(But Google May Also Have Shot Itself in the Foot)
In the past few months, Google has made several significant changes, the most talked about among them being the Panda algorithm update. These changes, in my opinion, mark the beginning of a huge shift in the world of internet marketing in a way that many of us are yet to fully grasp.
In a nutshell, for an online business to continue operating profitably, you will need a more solid business model, now more than ever.
Let me expound. Up to a few months ago, if search engines were the only traffic source for your website, it was still possible to remain profitable. All you would need to ensure is that you got your SEO (both onpage and offpage) right, and your site optimized for conversions. I’ve written before that that’s a rather shaky model, but you could still survive anyway.
Not anymore. It’s no longer that guaranteed today. You may think you have everything in order, having followed the whitehat “best practices”, and still get pandalized for reasons not so obvious to you. Online forums, e.g webmasterworld are full of stories of many high quality websites that have lost their search engine traffic since google rolled out panda. Some previously successful companies have laid off staff as a result, others have sold them off, like this guy
And even if you continue ranking well for all the relevant keywords, soon it may be impossible to measure the ROI of these rankings, thanks to encrypted search, which google announced the other day. What this means is that in your web analytics software, you will not be able to tell which keywords brought you traffic from google. I know, google have stated that this only affects searches from signed-in users, for now, but I have a feeling this will be rolled out to everyone in the near future.
It’s Futile Chasing Google’s Algorithm
Talking from my own experience, it’s a futile exercise chasing google’s algorithm and trying to fix everything to get your lost rankings back. Apart from my day job, I run a few websites of my own, and also help some old clients of mine in their SEO and internet marketing. One particular website was hit very hard by the initial Panda update. Naturally, we panicked and tried to correct all that could have triggered the “penalty”.
We rewrote the content for all pages that had potential duplicate content issues, implementing canonicalization where this was not fully possible, made sure all pages had unique titles and descriptions, added more good content in pages that we thought were “thin”, fixed all the bad internal links, etc. etc. Guess what, within two to three weeks, we were back on page one for the keywords we were previously ranking well for. Then they rolled out Panda 2.0 and the cycle started again.
At some point, I think Panda 2.3 (around July 22nd), there was nothing more we could possibly fix, but the roller coaster ride went on and on with every iteration of the panda: ranking in page one for a few weeks, then out of the radar for the next few weeks. As I write this, we are back in page 1 for most of the keywords, and hope to remain there forever. But the message is very clear: first page placement in google SERPs is no longer guaranteed, no matter how good your SEO. There’s now a real need to de-emphasize search engine traffic, and instead focus more on other traffic and leads sources.
How Is This Good For The Web?
And this is why I think all these google changes are good for the web. Businesses are being forced back to the drawing board. They will have to lay solid structures and strategies. Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but I think more people will soon realize the importance of value-driven networking, or linkbuilding if you wish. The era of link-building for its own sake is dying. I mean, if “a link” is no longer “a link”, I wouldn’t want to waste my time chasing a link that has no real traffic potential.
People will still buy links (sorry google), but only from highly targetted sources. Google may continue dominating internet advertising through their adwords product for a while, but other advertising channels will gain some reasonable share since diversification will become a must. That means more revenue for other companies (the advertising networks).
Something else, people who want to continue doing real business online will re-focus on optimizing their websites for human beings. Traffic is gold, it does not come cheaply or easily, so you want to make the best out of it when you get it. A bounce rate of, say, 50%, will be intolerable, so you will want to give your visitor an offer they’ll find hard to resist (great content). You will also want to make it intuitively easy for them to buy from your site (sale), or contact you (lead).
Social media will become an increasingly important source of traffic (it already is, but this will go higher). Being so valuable a source, serious businesses will not want to misuse it, lest they face penalties there too.
This may have been google’s intention in the first place: to deemphasize SEO and force people to do no evil. But they may have inadvertently shot themselves in the foot.
Could This Be The Beginning of The End For Google?
Will search engines remain relevant? Of course they will. It’s the only way some people know for finding information on the web. But unless google really achieves what they set to achieve with Panda, this may mark the beginning of the end of google’s dominance in search. It will definitely not happen overnight, but it surely can, unless they fix their stuff.
I know, that last paragraph is a very bold statement and it needs qualification. Google introduced Panda to to “reduce rankings for low-quality sites” and ” provide better rankings for high-quality sites” (from their official statement). Unfortunately, not everyone believes they have achieved that. See the discussions in this webmasterworld thread for example. In some cases, the quality of their search results seems to have gotten worse.
I’m not a great fan of google bashing, but lately, I have started seeing the point. People made the switch from Altavista to google because of quality issues. Is it possible to switch from google to, say, duckduckgo or wiredoo (the upcoming one by MC Hammer) for the same reason? Why not?