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Where has it all gone wrong? Are big brands over-represented on the SERPs?

     
8:34 pm on Feb 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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What is wrong with Google?

A personal search, brings up just the same big brand names or the same reviews companies. I just want to be able to buy a product from a small company at a great price, like you used to be able to and they give good service.

I don't want a big brand that don't care after they have sold you it, at a sky high price. Also I don't want a million words to read about the product, I know what I want.

The same rubbish written in a slightly different way over and over again, in the top million pages.

This is not a search engine, it is so difficult to find something nowadays.

Yet Bing, nice and easy does it, type it in and a huge amount of sites, guess what? They are exactly what I want! Yipppppeeeeeeeee. 2 mins and that's it, ordered done and dusted, next day received it.

Why is Google making it so difficult to find anything?

Crazy Crazy World!
3:43 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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We know that Google does user testing. From what I've read, it can be something like an eye exam, where users are shown a couple of screens and asked something like "Do you prefer this...or this."

Now, let's say that Joe and Jo User are shown a series of screens for the query "DIY widget." Some of the screens are skewed toward companies like Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe's, while others are skewed toward businesses that you, I, Joe, and Jo have never heard of. Which screens do you think Joe and Jo are most likely to prefer? Especially when (as is the case with e-commerce sites) the choice isn't just about personal tastes, but also involves handing over a credit-card number?

Brands don't have an advantage because they're owned by publicly-traded companies; they have an advantage because users prefer the known to the unknown, and search engines are more concerned with the needs of users than with the needs of site owners.
3:44 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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The writing was on the wall in 2011 when Google started giving brands the first 8 listings (domain crowding) on a page including 6 sitelinks for the first 2 listings.

The writing was on the wall as soon as you see what a search looks like for the term 'keurig coffee machine'. Almost the entire page is paid ads, or non-organic results. That's what we need to be prepared for.

Google's almost entirely monetized by paid ads on their search. They can't really increase market penetration or searches, so they're going to have to do something else on their end. My concern short-mid term isn't brands, it's that they change the serps so that organic are gone - like the keurig example. My concern mid term, and it's my primary concern - is that Google decides to start entering verticals directly. What's your world look like the day Google starts selling car insurance?
3:53 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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If you generate that much interest @unity100, why do you need organic traffic?


why not?

according to what is being pitched by google, i should be getting search traffic for these creatives, but in reality i am not.

this is a signal that says the real picture does not fit the narrative people are being sold.

And more to the note, do you think the organic traffic will be more willing to buy/click/whatever to your services or products?


you must not have read attentively. these content are not monetized, nor intended for monetization. they are highly informational, educational pieces. the sites & pages do not even have any kind of ads for anything.

To me what you just said was "I am entitled to traffic!" when in actuality, no one is.


then big brands are not either. but, it seems that they are, and anyone else isnt - regardless of quality.

And more to the point of brands. If you are getting such high amount of social traffic to your articles, why not make a brand. Why not promote your website as a brand, make mobile app just like a brand etc. etc.


you seem to be thinking that making a 'brand' consists of spreading image logos around, popping up some apps or social pages and whatnot. it isnt.

If you so much believe that you write stuff more specific and better than the top dogs, why not distinguish your self from them by becoming your own entity?


go and do a google for keyword 'technology'.

youll see registered publicly traded entities, various government institutions, wall freaking street journal and the like dominating the searches.

wired, the first and it seems the only occurring tech publication which has come from grassroots is under the fold in second half, DESPITE they are also being a brand.

major agenda-setters in technology like slashdot, techdirt are nowhere to be found. slashdot is a place where mysql ceo comes to personally respond to random comments under articles, and other tech figures participate either openly, or under various pseudonyms. when slashdot posts a news about apple doing something wrong, apple responds.

no persona or group in any of those results listed there can compete with these sites - bar only m.i.t.

and yet, where is slashdot in search results?

nowhere.... DESPITE being a brand.

thats what i meant when i said you take 'being a brand' lightly.

if slashdot, techdirt etc are not 'entities' enough for google's flopping logic to show under a search for technology, there is no way in hell any of us will be.
3:59 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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rish3 wrote:
However, "big brands" also participated in polluting the SERPS. And, when they get caught, Google usually offers a limited duration, limited pain punishment. That's well documented, lots of history to look at.

With regard to attempted cheating by big brands, here are some that got caught by Google for buying links to improve their rankings: J.C. Penny, Interflora, BBC, Overstock, 1-800-Flowers, Rap Genius, Gourmet Gift Baskets, and GoCompare.

And the Washington Post and Forbes Magazine were caught selling links.

But because these are big brand-name companies, Google only gave most of them a slap on the wrist.

So not only is Google's algorithm intentionally biased to favor big brands, these companies also get preferential treatment in manual actions.
4:11 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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My concern mid term, and it's my primary concern - is that Google decides to start entering verticals directly.

We're already there, really. A search for "flights from city A to city B" brings up a pay to play flight search widget, which competes directly with the likes of Expedia, Orbitz, etc. The technology for that widget comes from their acquisition of ITA software. The flight search software is also sold directly to airlines and travel companies, competing with a different set of companies.

They did, for a while, have a similar widget for comparing mortgages, but pulled it very suddenly, without explanation.
4:20 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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> So not only is Google's algorithm intentionally biased to favor big brands, these companies also get preferential treatment in manual actions.

That is true! In 2006, by mistake there was hidden words on one of my pages (yes just one page, and not even keyword targetted) and we banned and out of the index for 33 days. BMW did major cloaking [mattcutts.com...] got caught, they fixed it and was out of the index for 1 day.
4:23 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Brands don't have an advantage because they're owned by publicly-traded companies; they have an advantage because users prefer the known to the unknown

You have a credible source for that? In the brick-and-mortar world, that's certainly not true. Small business accounts for a very large percentage of all retail sales.
4:29 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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> Brands don't have an advantage because they're owned by publicly-traded companies

just by the mere fact that they announce 1/4 earnings, and can get mentioneded with a link in the WSJ, Fortune, Bloomburg, NYT business, CNN and on and on, they have a massive advantage.
4:40 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Google has decided that it is better to show a searcher a real business – a real brand – rather than a web page that can’t be connected to a real business regardless of how well optimized and linked that page may be.

How would they determine whether a business is real? Here is my take on it. There has to be some evidence that the business is a known brand and that people arrive at the page in ways other than the page being found in Google. Google wants to know that search engine traffic is only one way people find a website and not the major way.

Big brands report that in spite of being ranked at the top of the serps most of their traffic does not come from keyword searches. Direct entry of the url into the address bar (Google can track this as in most cases the address bar doubles as a Google search bar) is an indication that the searcher was aware of the business and knew about it independent of search engines.

A real business also has to have a presence and/or following in the searcher’s local area. When you type a search into Google it knows exactly where you are located. When your search is commercial in nature they attempt to first show you results that they know for sure are actually located near you and second show you results where they have evidence that the sites they are showing you in the search results do real business in the area. They would know if there were other searchers from your area looking for the same business.

Brands are ranking high for a lot more reasons than just links IMO.
5:06 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Brands are ranking high for a lot more reasons than just links IMO.

I agree but would like to hear why you think this.
5:38 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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In the areas that I work in and follow I see very little correlation between links and ranking for sites targeting competitive commercial keywords at the local level. I do see a high correlation of ranking of sites that belong to bonafide, known local businesses (with no SEO) and even sites that are masquerading as the site of the real business (with no real SEO).
5:46 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Keep in mind that Google has treated commercial keywords differently form regular keywords ever since the Florida update in 2003. An authority information site is not a "brand".
6:39 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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All I know is, if (or when) I think the game is *that* rigged against me, I'd go find another game.

Brands are ranking high for a lot more reasons than just links IMO.


Links are just one part of the picture. There's a lot of parts to this, maybe hundreds - and that's probably why the brands that got slapped were slapped for such a short period of time. They had enough going for them in other areas (usability, return visitors, branded searches, fewer back buttons, social shares, whatever goes into the broad category of "engagement") to make their quick return worth Google's while. We have to stop thinking of it in terms of one or two things, and start looking at the entire picture.

and yet, where is slashdot in search results?

nowhere.... DESPITE being a brand.


Right, it's a brand of a sort, but it's a brand for only a certain (small) percentage of users. One of the things that Google has to figure out is user intent. Technology is a particularly challenging niche for this. Someone types something technology-related in, and G has to figure out if the user wants to buy it, define it, fix it, learn about it, find a review about it, or talk about it. If they can't figure it out from the query, it probably skews towards the most likely results, and sees (and records) what happens from there. Of course they're not going to get it right every time. Of course they're probably going to skew towards what they can show ads for (absent of other information).

Most Joe Users wouldn't be looking for slashdot. It's not enough to BE a brand, you have to be the right brand. And if G isn't sure, they probably go next to authority.

At least that's mostly what I see.

As for branding itself - heck, I have a brand; a couple of them actually, and I'm just one person. It's made up of my knowledge and authority in certain areas, traits that set me apart from others, and my reputation / history. Google biases towards brands because people bias towards brands.
6:52 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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When you type a search into Google it knows exactly where you are located. When your search is commercial in nature they attempt to first show you results that they know for sure are actually located near you and second show you results where they have evidence that the sites they are showing you in the search results do real business in the area.

Really? I just tested that and got Tripadvisor and a variety of booking sites.
Tried different arguements and again ther SERPS were topped by directory sites.
I had to search on a style of soft drink to get a brand at the top of the SERPS
8:18 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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All I know is, if (or when) I think the game is *that* rigged against me, I'd go find another game.


The game has always been rigged its just now they have closed most of the loopholes. I think finding another game seems the logical thing to do. Even if you reach good serps the traffic isn't there anymore, most buyers go to Amazon before Google or use an app. Even if they reach Google then your up against adverts all over.

When I go on Google now its really no different to the high street. Small niche websites going out of business and Brands dominate. Sad but Google are not going to change their ways and there is no point banging your head against a brick wall. And so I am getting out of the game. I couldn't even be bothered to bill for seo last month as there really are very little offsite factors that work anymore.

I think the era of seo is over, time to retrain me thinks.
8:41 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Big brands report that in spite of being ranked at the top of the serps most of their traffic does not come from keyword searches. Direct entry of the url into the address bar (Google can track this as in most cases the address bar doubles as a Google search bar) is an indication that the searcher was aware of the business and knew about it independent of search engines.


that is true, and this is one of the reasons for google's declining search share.

there is no reason for me to search for an item to buy in google to get served amazon links and then to go to amazon.

i can directly go to amazon or ebay.

so with the 'brand' travesty, google basically killed its own search results.

now not only i cant find specific queries (like the sql queries i mentioned) i am looking for, and have to go to another site to do search, but also there is no point for me in searching in google to buy something.

so both the information and commercial aspects of google search declined drastically.

When you type a search into Google it knows exactly where you are located


i dont know how some people are making such grandstanding statements like that. there is no technical way to know where exactly is a person is located, unless they are using a mobile device and you can track their location through gps. technology must be there, legality must be there,

the ip my connection shows can be anything. i may be using a proxy, i may be using a company vpn, my isp may be routing traffic from another area, i may even be spoofing it.

you can look at an ip and say that 'this person MAY be in this location'. anything other than that, you cannot tell.

@netmeg:
Right, it's a brand of a sort, but it's a brand for only a certain (small) percentage of users. One of the things that Google has to figure out is user intent. Technology is a particularly challenging niche for this. Someone types something technology-related in, and G has to figure out if the user wants to buy it, define it, fix it, learn about it, find a review about it, or talk about it. If they can't figure it out from the query, it probably skews towards the most likely results, and sees (and records) what happens from there. Of course they're not going to get it right every time. Of course they're probably going to skew towards what they can show ads for (absent of other information).

Most Joe Users wouldn't be looking for slashdot. It's not enough to BE a brand, you have to be the right brand. And if G isn't sure, they probably go next to authority.


slashdot is not 'sorta' a brand. it IS a brand, which is owned by the same outfit which owns and provides sourceforge.net. its no joke. even the term 'slashdotted' concept comes from slashdot, which was and still is a major phenomenon.

it is not hard to associate technology with the foremost technology blog/forum on internet. especially while a lot of senior people in google were/are participating in slashdot themselves as well - like the other major tech companies.

im not an average joe. i am constantly logged into google. my interests are known. that i visit slashdot frequently is known to google. (viva full blown spying on users).

yet, even for me slashdot doesnt appear for the keyword technology.

that means that it is totally broken.
8:43 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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This discussion keeps coming up over and over again.

Do They?

As far as the question; "does Google in fact fancy brands?", of course they do - they told every single one of us this a long time ago, in words that could not have been any stronger or clearer.

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

Why do they?

Because its easier and safer, just like Schmidt so eloquently stated. Do you know how hard it would be for Google to really try and inject the occasional site thats a real informational jewel into returns generated from basic product shopping queries? Technically hard, and risky that there will be some weird or even bad returns. (not to mention opportunity for shall we say less than admirable web master intentions)

This is what goes into it, the sorting out of the cesspool by sanitizing, taking the safe road and making joe surfer feel comfortable.

Now, let's say that Joe and Jo User are shown a series of screens for the query "DIY widget." Some of the screens are skewed toward companies like Amazon, Home Depot, and Lowe's, while others are skewed toward businesses that you, I, Joe, and Jo have never heard of. Which screens do you think Joe and Jo are most likely to prefer? Especially when (as is the case with e-commerce sites) the choice isn't just about personal tastes, but also involves handing over a credit-card number?

How do they do it?

This is all that matters. Discussing and trying to understand what are the signals Google uses to determine which sites provide a return that ensures a certain comfort level to the user.

You might not like it, you might not agree that its a good approach, but it is what it is and if you want to have some sort of organic success these days focus on "how" they do it.
10:10 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I think we all know what's going on. I think some want to vent more than others. I also think that g has chosen a direction, and lost some market share in the process, but is not hurting in the wallet for that change.

10 years ago Tom, Dick, and Harry could get ranked. Today those folks can't even get in the shadow cast by the big boys.

There's a reason they are big boys... they were big before the web (most of them). Those that got big on the web were there first, and did it better than others, and bought out the competitors and incorporated whatever new stuff that allowed.... thus becoming even larger and ... and... wait for it ... a Brand. :)

Nobody has to reply to the following query, but I think it might answer more about what is being hinted/vented than anything else:

Is your web income:
<$10000 yr
>$100000 yr

If the former get a new hobby

If in between, enjoy what you have, but don't quit your day job.

If the latter, find a way to grow that to $1M/yr overnight, else those in the top eight spots will always out rank you.

Tom, Dick, and Harry are watching from the sidelines, sipping beers and remembering the good old daze (sic).
10:17 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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slashdot is not 'sorta' a brand. it IS a brand, which is owned by the same outfit which owns and provides sourceforge.net. its no joke. even the term 'slashdotted' concept comes from slashdot, which was and still is a major phenomenon.


No, it isn't. Not in terms of overall search traffic in the tech sector. Not by a longshot.

Also, just tossing this out there, but Google might not (at this point) think a slightly declining search share would be all that bad. They're already sitting on a pile of cash anyway, and it might help out with various legal attempts on their market share.
10:32 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Also, just tossing this out there, but Google might not (at this point) think a slightly declining search share would be all that bad.


Are we talking about the slight increase in U.S. market share that Yahoo has acquired by buying traffic from Firefox after Google chose not to renew its Firefox search deal?

I don't think that says anything about what we've been discussing in this thread. Are users skipping Google to go directly to e-commerce sites? Sometimes, maybe. But quite a few people use Google as their gateway even to known sites--not unreasonably, since (for example) it's quicker to type "widgetco wc-100" or "widgetco wc-100 amazon" into the Chrome address bar than it is to type amazon.com and then conduct a search.
11:06 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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type "widgetco wc-100" or "widgetco wc-100 amazon" into the Chrome address bar than it is to type amazon.com and then conduct a search.


This is a bit specious... after all, that's what bookmarks are for! And all the more specific to brands at top... even if the user goes there directly... why? they are the "brand". Google is not becoming irrelevant, merely commercial.

If there is a real argument to be made, it is to rail against the user(s) who are too lazy to go to page two. :)
11:25 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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This is a bit specious... after all, that's what bookmarks are for!


A bookmark for the Widgetco WC-100 product page on Amazon? Sounds like a pretty unlikely scenario, unless the bookmark is for an item that's bought regularly.

You bring up an interesting thought, however: Does the average Joe or Jo use bookmarks much these days?

[edited by: EditorialGuy at 11:27 pm (utc) on Feb 18, 2015]

11:26 pm on Feb 18, 2015 (gmt 0)

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No, it isn't. Not in terms of overall search traffic in the tech sector. Not by a longshot.


no it isnt a 'brand' in terms of overall search traffic in the tech sector, because google does not recognize them as a brand worthy of 'technology' keyword and send them traffic.

that is so only because a team at google decided it should be so. just like how the same team kept pagerank for close to a decade. tomorrow they may decide something else, and everything would change.

just like how they decided that it was a good idea to force people to use their real names in google+, and to enforce it link up youtube channels to g+ profiles, contributing to the failure of g+.

they thought it was a good policy and it was a way to keep comments 'clean'. just like how schmidt witlessly blabbers about how 'brands' would 'sort out the mess'.

what happened?

it has become a disaster, and now they totally removed all restrictions on names without any small print.
12:03 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Right. OK.
12:07 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Well it seems like the thread has peaked, and IMO it's good to see the pragmatic approach.

I wonder if the OP has something to add, now there's 4 pages of context.
12:28 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Well just to add the rich are never satisfied, maybe Google promotes PLC because they can buy shares in them. Whitelist the domain and reap the rewards.

It's easy money and of course totally legal.
1:05 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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I wonder if the OP has something to add, now there's 4 pages of context.


The OP's complaint was about finding things to buy in Google, not about finding a way to sell through Google. I'm not sure why he cared, since he also wrote:

Yet Bing, nice and easy does it, type it in and a huge amount of sites, guess what? They are exactly what I want!

Problem solved. :-)
1:32 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Well just to add the rich are never satisfied


If that's true, I'm pleased that so many of us here on WebmasterWorld are doing so well!
5:11 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Where has it all gone wrong? Are big brands over-represented on the SERPs?


Start with a reality check:

- Google are now an advertising company.

- Google has no obligations to your web sites.

- Google has a legal responsibility to their shareholders to be profitable.

- Google's algo(s) will always favour their best interests, not yours... especially if your business model relies on free traffic via the SERP's. Why would Google give you exposure when you contribute nothing to their income?

- Google search result pages have basically become screen real estate that shows client advertising and promotes their own products and services.

- Google now function as a merchant in several areas. Google Flights, Google Hotels, Google Shopping... etc etc with much, much more to follow. They are now a direct competitor in those sectors.

- Google (according to Eric Schmidt) sees big brand bias as part of a solution to spam.

It's obvious from the posts in this thread that not everyone thinks "it has all gone wrong". If Penguin stripped away your free SERP's generated traffic and brought an end to your glory days, then it has all gone wrong.. for you, but not necessarily everyone else.

Welcome to the world of "pay to be seen". Once money becomes the driver, the longest pockets usually dominate, whether it be on Google, Bing or the Yellow Pages.
10:02 am on Feb 19, 2015 (gmt 0)

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@EditorialGuy : Does the average Joe or Jo use bookmarks much these days?

I can give you an example straight away. Most of my friends and family are not very technically minded and use "the internet" (read browser default search engine) as a general purpose answering machine. If the provided answer brings some utility - say a list of good cooking recipes for example on top of the content they read through, they bookmark it. Do they use the bookmarks - no or very very rarely. Most of them have 3 rows of bookmarked content and landing pages sitting on their browsers that they seldom use.

The more advanced general purpose users bookmark utility. Regularly updated news sites/forums or online calculators or similar tools, e-commerce listings they would like to purchase (esp. for Amazon and sportsdirect - shocking I know!) and similar

Advanced users - they bookmark alot but for reference purposes. Bookmarked websites they can access if the need arrises.

Speaking about bookmarks it brought an interesting concept about brands and SERPS. As mentioned specific industry related _relevant_ websites are not accessed via google search, because people seeking that type of information already KNOW where to find it. And Google understands perfectly that notion. So why show something the general case user will not delve into, when you can show him a generalized version of his search query and satisfy his needs? Hence why the SERPS are dominated by big brands.

In the end it is what the users need. If you need specific tech answer you go to techdot. If you need a secure and reasonable product you go to Amazon. If you need latest general info about SEO and Webmaster knowledge you go to webmasterworld(for example).

If you want however a general explanation to a topic and search Google, you will receive general answer SERP result with general info content produced en-masse by big editorial teams. That does not makes Google the bad guy. On the contrary, Google delivers _exactly_ what the general user wants most of the time. And their monetizing strategy revolves around that user behaviour, thus many are left with the impression that it is all a grand scam or scheme. It is not. Its just how the world works.
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