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This is about Google and affiliate marketing. I will explain some details of the issue before I present it. I have screen shots and other facts to support this posting but I do not want to share them here for reason that will become obvious as you read this.
First let me say the manufacturer of the product that is affiliate marketed has always let the affiliates do the marketing. The manufacturer recently added direct sales to its web site. They still allowed the affiliates to do the marketing and did not compete in the search engine market place with affiliates. In fact, they sell the product at the same price as the affiliates. They have the right to change any of that but that is not what this is about. They are a billion dollar company and I am one of their top 10 producers.
That said, I have a site that has been 1 on Google in several keywords since 1998. The keyword is not a trademark or product name of the manufacturer. The web site adds value to the customer and offers a couple of other choices from other manufacturers. Our site is highly ranked and has a good reputation. It has deep content of value to the customer. We follow all of Google's guidelines and rules.
Now let me explain what I want to discuss with you.
Google changed the order of many of "our" keyword results right after labor day at the beginning of holiday buying season. They inserted the manufacturer of the products into position 1 in all keyword catagories used by all of their affiliates including me. They moved me to number 6 in my keyowrd search results. This happened overnight.
My #1 listings at MSN were not affected. Yahoo followed Google's lead a couple of weeks later but only demoted me to 2nd place.
There is a second issue. Google changed the keyword bid prices at the same time as the search results shuffle. This was before the recent Adword quality ranking that drives keyword prices up for poorly rated link farm affiliate sites.
The manufacturer affiliate network has 60,000 members worldwide. Many of them are not fortunate to have first place listings in Google and have to use PPC. When the manufacturer moved to number 1 in all affiliate keyword catagories Google also increased the price to bid on the same keywords. The price was increased above a price you can pay to have a profit margin with the manufacturer's products. Remember I have high quality sites; even though we do not use PPC I checked the keywords and they were high for us also. All affiliates - good sites or bad - had very high keyword minimum bids. Some as high as TEN DOLLARS per click on a 7.00 commission product. Why did keyword prices skyrocket at the same time as the search results shuffle?
We were all effectivly cut out of the holiday buying season. I did not have it as bad as others who rely on PPC but my income was reduced by 50%. Many affiliates tried the higher bid prices but were not able to make a living that way.
This type of behavior could be interpeted as evidence that Google is manipulating search results to help certain companies sell products. Does Google want to be the Sears and Robuck catalogue for the world? Are they doctoring the search results to second guess what you are looking for and offering a product you MIGHT be looking for. If so, we need to make them admit it so the public will know what to expect when using Google.
Google and the manufacturer of the products in question have a responsibility to their stockholders to make the most profit they can muster. Did Google cross the line and manipulate search results? This will harm the stockholders if their reputation is tarnished.
Have any of you experienced a similar situation during the recent holiday buying season from labor day to christmas? No conspiracy theories please. Just the facts.
Seasons greeting to you all,
GoogleGuy has never made a secret of the fact that, in Google's estimation, an affiliate site needs to "add value" if it expects decent rankings. And for the Web user who's shopping for widgets or insurance policies or hotel rooms, what's the benefit of digging through a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand similar pages to buy a product or service that could be purchased at the same price from manufacturer.com or merchant.com?
It's worth remembering that affiliate programs were conceived as a type of advertising (CPA vs. CPC or CPM). Google may well share this view of what affiliate marketing was meant to be, and if that's the case, owners of affiliate sites who want organic rankings in Google may find it helpful to recast themselves as Web publishers instead of being "affiliate marketers" and recognize that content isn't just flypaper for search crawlers; it's the core product (at least from a search engine's point of view).
Fact: Manufacturer is the authoritative site for the products since they manufacture it and more than likely produce the majority of content that is on all the affiliates websites.
Fact: 60,000 affiliates, um that is a ton of duplicated content that google probally does not need in its index.
Fact: Most people would want to purchase direct from the manufacturer if at all possible. Especially online, unless you have better pricing.
May be its time to look at other business opportunities.
The words "affiliate marketing" have gotten a dirty name and I used them to describ the "type" of program we are in rather than our style of marketing. I support Google's efforts to rid the search results of meaningless sites that are full of affiliate links.
As I said, the manufacturer has no claim to the keyword, trademark or otherwise. Let me add they were not even listed under some of the keywords until the big post labor day shuffle.
To me consumers want honest reviews, choices and comparisons. That is what we provide. We have a complete shopping site for the types of products we sell. The manufacturer web site provides marketing claims and hype for it's products only.
Anyone can order the manufacturer's product off our site for the same price as the manufacturer sells it for and have it delivered by the manufacturer. Their relationship from then on is directly with the manufacturer as registered users.
I hope that helps you understand our perspective.
Yes, some of the affiliates are lazy and duplicate the manufacturers content. Others are full featured merchant sites and original content.
The manufacturer may be an authority on the marketing and hype but no manufacturer is totally honest about it's products problems. They are not the authority on how the product rates compared to other sites.
If you want to buy directly from the manufacturer look their site up by name. But for them to commandeer many keywords that they have no claim to and do so with the help of Google is beyond sensibilities.
I want to get input from honest, real, value added on line merchants. Please vent your anti-affiliate fustration elsewhere.
[edited by: trotline at 12:51 am (utc) on Dec. 27, 2006]
Look at it this way, if you wanted to buy a dell computer online who would you go to? An affiliate or dell direct? Like I said earlier, unless your pricing is better than the manufacturer then why should they go with you? Google knows and realizes that.
With 60,000 affiliates out there, google knows who the manufacturer is. Once they started to sell directly, that turned you into a "thin affiliate"
Its not neccessarily a bad word, its just that google knows that people prefer to deal with the manufacturer directly if they can do a direct purchase.
Sorry that the manufacturer made that decision cause I know it hurts. It has happened to us before an we just found new products to sell.
When you choose a product to purchase from our site you immediate are turned over to the manufacturer. Your purchase and all follow up is between you and the manufacturer.
The benefit in buying from my site is you had the opportunity to choose from similar products and make an objective choice on your purchase.
Google is second guessing which product you want and helping the manufacturer take over a market. Yes, the manufacturer should be the authority for its corporate name and product names but not for every search on the Internet that vaguely relates to the manufacturer.
Yes, out of 60,000 affiliates some are lazy and reporduce manufacturer content. We don't. Guess who is listed in the search engines.
If you want to buy direct from a manufacturer go ahead. I have over 10,000 clients a year that disagree with you.
I am having to repeat a lot of stuff. People, please read my first post carefully. It is not about direct to merchant vs. buying from a dealer.
It is about Google manipulating organic search results to favor a manufacturer. And doing so in keywords that are not "owned" by the manufacturer such as corporate name or product name. They are doing in in generic keywords. At the same time Google increases the price of the same keywords in PPC.
If this is true then Google should call itself the manufacturer's index who sells keywords to the highest bidder. Google tell me it ain't true.
Is this happening to anyone else?
[edited by: trotline at 1:11 am (utc) on Dec. 27, 2006]
Fact: Most people would want to purchase direct from the manufacturer if at all possible. Especially online, unless you have better pricing.
Some american software producers only sell their stuff through resellers in Europe.
Google can't deal with the worlds complexities. And one keyword doesn't define your intent so Google defaults to content reading and then the manufacturer is probably then the best guess.
I think you are seriously in trouble if "buy widget" doesn't lead to you although the manufacturer doesn't sell it in your part of the world.
We had a similar experience and found out that the "supplier" had seen our tremendous success online with their product and duplicated our seo strategies.
This has nothing to do with Google. It's just life on the 'net.
We did consider they analyzed our success and moved in on it. We can not see how they did it without Google's cooperation.
I don't want to be right about this but where else does the evidence point?
Yes, we believe someone analyzed our success and moved it on it. Yes, that is a fact of the Internet and we have morphed many times over the years.
As many years as we have been producing websites we have never produced or witnessed a web site that was never in a keyword catagory rocket to number 1 overnight.
We just think some back room monkey business is going on and want to comapre notes with everybody.
I am sure I am not alone in seeing that litigation around the world by brand names wanting to protect there global presence. This seems a knee jerk reaction from google.
The simple fact is if manufacturers and brand names wish to stop advertising against there brand name they have every right to. Thus boosting brands and manufacturers may be simply a move to pacify a delicate situation. If brands and media companies choose to enforce there copyright and trademarks online google adwords would be devastated, youtube would be devastated and google shares would likely collapse.
Imagine trying to advertise a BMW car dealership on google and not beeing allowed to use "BMW". To go to court and loose on use of brand names opens up a spiraling effect that could see google collapse. Google say they won't interefere with results so why not design an algo that boosts all those trademarks and brands. I do believe the worlds faviourite search engine has a gun held at its head right now.
[edited by: Pirates at 2:34 am (utc) on Dec. 27, 2006]
The keyword in question does not appear once on the site.
Google gives immense weight to keywords on backlink pages from other domains -- really immense weight. This factor alone can be enough to grab the top spot. If you click on the "cache" link for the URL that has jumped to #1 without having a single occurance of the keyword, you should see a message to this effect in Google's header above the cached version of the page.
The manufacturer made a rule that only the top dealers could use PPC and they even had to have permission for each keyword and country. We have to manage our campaigns in a keyword tracking program that they can also see the results for each keyword and its success.
Advice to move on is good advice and we have already done so. It just sucks that it appears my favorite search engine has been caught manipulating search results for big money clients. Some people think that is good. Others have moved to other search engines. Personally I do not want my search results monkeyed with to try to get me to buy something.
I use the term manipulation loosely. If they worked up a algo that does it, that is still manipulation in my book.
On the brand name issue, trademarks and brand names are one thing. Plain words are another. We are not just talking about registered trademarks here. We are talking about regular keywords that have been successful for a merchant who sell many different products including the one from the manufacturer that jumped to the top.
At the last TRAFFIC convention there was a panel about why did Madison Ave miss the domain name boat. The answer the Madison Ave gang gave was they concentrate on brand names. The said they didn't care about generic terms like hotels.com.
Small mom and pop operations came back with stores on the Internet after Walmart killed their brick and mortar store. Now Google seems to be doing the same thing on the Internet.
Google has a lot of data at their finger tips. It seems to be questionable what they will do with it.
The only constant is change.
Bye until tomorrow,
[edited by: trotline at 3:24 am (utc) on Dec. 27, 2006]
Its edited to do that. Have you seen this elsewhere as well mate?
I've seen it relatively often (one of my clients even benefited from this pheomenon) and I first saw it before the political "google bombing" started up. It is definitely an algorithmically placed message. Now, the apologetic "Adwords" at the top of the "failure" page is a different issue ;)
I only bring this issue up because backlink influence can be a major factor and it wasn't even mentioned up until that point in the thread. With a company big enough to have 60,000 affiliates, there must indeed be some heavy duty backlink mojo happening.
If so, the issue turns, at least partially, on singular and plural versions of a keyword. This is definitely a semantic area of the algo that has seen changes for some of my clients, with a lot less difference between the singular and plural SERPS in recent months than there was previously.
My assumption so far has been based on Google's publicly stated focus this fall on better understanding user intent. For some words, the intention behind a plural search is often the same as the intention behind a search on the singular word form. In other cases, the two character strings may even have different meanings. Google is working to know when those two results sets should be the same, or nearly the same.
I believe the way most of you do, that it is just Google struggling to find a smooth algo that can produce a superior results set.
I agree the search results are junked up with sites that are obvious affiliate link sites and link farms. I agree this needs cleaning up.
The 60,000 affiliates probably sealed their own fate by linking back to the manufacturer for sales. Hence the problem of using links to determine a site's worth.
I don't agree that manufacturers should lay claim to being an authority on a word unless, of course, it is their trademarked word or phrase. We all know that due to their responbility to their stockholders many companies will do almost anything legal (and some illegal)to incresae sales.
The phrase "better understanding user intent" when applied to shopping from a manufacturer's point of view means get the product in front of as many people as possible in case one of them wants to buy it.
The search results shuffle may have been the result of Google's latest attempt to "better understanding user intent". However since it occurred during the big Internet shopping season and since it benefited a small number of high tech firms that happen to be billion dollar companies it causes me to stop and consider the consequences of such adjustment of search results.
I guess the point to be made is if Google plans on establishing manufacturers as authorities under all the words that people use to find products they should announce it to the world. Many people have worked hard to build legitimate businesses and to have a media giant come along and award their little piece of cyberspace to the highest bidder does not seem the same as "do no harm". If they had announced their intent to do such things there would have been outrage from the Internet community.
I would probably quit using such a search engine for anything other than shopping. Then I would love it. However comparasion shopping would be very tedious as I went from site to site comparing features and prices. I want to shop from a merchant who will level with me about the products and help me pick the best one for me.
Is Google now a shopping engine for direct from manufacturer goods?
Having affiliates does help.
Not strictly relevant to the discussion, but the view point of a merchant. ( a small one though.)
The authority links TO the manufacturer may be playing a strong role in how the manufacturer became 1 in serps. However, none of the major players such as Amazon are in the keyword results we are referring to except in PPC.
I appreciate all the help in determining how it happened.
Some of you have had similar experiences and some of you recovered from those incidents. We have partially recovered and are now either 2, 3,5, 6 in the serps according to which day, time and region you search from. The manufacturer in question is always "king of the hill" and is no. 1.
The main reason I started this thread was to see if anyone else had experienced the same intrusion into their markets during the holidays. If you had a sudden drop in ranking with a high quality retailer style site and the manufacturers you were retailing for suddenly appeared as 1 in your keyword catagories, please speak up.
Just about the time we figure Google out and relax our guard here comes another wave of "improvements".
Again I repeat, if someone wants to create a manufacturer's only search engine be my guest. Just call it what it is. I will probably use it from time to time.
Some people want to buy from a manufacturer. The want to get their refrigerator, razors, kitchen appliances all from the same manufacturer. That's just fine. Type in the manufacturer's name, go to their site and buy. The affiliate sites are not a problem for you since you go straight to the manufacturer.
Others want to compare products, hear what others have to say BEFORE they purchase a product. The links we provide to the manufacturers products are there to help finance the web site (with the manufacturers cooperation) AND provide a convenient way to proceed to the product you like and purchase it. These people are having a serious problem sorting through the thousands of affiliate sites 90% of which were created in a "get rich quick" scheme by someone who went to a seminar. That is why most high quality affiliates support Google's efforts to raise the quality of these sites.
This conversation is about the legitimate retailers who offer rich, deep sites to consumers being displaced by the manufacturer they were selling for, usually their best selling product. Additionally the manufacturer had never appeared in their keyword search results until this Christmas buying season and shot to number one overnight.
I think this thread has determined that Google does not manually manipulate search results. But the post labor day algo and the increase in PPC costs had a negative effect on many legitimate web sites. While Google tweaks the algo to make things better many of us missed the main buying season. This would have been less harmful if implemented at the beginning of the year so everyone had time to adjust.
So "do no harm" is in question because of the major upheval in serps and timing for the main buying season.
[edited by: trotline at 4:47 pm (utc) on Dec. 27, 2006]
Others want to compare products, hear what others have to say BEFORE they purchase a product.
You are confusing too things -- information, and purchase. I understand what you are saying, but why should I trust you, as an affiliate, in terms of your "reviews", etc, anymore than I should trust the manufacturer, particularly if I've never heard of you, I've heard of hte manufacturer, AND, I can go elsewhere, and perhaps to non-affiliate sites to get more information?
The fact that you are an affiliate makes your reviews just as suspect to an educated consumer as the manufacturers' reviews.