|What can we learn from SERPS which don't change?|
I wondered if there was anything to learn from a niche where the serps on page one appear to be in lockdown?
UK travel with local identifier. Competitive and plenty of adwords. 2 Kws, one geographic, one identifies purpose.
5 local aggregators
4 national/international aggregators
1 famous review site
Top position is EMD of limited value
Other locals - 3 of the 4 are PMD
The rankings have hardly changed over the last 6 to 9 months. A little shuffling and one site bounces between 8th and around 12th.
But that's it.
Is there SEO in the niche?
Well there was and moderately aggressively as well. But the period of link networks and comment spam seems to have died down.
The national/international boys probably don't know our part of the world exists so any SEO is just part of their
overall site optimisation.
But the really amazing point is that realistically the page one serps are probably as good as they could be. Apart from
the EMD at number one the other sites are what you would expect to see.
When you look at activity/interest modifiers being added to the 2 KWs then you get into the more usual mixture and its more of a free for all.
Is this type of stability common?
What are your thoughts on marketing in a world of basically frozen serps?
|The national/international boys probably don't know our part of the world exists so any SEO is just part of their |
overall site optimisation.
I wonder if perhaps this is the reason. If they do not find it attractive enough, perhaps it is not interesting on that level.
Which may result in no new entrants and may result in other sites judging there is no cost/benefit in putting the effort to rank there.
It is interesting though that you think the SERPs is as good as it could get for a visitor. Why do you think is that?
Thank you for the reply...much appreciated.
Interesting take on the "big boys" point. I had taken it the other way in imagining that they do a lot of optimisation and related on/off site work so there would always be ripples which would spread into our niche.They also have adwords here.
Why do i think the Serps are really good? Imagine each website sells widgets across a geographic area.
Google has the area correct and the sites listed probably have the maximum number of widgets so between them any visitor will get the greatest opportunity to see what is on offer.
Google has websites which are devoted to just one or two widgets on pages 2 and below so however they do it they dont have sites which restrict the choice.
The sites which went slightly over the top in networks and comment spam have been excluded ( they are on pages 2 and 3) and other than
1. The EMD domain
2. maybe a wish to see a slot given to a maverick or joker type of site i reckon it is pretty darn good.
But what is really impressive is that when you look at the metrics for all the main sites...pages 1 to 3...there are a lot which have similar values on things like domain or page authority or similar across whichever service you use. But somehow G have managed to see behind this.
I know this point of view is not fashionable and G does a much worse job when you get into interest groups - but anyway that is my view.
I've also noticed a number of SERPs that hardly ever change, but the quality of the results is mixed at best. For example, for "[keyphrase] review", the top results are:
1, 2: Two different versions of an index page for [keyphrase] user reviews from a popular UGC site.
3,4,5,6: Corporate sell pages for the company whose [keyphrase] is being reviewed.
7: An e-commerce page with no reviews on it (although the word "Reviews" does appear in its navigation bar)
8: A 2009 forum thread from another UGC site.
9: A very brief "review" (really a description) that was written from a press release.
10: Another e-commerce page with no reviews.
Page 2 of the SERPs is basically more of the same, with a hefty sprinkling of e-commerce pages that contain no reviews.
I've been seeing these rankings in incognito searches for months.
Brand domination does tend to lessen the changes seen by 'lesser' sites and I don't agree that the results are as good as they could be, but I am very interested by the question...
During the last three years, apart from penguin and panda hits, we have seen almost no serps changes despite fundamentally changing our sites in almost every respect from massive article rewriting, title and description changes, link removals and disavow files, and a constant focus on improving the user-experience.
We still get several thousand visitors a day so there is plenty of scope for movement in either direction, but I lean towards the 'theory' that a penalised site also has a maximum visitor number imposed somehow.
Edit: forgot to mention, no other site has 'broken through' either in our niche and the first page remains the same as always despite very clearly not being the best results available
I am not so sure. In my niche the 1st page barely moves. The strange thing I see is I get to the top of page 2 and then on a rare occasion I get back to page 1. But when I get back to page 1 it is only a day. Now here is the strange part. When I drop to back to page 2 amazingly I will show 2 or 3 listings of pages from my site. All right in a row. Now I dominated this niche for years and now it seems like there is a weight holding me back. I spend the most on Adwords and that doesn't make me happy at all. There is a game being played. It appears there is a penalty factor (and yes everyone can say there are no penalties now but I think different). Seems like they dial this penalty up if I break the first page.
Here is my theory. I couple years ago we needed Adwords and there was an issue with one of the words we wanted to use. The person at Google kept saying I need to get you in a different bucket. Once they did that we had no issues with Adwords. Now take the same logic, say there are 10 or 12 places in bucket A (page 1), 10 in bucket B (page 2) etc etc. What if they allow the players in bucket A to move freely amongst themselves and bucket B to move freely amongst bucket B. But jumping from bucket B to bucket A is not as easy for some odd reason or maybe penalty that holds you from A. Now look at the SERPS and does that logic match?
My hunch would be it's very much to do with the nature of the search and the URLs holding the top results. Ie in a competitive sector top sites don't link to each other nor do they link out to smaller competitive sites. So breaking into that group is especially difficult. I see this a lot on my B2B space - getting good backlinks doesn't happen because none of the competitors at the top will link to you. And links from elsewhere just don't have the oomph to make any impact against those already at the top. If anything this phenomenon is on the increase I think, with nofollowed links being handed out a lot
I've been watching a niche for over a year and it too sees very little movement - again Google UK.
All of the sites on page 1 are national companies offering the service - as expected when doing a keyword search without local appendix.
But always in position 2 or 3 is a local company that shouldn't be there. What is hilarious is that it looks like a site out of the 1990s - right down to thousands of unrelated but popular keywords in the meta tag! I'm talkig words like ebay, hoodia, tsunami, facebook, etc., On page, it is keyword stuffing on steroids!
The OP said the niche is UK travel. Travel is one area that Google targets aggressively with its own products... Google Flights, Google Hotels etc. Then add in the Adwords 3 pack at the top, the bias to "authority" sites such as Expedia, the multiple Trip Advisor pages that take the visible organic listings, the 7 pack of Google Local listings and you can be forgiven for thinking that the rankings are "locked".... for all practical intents and purposes, they are.
I recently had to run hundreds of searches across countries and capital cities for the same 3 or 4 travel search terms where only the country/city name changed. After a dozen or so searches it became clear beyond any doubt that there was absolutely no diversity in travel SERP's.... that same arrangement outlined above showed up every single time. That is by design, not coincidence.
That seems to be the current reality in the travel sector.
|Then add in the Adwords 3 pack at the top, the bias to "authority" sites such as Expedia, the multiple Trip Advisor pages that take the visible organic listings |
I doubt if it is as much brand bias to authority as it is making good on giving preference to Internet Association lobbying partners. Both TripAdvisor and Expedia are proud participants as can be viewed on [internetassociation.org...]
Lobbying is big business for Google in preserving their rights to give preference to their many products, investments and partners in search as I noted at [webmasterworld.com...] By doubling their Washington D.C. lobbying office space square footage, that should be telling of how much influence Google expects it will need in the future to maintain a grayhat business.
This week I booked a travel package and easily found a qualified company in Bing. This same travel agency in Google was pushed down to #$32, which is well beyond all of Google's preferred clicking points (paid ads, lobby members, big agencies, etc.). While an $8k travel package it not much to some, I realize that to support small businesses I have to work much harder these days to find them in Google. Hence, there is no reason for me to use Google except for statistical purposes.
The search results for my travel purchase query in Google generated ten listings that were plagued with significant domain crowding. Six of the ten results belonged to two companies.
|...getting good backlinks doesn't happen because none of the competitors at the top will link to you. |
The top competitors are there partly because they have acquired their own unique sets of backlinks. Obtaining links from those sites won't help you. Your goal should always be to obtain unique sets of links to boost your ranking. Lead, don't follow.
|And links from elsewhere just don't have the oomph to make any impact against those already at the top. |
Third party metrics measure the characteristics of sites that tend to rank in the SERPs. They are not metrics of ranking factors. Those characteristics are not necessary for a backlink to be useful to you.
|I doubt if it is as much brand bias to authority as it is making good on giving preference to Internet Association lobbying partners. Both TripAdvisor and Expedia are proud participants |
Yes, and they're equally proud participants in Fairsearch.org, a lobbying organization that exists solely to lobby against Google.
|Yes, and they're equally proud participants in Fairsearch.org, a lobbying organization that exists solely to lobby against Google. |
In an era when many regulators, politicians and ordinary people have been bamboozled, participation in FairSearch.org by travel related businesses is a smart move when Google is using their search dominance to invade that industry too with an edge that no other has.
Turbocharged, we're getting way off topic here, but you're missing the point: Google's supposed "lobbying partners" are, in fact, competitors that are actively lobbying as a group against Google. So the notion that Google is intentionally giving "preference to Internet Association lobbying partners" doesn't make a lot of sense.
For TripAdvisor and Expedia to play both sides of the fence, to protect their interests in the travel industry, is to be expected. It's no different than how Google is funding both Democrat and Republican organizations/campaigns. Businesses do this, in case you did not know, to protect their interests. This is also known as covering all bases.
The search results told quite a telling story for the trip I booked. The domain crowding in Google was provided to Internet Association members and there was a distinct lack of small businesses anywhere to be found on the first couple pages of the search results. And I might add that the small travel agency that earned my business spent the time to go over the many various options (flights, accommodations, itinerary, etc.), and I even was able to text my agent at 10PM at night and get a response to my questions. I've dealt with some of the larger agencies in the past, and they all fell flat on their face when it came to service. At least in the travel industry, a good user experience is more than a fancy website and online self-service tools. Omitting smaller enterprises any visibility in their search results is a disservice to all that use Google to book their travel plans, in my opinion. But then again the lack of small business visibility in Google is not limited to the travel industry but many other sectors as well.
Some interesting facts about what Google is serving to their travel users:
Non-Accredited BBB Rating: B-
Closed Complaints in the Last Three Years: 52
Accredited BBB Rating: A+
Closed Complaints in the Last Three Years: 2,288
Actually, I see quite a few small sites in Google's travel search results--often on the first page. Some of them aren't very good (Google seems to have a weakness for location-based EMDs, regardless of what's on them), but in any case, only a few of the top results that I see in my travel-related searches are from "Google's lobbyist partners" (sic). YMMV.
There are any number of reasons why SERPs may tend to favor big brands, and the simplest explanations often make more sense than far-fetched conspiracy theories. For example, if travel-related "seed sites" used in machine learning tend to be sites like Fodors, Lonely Planet, and About.com, sites that fit those sites' characteristics (including Fodors, LP, and About.com themselves) are likely to benefit from an algorithm that's based, at least in part, on machine learning. (That might also help to explain why sites like Wikitravel, Wikihow, and Wiki.answers.com have done well in the Panda/Wikipedia era.)
I'm sure some apparent bias is just coincidence. I'm also sure some of it is real.
Benjamin Edelman has published quite a bit on the topic. Search for his name plus the word "hardcoding".
|...why SERPs may tend to favor big brands... |
I don't believe the SERPs favor big brands. There's more going on. I believe this phenomenom has less to do with the status of being a "big brand" and more with searchers using those site names in their queries and/or searchers showing a preference for those sites. One of the most important shifts in the algorithm is the one toward satisfying user intent. The universal search boxes are the most visible aspects of Google's algorithm shift. Satisfying user intent also drives the rankings in the ten blue links.
There are other factors in play to account for a "big brand" appearing in the SERPs. Link popularity no doubt is part of it, but still, one must think about why it's so popular. It's the why that's important to think about.
Don't be satisfied with thinking that Google prefers big brands. What's going on is deeper and more profound than that.
Martinibuster, I wasn't saying that Google favors big brands, I was saying that SERPs may tend to favor big brands--for whatever reason (such as the hypothetical reason that I gave, or the fact that brand familiarity can influence the results of user testing).
I apologize EG, I didn't intend to put words into your mouth. I was commenting on a common observation that the SERPs tend to favor big brands.
My intent was to raise the idea that being a brand, big or small, is not what causes the brands to pop into the SERPs. Run any number of competitive queries and review the AdWords ads. Many big brands are in AdWords and not always in the SERPs. The point being that it's not the brand-ness that is helping. It's something else that is putting those brands in the SERPs but giving up on identifying what that something else is, is like closing a book and refusing to learn.
There have been many posts that claim it's the underlying root domain authority that is causing the appearance of big name bias in so many areas.
When doing the link research referred to in a previous post, I used Majestic SEO and Open Site Explorer to analyse quite a few of the top ranking, big brand city pages (eg www.bigbrandname.com/continent/country/cityname.html)
The results for these pages were on the bottom end of the scale, in zones usually associated with a page that does not rank well. But analyse the root domain and the results are very different.... right up at the top end of the scales.
If Google ranks a page strictly on its merits, then there is no way that pages of the type described here justify such repetitive domination of search results. Most of these pages don't come within a bull's roar of many of the smaller, independent sites built around unique, local knowledge.
So what is it that unfailing elevates this boiler plate churn above the competition? As mentioned above, many think that it's the underlying root domain authority that is having such a distorting effect, and not some conspiracy to reward Googles big Adwords spenders.
Unfortunately for the little guy, the end result is the same and Google's apparent unwillingnes to address the issue is being seen by many as proof that Google is gifting the internet to itself and its major business partners.
|So what is it that unfailing elevates this boiler plate churn above the competition? |
1. Majestic etc are great tools and provide a very useful service. Don't stop using them or take the following as a criticism, it's not. Those are fine tools. However, Majestic, etc. only show partial information. Don't believe they're telling you the whole story. They're not. There are better ways for finding the actual reach. You'd be surprised at what's being missed.
2. User Intent.
I've been saying for years that some results are grandfathered in place. Not only that but if those pages change much they may lose their stickiness at the top of serps due to a re-evaluation process which is automated.
Google doesn't ever want to make changes that would impact more than 1-2% of results, some people use Google to find a site repeatedly and they know exactly which site they expect to find for their given search. Grandfathering trusted content that is evergreen in nature helps.
this says that there is no other competitor for that place so it is not moving down and also there is no traffic coming from that keyword so it is not moving up.
|Google doesn't ever want to make changes that would impact more than 1-2% of results, some people use Google to find a site repeatedly and they know exactly which site they expect to find for their given search. |
That might make sense for searches that people repeat a lot ("fc widgetville football score," "foodmart grocery ad"), but for many or even most searches, it isn't likely to be an issue. I was searching for an appliance part last night, for example, and I'll probably never do that search again--just as I'm unlikely to look up the name of a motel in Ogallala, Nebraska on a regular basis unless I'm a business traveler who goes through Ogallala every month.