google like a bus to get there, and the people who search Google intentionally are probably looking for the not-so-obvious.
|As far as I can tell, the URL bar searchers want really obvious things like Amazon and are merely using Google like a bus to get there, and the people who search Google intentionally are probably looking for the not-so-obvious. |
So you're saying that, if I'm a serious searcher, I'm supposed to add a step to the search process instead of just typing the search query into Chrome's ominibox?
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