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August 7, 2012

Google’s Alarming Changes – An Omen for the Future of SEO? — A SPN Exclusive

Whether we want to admit it, many of us have been enjoying a free ride thanks to Google. Those of us who have found success with SEO know that traditional marketing expenditures have been reduced as a result. Well, we may all be in for a rude awakening.

I am referring to Google’s recent announcement that Google Shopping (formerly known as Google Product Search) will now require payment for participation, starting in the U.S. market and expanding from there.

Until now, this platform was identical to the everyday Google search we all use, in that there was no cost to be a contender for top rankings, except any we may choose to invest in to improve those odds. But by “this fall,” Google will expect merchants to buy AdWords, which are basically pay-per-click ads that will appear along with product images when a shopper searches for applicable content.

What you pay will depend on predetermined bids you have set up in your Google Account from a mind-boggling choice of options. Among these are cost-per-click or cost-per-phone-call (using a Google 800# intercept, which routes the call directly to you while recording the event in your account); cost-per-impression (an accumulation of display ad appearances by the thousand for those who value ad views over ad clicks, with costs also determined by your preferred placement on high-traffic websites, for instance); cost-per-acquisition (a commission-like charge based on “conversions” or sales); plus other options with enhancements that utilize a variable bid process which may cost you more in certain competitive and mysterious circumstances.

While suggested bids start at a minimum $1 for phone calls, what you need to invest is totally enshrouded in secrecy because costs will depend on an unpredictable array of constantly changing factors, some of which the average person may find scary. Keyword strength can drive bid price up to $5 per click and beyond. Multiply that by the number of keywords you may need to second-guess your preferred customers’ search terms, as well as your number of products and desired time-frame to remain an active player, and you’re looking at an exponential fortune when all is said and done.

Unlike free search ranking which relies only on web page keyword relevance, content quality and visitor popularity, your AdWord ranking will be a result of how Google judges the value of both your ad and your website in meeting those parameters influenced by how much you pay, described in overwhelming detail on page after page of instructions and disclaimers, which after having spent hours reading, I am left with nothing but exhaustion for all my effort.

One point which was hammered home repeatedly, though, is that there are no guarantees your ads will appear in all relevant searches, nor will they necessarily appear on page one, whether you pay more or not. While I have a lot of respect for Google and all their geniuses who set up this incredibly complex system, I know from experience that if you give customers too many choices, they will decide to wait rather than act, for fear of making a mistake. Why not just charge a commission for sales and keep it simple, like eBay and Amazon? (Has greed gotten the best of them, trying to extract fees from every possible level of the process?) It reminds me of the intimidations of buying stock on Wall Street, where your decision to pay too high or too low a price ends in having to live with the dire consequences, or bail out with your tail between your legs.

To complicate matters even more, providing your product information to Google Shopping will require the upload of a “data feed,” a dreaded job I do regularly for my clients who sell on Amazon.

This is basically a spreadsheet of values which must conform to approved formats and lists of hard-to-differentiate parameters to qualify for inclusion. Unlike eBay which offers merchants a fairly easy-to-understand but extremely comprehensive template within which to enter information, Amazon and now Google prefer this alternate cumbersome and time-consuming setup which requires a significant amount of research and trial to master. Once you’ve slogged through the process a few times, it does get easier. But, it is always a major investment of time and concentration with lots of room for error, some of which are impossible to correct once introduced into their systems, resulting in failure to appear in appropriate searches.

Having broached the subject with one of my e-commerce clients, warning him that Google may in fact inherit the earth with this move, his immediate response was, “Let’s see what happens.” Luckily for him, because he sells lots of products on both eBay and Amazon, he is currently enjoying top search ranking in Google Shopping because those companies have already bought AdWords for his products. Of course, both companies stand to gain by doing so since they each take a handsome commission with every sale he makes. Jump to Google’s everyday free search platform, though, and his website listings trump both eBay and Amazon in search rank thanks to miracles the SEO gods have bestowed upon me – a phenomenon I fear may unfortunately have its days numbered.

It stands to reason. Now that Google has gotten us all used to free success (or failure…as the case may be) at their expense, it’s past time for them to cash in on the cash cows they have created. Just as we all had to pay through the nose to be competitive in yesterday’s printed yellow pages, now we will all need to pay our way to show up in tomorrow’s Google search results, or so I predict. But economically speaking, could Google have picked a worse time to spring this on us?

Marilyn Bontempoz, president of Mid-Hudson Marketing, based in Holmes, New York, has been developing strategies for business success for more than 36 years. A professional writer and graduate of Bard College, she has won numerous awards for excellence in marketing, photography, graphics, writing and web design. As a specialist in branding, she assists many of her clients with management of their social media and public relations initiatives. In addition, she handles e-commerce for a number of online merchants not only on their own websites but through eBay, Amazon and others. View her work at