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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?
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>
For a serp like 'Paris Travel', seeing hotel and travel selling sites IMHO is relevant, however otherwise europeforvisitors arguably spins with his "librarian" analogies;)
Search for "Paris Travel" at Northern Light and you get back an article about bike tours in the city, is that the kind of thing you would expect your librarian to deliver?
If so Northern Light is the engine for you....and it will only cost you $2.95 to read the 130 word article;)
Unfortunately the documents it returns below the first one are those nasty people trying to make money. Got to love Northern Light it charges the users to read the commercials.:)
Will Google continue to offer free referrals for e-commerce and affiliate sites? I believe it will. The day it becomes anything like Northern Light I will be buying more stock in Microsoft;)
Of course it could follow Yahoo's great example and start charging commercial entities for inclusion, then hide their listings where people won't look for them. That's a great way to teach these money grabbing e-commerce sites a lesson....or will it be Yahoo! that learns something at the next annual renewal? I assume G is content with its revenue from adwords, premium sponsorship, and partnerships, if not I'm sure they would increase the number of premium slots or start charging for inclusion (very risky thing to do).
If your concern is that your information sites will not be able to compete for traffic with commercial sites in the future then the answer is to continue to work on promoting them so that they stay in the game. I don't worry about informational sites getting ahead of my commercial ones, I just get up earlier in the morning and do something about it.
If your concern is that Google doesn't deliver the results you would like to see then use another engine. If enough people share your concern they will follow right behind you. Of course behind them will be all the SEO's making a buck from commercial sites.
From Google's continuing increase in popularity it appears to me that not too many people are worried about bad results.
If your concern is that your information sites will not be able to compete for traffic with commercial sites in the future then the answer is to continue to work on promoting them so that they stay in the game.
As I said before, I'm doing quite nicely, thank you. But this discussion isn't about me, so why make it personal?
If your concern is that Google doesn't deliver the results you would like to see then use another engine.
I think anyone would agree that Google is the best-quality search engine. (Well, Webmasters who have been hit with PR0 penalties might disgree). But it's pretty clear that Google is constantly fighting a "Whack-a-Mole" game (to borrow an analogy from another thread) to keep the disposable-domains crowd at bay.
If I have any personal concern, it's that short-term thinking by the get-rich-quick, disposable-domain crowd could kill the golden goose for everyone. What if Google simply gets fed up with the Whack-a-Mole game and penalizes any site with affiliate links? Or any site that links to merchants whose programs are designed for the convenience of If-it's-Tuesday-I-must-be-blue-widgets-hotel-pennypinchers.com affiliates? Who's to say that Google won't include certain hotel-booking services, for example, in its definition of "bad neighborhoods" if the travel SERPs start to look like pages at AltaVista?
Google's not stupid. They're not going to make a sudden change that is that drastic. Period.
The reason a lot of people are getting upset here is because your posts do seem to pass judgement on what your own personal thoughts on what a "worthwhile" web site is - whether intentional on your part, or not. Look at the number of people upset by your seeming insinuations that their sites don't belong in the Google directory, then imagine the outcry if Google one day decided to agree with the very notion of a determining the value of a site by how it chooses to pay for itself. If anything, there are many afiliate sites out there that provide MUCH better content than ones that don't for the simple fact that they earn enough money to be able to pay someone to keep the information flowing.
If anything, there are many afiliate sites out there that provide MUCH better content than ones that don't...
I agree completely. When I was searching for information on DSL/cable routers, my best source was an affiliate site. And if URLs were permitted here, I could name one hotel affiliate site off the top of my head that would clearly deserve a top 5 position for "(cityname) hotels" in a number of major European tourist destinations.
Ditto for non-affiliate commerce sites. I link to any number of sites in places like the Canary Islands that have the best available tourist information on their localities. (And no, I'm not getting paid for the links.)
In short, I don't object to top 10 or top 20 placement for sites that offer useful information to the reader--providing it's on topic, which some of the listings for the example we discussed ("Paris travel") aren't. I do object to top 10 or top 20 placement for cookie-cutter, disposable-domain "shell sites" that don't add value in the form of information to their affiliate links. (I'm not saying such sites are slimy, immoral, or dastardly; I'm just saying they don't represent valid search results in a tool that has always been positioned as an information resource.)
And I do wonder whether Google will choose to differentiate between information and e-commerce pages (if not outright, then by shifting the algorithm in favor of information) at some point. Just edging clearly commercial pages 10 or 20 places lower in SERPs would eliminate a lot of spam, and--more important--it would provide a greater incentive for e-commerce sites to buy AdWords, listings in the "shopping portal" that another member predicted, or other forms of advertising at Google. In a sense, Google is like a newspaper with a travel section or a TV network with an entertainment show: It can carry a certain amount of PR for Utah skiing or the new Harry Potter movie, but it also needs to sell advertising to Utah ski resorts or movie studios and theatre chains.
And, if I want information about Paris from Google, then why would I enter "Paris travel" instead of "Paris France information", or "Paris France Louvre" or such? By using "Paris travel", it seems more reasonable I am looking for info about the act of travelling to Paris. I can't think of a more reasonable search term for information about traveling to Paris than "Paris travel". And, if I am sloppy in search terms and get other than what I want, then I can just try again with "Paris France information" or such. Your argument is weak. Now, if "Paris France information" turned up 10 hotel affiliate sites, that would be a stronger argument.
And, if I want information about Paris from Google, then why would I enter "Paris travel" instead of "Paris France information", or "Paris France Louvre" or such? By using "Paris travel", it seems more reasonable I am looking for info about the act of travelling to Paris.
"Travel" isn't just a verb that means going from Point A to Point B; it's also a noun, and I think most people use it that way when planning a trip. Consider:
- A "travel guide" isn't just about transportation.
- A "travel section" of a newspaper isn't just about transportation.
- A "travel magazine" isn't just about transportation.
- A "travel narrative" book like BELLA TUSCANY isn't about transportation (although a travel narrative by a railfan might be).
In the travel industry--and in the world at large--"travel" is a general or umbrella term. So it stands to reason that a search on "Paris travel" would bring up Paris.org, Fodor's Paris, Time Out: Paris, etc., not Air France, Hoverspeed Fast Ferries, or the French national railways.
You're certainly welcome to disagree, of course, but you'll be going against the collective wisdom of a great many guidebook publishers, magazines, newspapers, travel companies, and tourist bureaus.
In some cases the reason for the high ranking was clear - massive (but apparently random) interlinking of pages to take advantage of anchor text weighting. I reported them using the Gogole spam report link and they went away a few months later. Obviously there's a lot more money in travel, but even there I don't think it's impossible for Google to refine it's algorithm to keep this kind of thing out of their results - it just takes lots of people like Europeforvisitors who will only link to the sites that have real information on them.
For example some I have searched for lately..
What is the population of <city>?
Background to the palestine israel conflict
ethnic breakdown of <country>?
To various degrees, Google works well. Its like having a brainy brother and saves me trips to the library. Some info conflicts, but I can find out fairly quickly what is credible info, what is up to date, and what is spin.
I dont mind at all getting sites that are selling on the side, but increasingly Im finding sites that are selling for example - books that will answer my question. I dont want that. I want the answer now! I would like search engines to encourage the enthusiast, the professional or amateur researcher, and subject experts to publish good credible info and make it easily findable. I still think there is a place for them, despite the views that the Web is now a 100% "commercial" thing and that guys like Ross are threatening that SEO's will blast such sites into oblivion. I dont know how many people are like me. I guess some, at least, are.
Europe for Visitors is getting some personal flak, but I beleive he has been up-front from the start on his own interest, and is asking us to look at it from the user's view, not from our own self interest. And he has presented a maturity of discussion which excludes responding in kind to personal observations on his motivations.
I see self-interest from the commercial affiliate guy's side in this thread, but nobody really has pointed that out yet. But that's not enough reason to call them names and question their motivation. I just evaluate the postings on the evidence that is provided, not emotional ranting and personal attacks.
I myself, would not expect to have to type in "information" to get objective info on "Paris travel". I would want to find people's experiences about visiting Paris, weblogs, comprisoms of restaurants, and experiences in seeing things like the Eiffel tower. I would be disappointed if most of what I found was travel companies and affiliates. I would be happy however to type in "Paris travel" and "costs" or "packages" or "travel companies" and get this info.
As far as Google not being able to read people's minds, I would be happy for them to assume that people are looking for objective information, and that they may well be tempted to click on a sponsored link or adword on the side, if buying travel is indeed, what they were looking for.
Let's just for a moment take your argument to its logical conclusion. No commercial websites in the SERPS, not even a travel information site with one affiliate link. Totally information only, no links to sites selling product or information, no links to sites having a single affiliate link....totally non-commercial, ok?. Now how long do you think it would be before webmasters (and surfers) deserted Google in droves. Their advertising revenue would plummet and they'd be dead. They'd need extra staff to enforce the draconian "no commerce" policy and yet they'd have no revenue source. How could an "information only" search engine survive?. The only possibility would be a subscription basis....no chance. Do you really believe that SEO experts would be happy to have their sites appear only in Adwords, of course not. They would very soon be looking for another search engine to promote and those very people that "made" Google would ultimately destroy them.
At the moment Google has a balance whereby sites that don't rank high in the SERPS pay for Adwords and this situation brings in a revenue stream sufficient to pay for the "Plex" and all its staff. Do you honestly believe that Google would ever jeopardise that situation by attempting to remove the very people that pay their wages?.
Let's just for a moment take your argument to its logical conclusion. No commercial websites in the SERPS, not even a travel information site with one affiliate link. Totally information only, no links to sites selling product or information, no links to sites having a single affiliate link....totally non-commercial, ok?.
Why is that the "logical conclusion" to Chiyo's argument? He said specifically that he wouldn't mind finding commercial listings in (for example) a search on "Paris travel companies" or "Paris travel packages." He also said: "I dont mind at all getting sites that are selling on the side."
Personally, I don't think information vs. commerce has to be an either-or proposition. In a search on "Paris travel," I'd expect to find information pages in the top 20 search results. In a search on "Paris tour packages," I'd expect to find commercial pages in the top 20. And in some searches, I might expect to find a mix. The problem comes when I search on "Paris travel" and 8 of the 10 search results are on a commercial subtopic (hotel bookings). Is that users want? More to the point of this discussion, is that what Google wants? If not, then Google could find that its best weapon against SERP spam is simply to include some kind of information-vs-commercial-content weighting factor in its algorithm. This would make spamming less profitable, and it would encourage commercial sites to spend more of their budgets on the paid listings that contribute to Google's bottom line.
I dont think the logical conclusion of my arguments leads in any way to no commercial results in the main SERPs. We have already discussed that there are shades of grey. Its very hard to say this is a "commercial site" and this is not. Ive also argued that PR and link popularity will "naturally" downgrade sites that have no genuine natural incoming link patterns. Its much harder to spam long term with a mass of linking type criteria, much of which is not under the webmasters control, as it was with when on page text analysis was almost the sole criterion of ranking in the old dats.
Look at any credible recent surveys on the reason people say they go online, and shopping or buying rates consistently low. Main reasons are usually email, chat and finding information. For the Web specifically, "finding information" is way ahead.
Personally I dont believe that SEO will eventually win the game over google's non-commercially influenced SERPS. I dont think there is evidence of that, if any it is the reverse. It is not "a fact" from where i sit. It is an opinion.
I also dont believe that webmasters "made" Google. Certainly they helped promote it, but it was the searchers that "made" Google. G! just provided a better way of finding relevant sites than their competitors, in a large degree.
I would contend that people would leave G! in droves if all it turned up was commercial SEO'd sites. No way Im paying per minute on a 33k dial up to find shopping catalogues and advertising. What im saying is that there IS a place for commercial and affiliate sites - in search engines specifically optimized to provide good commercial or shopping SERPS and targeted for people who need that sort of service, or as paid listings on the side, or sponsored listings. I really do belive that as long as Google is using a PR and link popularity algorithm that this trend will continue.
As you can tell we have very different opinions on the future of Google and the search engine industry as a whole as does Europe for Visitors probably. We will just have to agree to disagree maybe.