How Google’s anti-SEO actions deliver a more corporate Web experience
Website SEO is an ever-changing landscape. What worked a few years back will do nothing to help your website now. In fact, much of what worked even a year ago will no longer work.
The reasons for this are straightforward:
First, because many sites want to rank for your key terms, everyone uses the same tactics to influence their rankings. We therefore are left with a war of attrition – everyone is doing the same thing, so no one is able to “win” rankings.
More importantly though, Google doesn’t like SEO. Why? Because they feel they should be the sole arbiters of which websites rank in their natural search results. In the words of a former president, they are the “decider.”
And Google has a point. Remember all those “parked” domains – poorly laid-out pages of links that would often come up when you searched for things on Google? Gone. Remember all those results you clicked on that had little – sometimes nothing – to do with what you’re actually searching for? They’re gone too.
So in many ways Google’s war on SEO, which began with some skirmishes but is now approaching a scorched-earth policy, has improved search results for the user. And this is the point Google makes to explain the anti-SEO changes they’ve been making to their algorithm and to their policies.
Unfortunately, there are a number of downsides to this too. When I first started working in online – 20 years ago – the Internet was a grand equalizing force. Anyone could launch a website and start selling, be it products or ideas.
Large corporations, sleeping giants, were slow to get online. In 1997, when the commercial Web was essentially born, we had a real wild west.
Mom and pop websites, and a lot of fringe sites too, often ranked high in search results. This made the Internet, well, fun. You never really knew what you were going to find. It also made the Internet a true source of empowerment for small businesses, start-up’s and even hobbyists. These groups were now able to enjoy some market share vs. corporations with large advertising and PR budgets. It didn’t matter that they had no money and little resources, because it was the Web.
It always reminded me of the great David vs. Goliath speech Billy Murray made in “Meatballs.”
Now, of course, big corporations rule the Web. Part of this is because the Fortune 1000 types woke up and threw huge chunks of capital into online. But, it’s also in no small part due to Google’s anti-SEO actions. Let me explain.
SEO became so widespread and such a nuisance for Google (and arguably the end-user too) that most of the changes Google has made in how it ranks websites favor large companies.
Whether this is intentional or not is open to debate. But to stop illicit SEO practices Google had to adjust how they rank websites by using ranking factors that are harder to manipulate or cannot be manipulated. And what are these?
Three SEO Factors that make ranking more difficult for Mid-sized Companies
1. SEO factor: Website Size (Traffic)
Size is one factor. Here’s our example: you’re craftspeople selling handmade furniture online. You’re simply not going to rank on page one for your keywords anymore. Ever. Large, corporate e-commerce websites have many, many times the (genuine) traffic you have, and this is major factor in whether Google deems a site “important” enough to rank.
Yet a smaller site doesn’t inherently mean one of lesser quality. To the contrary, a small website or blog may very well have highly personal, carefully crafted content by an author incredibly passionate about their topic.
The large site with lots of traffic, on the other hand, has content created by people paid to create content for it, be it an in-house staff or outsourced to an agency.
In this example then, by attempting to fight back against SEO ranking tactics, Google has actually diminished the user experience – favoring the bland, plain-vanilla corporate website over the little guy, because it uses of the amount of traffic as a measurement applied towards websites’ rankings.
It’s an unfortunate law of unintended consequence.
2. SEO factor: In-bound Links
Links are another example. In-bound links have always been a big part of SEO. In fact using in-bound links in its algorithm is what made Google the best search engine to begin with.
But with quality scoring of the websites linking in, our furniture craftspeople once again have no chance vs. the corporation. Perhaps a local website links to him, or a friend, or a small blog about stick-style furnishings. Unfortunately, these links don’t “matter” very much to Google’s ranking algorithm.
The corporate furniture site, however, is investing in PR and blogger outreach to gain links on highly trafficked blogs, spending a lot on paid search advertising and putting tons of time and money into Social Media. They will therefore have many more high quality in-bound links than any small business could ever muster.
But is one website better because it has more high-quality in-bound links than another? When the web was in its infancy, and no one was practicing SEO to influence search rankings, in-bound links certainly were a good indicator.
But now, as Google spurns most in-bound links as “low quality,” we’re left with what’s essentially a pay-to-play system, where websites with the deepest pockets always win. And that makes for one heck of a boring web experience. One could even cry “unfair!”
3. SEO factor: Website Age
Another variable Google relies when ranking websites is age. Age of the website and its domain are both reviewed. And who couldn’t see the logic here? Illicit SEO “professionals” were launching hundreds of thousands of pointless websites – solely to influence search rankings for their clients, either with links, spam-indexing with core keyword phrases and countless other “black hat” tactics.
Google was right to put a stop to this nonsense. But where does that leave the new business? The brand-spanking-new start-up? A hard-working mom trying to start an online business on the side?
Just because your website is new, or your domain isn’t 12 years old, doesn’t mean your website isn’t relevant to what some folks are searching for. But to Google’s algorithm, which must be ever so vigilant about stopping illicit SEO practices, new websites barley exist. They lack credibility.
Unless, of course, the new site has millions behind it, buying traffic and culling links from influential sources. Again, thanks to trying to undo SEO, Google takes the wind out of any new or smaller business.
And so we’ve come full circle. From a grand equalizer, where anyone willing to invest some time could get traffic to their website, the Internet has been completely taken over by large corporations. This is Capitalism at work. By their nature, large companies now always fair better in how Google ranks websites. Yuck.
Unfortunately, each of the points above apply not just to small businesses and new ventures, but to B2B businesses too. Because B2C corporations are spending so wildly online — investing so much — B2B sites, which by their nature are typically smaller and more narrowly focused, lose ground.
This may sound sad, but none of this is the end of the world. In fact, it just motivates all of us at Concept 5 to work even harder for you with all of our B2B marketing strategy.
You can still use targeted content and other best practices to make headway with SEO, even if the big boys seem to have all the advantages. Like Bill Murray says, “It just doesn’t matter!”