Can Little Guys Survive Google’s Commercial Intent?

Is Google making search better with all their recent changes? If you ask 100 people, you’re probably going to get 100 different answers.

But there is a lot — and I mean a lot — of evidence to suggest that Google’s real intention may be to increase their bottom line. Do you think it’s coincidental that such major changes have come just prior to the holiday shopping season?

The FTC has taken notice, too. Here’s a quote from a NY Times article:

“The areas of inquiry include accusations of manipulating the search results it displays to favor Google commerce services it has developed like Google Shopping for buying goods and Google Places for advertising local restaurants and businesses. In the civilian subpoenas, the F.T.C. calls this ‘preferencing.’ “

Limited Search Results

There are a number of ways that Google is limiting the kinds of results you get from a search. They say that all these changes will improve the user experience and provide valuable search results. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it isn’t. If it is, something’s very wrong.

Maybe the fact that you often get multiple search results from the same domain is simply because the other domains didn’t make the cut in terms of “quality content.” Or maybe, like many people believe, it’s just one more way to push revenue.

How? Well, if you’re constantly struggling and can’t seem to get any Google love anymore, maybe you’ll turn to their PPC (pay per click) ads instead. Just possibly, Google’s hoping that when you get frustrated with the organic search results, you’ll start clicking on the ads more often.

Look at this real-world example:

Example of limited search results domain diversity

The top three spots are all from the same site. Then comes Google+, followed by four more results from the same site again. If you go to the first site, you’ll see it’s a mass-made site with mentions of counseling and hundreds of other “local areas.”

At the bottom, there’s even more obvious keyword stuffing for counseling in regions all over the country. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I were looking for a counselor in St. Joseph, Minnesota, I’d much prefer to see sites for actual counselors.

But wait: I’ll bet there are lots of sites for specific counselors that had local SEO done on them, and got hit with one of the updates but don’t rank at all. For example, www.austincounselor.net is the website for an actual counselor — and a professional, good-quality site, from the looks of it. Does it rank for “Austin counselor” though? I sure don’t see it on the first page.

What about user experience? How does a three-page site with a single article relating to what you’re searching for offer better value than an enormous forum that’s home to thousands of related posts from real people dealing with the same thing? Oh, that forum got obliterated in the search results because its domain name was too relevant (considered an EMD).

If it’s all about the user, then why would half of the first-page results for a pharmaceutical term often targeted by black-hatters consist of Google’s own warning about the site possibly being “harmful to your computer”?

Fewer Search Results

The number of searches that return fewer than ten results continues to rise. The bulk of these searches are those with commercial intent and brand names. Instead of getting ten different results on the first page, you get a number of site links and your results are limited to seven (sometimes six!). Danny Sullivan wrote a great article about it here.

Commercial Intent

If you’re still hesitant to consider that Google may be casually trying to increase paid advertising, take a look at some of these numbers (as of July 2012):

  • Almost 2/3 of clicks for high commercial searches are now on paid ads
  • Only 35% of clicks for high commercial searches are on organic search results
  • Sponsored ads on searches for high commercial search terms take up a whopping 85.2% of pixels on the screen above the fold

 

There’s plenty more hard-core stats where those came from, too. These numbers are taken from WordStream here.

Conclusion

So what are the smaller businesses to do? What about the poor soul who listened to the SEO “professional” four years ago and built thousands of spammy links? Does that guy have a chance to compete for organic search traffic anymore?

There isn’t a simple, concrete answer … but there is hope. Either you need to be willing and able to put in the time to stay up to date with what’s happening, or you need to bring someone in to do it for you.

About Jayson DeMers

Jayson DeMers is the founder & CEO of AudienceBloom, a Seattle-based SEO agency, as well as Crackerize.com, a lyrics-humor website. You can contact him on LinkedIn and Google+.