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What a greed machine. What's next to make the numbers google?
Don't forget that Google Adwords is a system designed primarily for the Google "firm" interests!
Personally I also have used some year ago this system but after a similar disappointing experience I definitively choose the SEO way.
If you compare the money spent yet you'll find that you can pay a very good SEO work obtaining very superior results...
If you want to use AdWords, you have to play by Google's rules. And the best thing would be to know those rules that you must obey, like it or not.
I thought I was a good enough one myself till googles last changes. I went from getting lots of good free traffic to none at all. My sites were near tops relavancy for 3 years. Now they don't even get a relavant free hit.
I have read and tried a lot.
In these cases the great temptation is just to solve the problem with pay per click advertising , but it is a bad way that moreover generates a real dependence: no ad ,no traffic!
The best way is a systematic optimization of your web site; I too have read and tried a lot; I did all by myself;something I learned in forums like this,something I learned talking with friends or job colleagues,something experimented by myself trying and re-trying...
And I'm getting my results;it'is necessary to be patient and to understand that a web site needs a continous Optimization because SEs features changes continously and competitors too.
As you said, you was good enough before the last Google changes,probably if you started a SEO work when the things gone well, you could prevent this situation in time...
Think about.You could to do it also by yourself,if you feel able to,helping with a purpose made software.It's not extremely difficult if you speak discretely the "internet language", it requires only patiente and attention.
Anyways I just noticed news sites and stock forums finally talking about google being a mess. The time is ripe for several engines a lot better than google to come about, free and paid.
If we talk about payment advertising I'm totally agree.
Not the same forthe SERP,the "ordinary" search,where Google is rightly considered the "status of the art". Its matching criteria in fact are highly advanced and makes it able to return accurate,complete and highly pertinent results quite over the competitors,but it's true that recently it is too living its unhappy moment
due probably to the fact that webmasters have individuated its "weak points",so in this moment its spam level it's increasing,at least till the Google engeeners don't find valid solutions.
However the competitors don't live better days...
The new generation of SEs?
I don't believe that they will be able to replace Google,at least for the near future...
Do you know if affiliate type sites were targeted by google and if they can still be SEOd?
Sorry,I don't know,but I expect that there are a lot of meta crawlers and meta search engines all around the world that known or not are part of the great Google network.This doesn't mean that they use the same technology,but surely its Google group that control them.
Oh and here's another good one. A keyphrase I have ranked is ctr 2.4% status Normal yet nowhere to be found on adwords right now,on any page, yet Ebay has the most irrelavant ad I've ever seen up there. Wonder why? There is no way it has a better ctr it is so rediculous.
Personally I give up to believe in the pay per click system some yers ago, as already said ,after tried also Overture: I'll avoid to tell you the mostruosness that came up when I used the keyword tools, for example; unprobable phrases maybe typed on another planet...let's leave it out.
So, for me these systems are completely missing in reliability.
After what you said I realize that it is whorse than I thought; probably the software that manage the system is obsolete and they won't to do the effort to change it. from other hand it's a problem for the users not surely for them...