October 28, 2013
After 16 years of helping other businesses achieve a greater prominence for their websites, the past 2 years of insanity has given me pause to contemplate the future.
Clearly, Google is intent on rendering my chosen vocation irrelevant. The previous ability to attain decent rankings has been eroded as Google eats away at the foundations of SEO and progressively eliminates legitimate opportunities to be a “tall poppy” on the www.
Over the years, I’ve nurtured a great many websites for a number of wonderful clients in a broad cross-section of genres. Of those, none seem unaffected by Google’s erratic rampage since 2012. Like most serious SEO practitioners, I believed that Google’s underlying intentions were for the greater good. Like many others, I have worked hard towards understanding and promoting the gospel of St. Google, striving to meet the guideline revisions and the amended terms of service.
I am deeply and bitterly disappointed by the outcome of the past 2 years of changes.
There’s a growing awareness and consensus across the internet that we’re ALL being screwed, whichever side of the belief divide we stand. The game is getting harder and the penalties more severe. The self-appointed umpire keeps changing the rules to suit its own end-game and there is no sign of any respite on the horizon.
An early retirement holds an increasing attraction. I’m 60 next birthday, and growing orchids is beginning to seem like a far more rewarding and infinitely less stressful occupation than SEO!
Did The Devil Buy Google’s Soul?
Others have touched on the fair-mindedness of the early Google, and the democratic way it enabled mom and pop enterprises to flourish in a “Level Playing Field” environment. There was once a time when start-ups with some nous could easily outperform the big-budget corporate players. Working smarter allowed many new businesses to flourish into large-scale enterprises. Many people owe a lot of their success to that earlier, nicer Google – but now it is apparently time to pay the piper!
“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” – Keyser Söze
The democracy and spirit of fair play has now completely gone and the Mammon-worshippers at Google HQ have apparently sold their souls and crossed over to the dark side. Not since the early days of America has a single entity wielded so much unchecked and unrestrained power over so many other businesses. Back then, it was national domination by a handful of wealthy, ruthless men. Now it is global domination of the information superhighway by a single ruthless toll collection company.
Clearly, the world is in dire need of a 21st century Theodore Roosevelt. I wonder what he would have to say on the ruthless manner in which Google has treated the businesses which have provided the content that allowed it to grow stronger.
Perhaps this quote has relevance? “No man is justified in doing evil on the grounds of expedience.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Basically, webmasters’ and site owners’ best efforts to abide by changes to new guidelines and comply with altered terms of service since 2012 have pretty much been a waste of time. The imperative of Google delivering a greater return to its shareholders has taken precedence over fairness and search quality.
The so-called quest for best possible SERPs results gave Google an initial moral advantage, whereby the Panda/Penguin nay-sayers got dissed as black-hat SEO’s suffering from sour grapes. Is there anyone left who really and truly believes that Google has any credibility left in their public statements about striving to give searchers the best possible results?
It looks more like Google deliberately, knowingly and with malice aforethought set out to construct a scenario where they could portray punishing “the evil-doers” as a means to legitimize the inevitable collateral damage to the general website population. Anyone who whines about it publicly is automatically assumed to be an evil, black-hat SEO, or an employer of the same ilk.
Has Google Annexed the Information Superhighway?
The question has kept popping up in my subconscious more frequently this year. It has been a catchy phrase I’ve been steadfastly resisting articulation of, but as year’s end nears with no end to the insanity in sight, I can no longer hold it within my breast.
Is Google the Anti-Christ of the Internet? Has it been residing amongst us since 1997, carefully preparing for its nefarious end-game of global domination? Infiltrating the internet in the guise of the oft-quoted “benevolent curator” and surreptitiously acquiring enormous wealth and vast international power in readiness for the day of revelation.
All the while slyly buying up, neutralizing or stifling its competitors while recruiting hordes of acolytes and fervent believers in its avowed cause. Finally, with all the exits blocked and the dissenters surrounded, it launches a carefully scripted strike against all those who either agree or disagree with its assumption of internet dictatorship.
If all of that seems a bit far-fetched, the reality for many internet businesses is that they’ve been carpet-bombed with incendiary algorithms without an opportunity to properly defend themselves. To many, it may seem like Google implemented an internet Pearl Harbour assault in 2012 and for the past two years we’ve all been taking hits, bandaging our wounds and trying to dodge the never-ending stream of logic-bombs. Google’s Disavow Tool is as much use as a leaky gas mask in a Syrian chemical strike, and the webmaster tools Incoming Links data as helpful as taking the proverbial knife to a gunfight.
Your business can be virtually eliminated overnight and you won’t ever really know why! Hell, you won’t even rate as a recorded KIA or MIA statistic, let alone have the opportunity to draw a weapon and mount a credible defence. Nor will you (or your site) be medivac’d out for attention. Remember how they CLOSED the Reconsideration Request option to all webmasters who have NOT been issued a Manual Penalty. I guess they got tired of listening to moans of agony from the grievously wounded…
That is not the sort of situation one expects in the free world. Whatever happened to “Do No Evil?” Did the CEO’s trip to North Korea inspire the new dictatorial approach to internet dominance?
“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” – Edmund Burke
Repression of the Human Competitive Spirit?
Deliberate repression of effective competitive effort has been put in place across the search engine rankings industry. That’s the only explanation that makes sense in terms of Penguin. There were far better, easier and less combative options available to Google to deal with so-called link manipulation epidemic. Simply ignoring any that were deemed inappropriate would have avoided the generation of the vast ill-feeling and frustration worldwide towards Google. History shows that as soon as allegedly dodgy SEO techniques become totally ineffective, they quickly fall by the wayside. Hidden text, keyword stuffing and all those other little titbits that once helped are long gone!
- Competitiveness is the essence of being human
- Survival of the fittest is the underlying principle of evolution
Google has worked hard to eliminate opportunities to compete effectively against other sites.
Let us NOT forget that GOOGLE themselves created the importance of links to website ranking success with Page Rank!
An entire industry grew up around that all-important aspect of website rankings. Individual site owners were left with little choice about entering into link competition. If your main competitors are enjoying success at your expense, and it is clear their dominance is based on more/better links – what should you do? There were only ever two choices:
- compete on equal terms
- close your business down
“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Retrospectively, a decade and a half after initiating the mission-critical linking imperative, Google set out to harshly punish all and sundry for their completely natural and genetically-programmed desire to do as well or better than others! We are human, therefore we compete!!!
Google has many times bragged about its ability to detect manipulative linking schemes. It chose to mete out punishments when it could have simply eliminated the effectiveness of the link schemes! Closure of loopholes is one thing, severe penalties for elements that are not completely within the owner’s control are another matter entirely.
- On-site content is a site owner’s sole realm and he or she can and should be held accountable for it.
- External links are clearly NOT within the full and total control of the site’s owner!
The current Google environment is unfair, unwarranted and clearly unnecessary – unless there’s an underlying game-plan in play that the average website owner is not a party to?
Google Profits Soar as Panda/Penguin Bite In
Contemplate for a moment the trauma of having your site disappear without trace from the search engine results pages in the space of a couple of days. No longer being visible means global oblivion, slashed revenues and for some businesses, eventual closure.
This has occurred multiple times across various sectors over the past 2 years as Google has rolled out a series of punitive attacks on sites it considers are in breach of its NEW Terms and Guidelines. Never mind if you don’t know what you did wrong. Never mind if you were actually sabotaged by a competitor!
This effect has occurred to hundreds of thousands of previously successful websites. By design, content and proper internal optimization and perhaps a few more links than their competitors, these sites had for years enjoyed top positions for a broad range of appropriate keyword search phrases. They were enjoying commensurate visitor volumes per month. Free organic traffic. Obviously, that is not a mechanism that maximizes Google’s revenues, but it has been the model under which the Internet operated since its inception!
The scenario above is not a minor dip in the rankings – this is a 70% overnight drop in Visitor Traffic, despite the site being a reputable, high-ranking site with good links from prominent sites. Google Panda and Google Penguin algo’s have delivered double-strike death blows to many sites, and if yours is among those affected, good luck in sorting out the underlying reason and issues.
Protestations to the conspiracy theory notwithstanding, over the same period of same time Google revenues and stocks have risen sharply! See;
Is that the complete coincidence which Matt Cutts would have us believe? C’mon Matt – don’t pee on my foot and tell me its raining! There’s an old adage that – “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence and thrice is enemy action!”
- Dec 2012: Google’s revenue reached close to $13 billion (£8bn) in the fourth quarter of 2012. The company’s income was up by 22% in the final quarter of the year, a 36% year-on-year rise, Reuters reports.
- April 2013: Google has recorded a strong first quarter during 2013, despite posting hit and miss revenue expectations. Announcing US$13.97 billion in revenues, the internet search giant enjoyed an increase of 31% compared to the same period in 2012, including $11.58 per share.
- Oct 2013: The internet giant’s sales revenue from its stand-alone advertising business increased 19% to $US13.8 billion
That would be in severe contrast to the financial experiences of the majority of the people who have traditionally provided Google’s underlying search CONTENT!!!
The words of Theodore Roosevelt echo here as well… “The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Incoming Links Can Kill Rankings & Traffic
Google seems to have set out on a jihad to punish EVERYONE they suspect has done anything to boost the number of links to their websites in the hope of improved rankings. Via the Penguin algorithm, they have systematically demoted websites for any links they deem inappropriate. In essence, a severe penalty for your so-called manipulative linking efforts.
Escaping the penalty is tough, requiring you to make superhuman efforts to get links removed by contacting the sites that link to you. To make that task even harder, Google WON’T tell you WHICH links are a problem, let alone WHY they might be a problem!
Clearly, sorting out the link portfolio accurately is even beyond the skills of many experienced SEO practitioners. I regularly receive, on behalf of my clients, requests for links to be removed. The requests are indicative of the widespread and bewildered FUD factor in play! When the SEO guy for a fishing lodge is asking a nearby fishing charter operator to remove their link to the lodge, you know there’s a serious problem of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in all quarters.
Webmaster Tools Can Help?
Sure, Google does give you some meagre, trash-quality data in your Webmaster Tools account to supposedly “help” you – but their attitude in doing so is clearly more along the lines of “You got yourself into this mess, so best you figure out for yourself how to get out of it!” Google applies the presumption of guilt and we are all placed on the defensive – but there is no proven and assured defence available. For the average non-tech-savvy site owner, it is simply too hard to comprehend what the hell is going on, let alone accurately analyze the situation and effectively apply the current ‘correct’ remedies!
Dysfunctional Disavow Tool?
With equal lack of compassion, Google provides a Disavow Tool that seems less about helping you than an opportunity to further humiliate you via the requirement to confess your alleged sins as part of the request process. Sternly-worded warnings give one the impression that they consulted the Surgeon General on the text, and that inappropriate use is guaranteed to be harmful to your health! A positive outcome of using the Disavow tool remains a pipedream for most webmasters. In fact, it feels that more often than not your confession is taken and then turned over to the Internet police to be used against you!
After a year or more of efforts to deal with whatever you guess might be wrong with your link portfolio, the next iteration of the Penguin algorithm is just as likely to further downgrade your site’s rankings as it is to improve it! Regardless of how hard you’ve tried to do the right thing, improvements are often short-lived, and erased on the next iteration of either Penguin/Panda. Most ranking graphs for 2013 will look more like the 2008 stock market charts – raggedly, jaggedly downwards. Traffic stats are likely to mirror the Big Dipper roller-coaster profile.
Eliminate the Positive & Accentuate the Negative!
It seems clear enough that unethical webmasters and SEO’ers are taking advantage of the situation by generating low-grade links to competitor’s sites. Who in their right mind expected otherwise? It is far easier and cheaper than resolving your own problems and it clearly works! Dragging your competitors down below your level is not exactly rocket science! At the same time, Google remains in a state of denial that negative SEO is very likely at all, let alone being done on any measurable scale.
Really? Did it not occur to anyone at Google that those black-hatted villains whose eradication they seek might see this as an opportunity? Google says it is unlikely to happen! Therefore, proving the opposite equals a chance to humiliate Google and achieve gains for your site / your clients’ sites at the competition’s expense and with minimal cost and effort. That’s a win, win, win, win right there! No serious thought to that scenario at all, over at Google HQ?
Low Quality Content Can Kill Rankings
Well, that has been the long-postulated objective of all the changes. Content is King! What a crock of crap that is proving to be. Take a look at Google.co.nz and search for “polished concrete”
Note that the site that ranks #1 is polishedconcrete.co.nz. Join the link back up to view it, or click from SERPs link.
That this site stands head and shoulders over superior sites is inexcusable. Moreover, there are a couple of other dreadful sites that also do quite well within those results.
Search for “seo company” on Google.co.uk. At the time of writing, the #1 site was only registered in Aug 2013, and is quite possibly an example of the effectiveness of the “churn & burn” approach to top rankings.
This makes a complete mockery of all the statements of good intent that Google has issued in its quest to only reward Good Content over the past two years!
An Orchestrated Litany of Lies!
A recent humorous analogy between Matt Cutts and Jay Carney gave many people a good chuckle. It was funny, but not without its serious aspect! Regardless of what they personally know or believe, Matt & Jay have been spoon-feeding all of us from the same proverbial crock of excrement for the past couple of years. “Keep drinking the Kool-Aid” jokes aside, I am at a loss as to how they can stand up in public with a straight face and keep repeating the same patently untrue drivel! As another old quote goes “I would not call him a liar exactly, but he sure does handle the truth in an awkward fashion!”
Was the Game Worth the Candle?
The worldwide website ranking carnage and collateral financial damage to honest businesses is clearly NOT a sacrifice worth the garbage search results Google is currently giving us in return for the pain! What did Google actually achieve here?
- They may have made life marginally more awkward for a small group of link spammers.
- They have de-indexed a bunch of allegedly low-quality directories etc.
- They have not reduced the number of attempted spam registrations and comments on websites.
- There are more trash sites in prominent ranking positions than ever before.
- Email solicitations from sub-continent SEO sub-contractors have gone through the roof.
- Stub and doorway pages abound.
- The less good content you have, the higher your rankings are likely to be.
- Churn & burn is now the one of the most effective website SEO strategies.
- Negative SEO is becoming more common and is uncommonly effective.
- Webmasters are too terrified of negative consequences to accept traditional link requests
Google has wiped out 60 – 70% of visitor traffic on vast numbers of damned good websites whose owners worked harder and smarter than their competitors to provide good content and whose only crime appears to be that they probably did a bit extra to compete by generating some links they hoped would help promote their businesses.
They have slashed the income on hundreds of thousands of legitimate online businesses in the process of targeting an infinitely smaller number of “bad guys.” Collateral damage on that scale goes way beyond irresponsible.
They certainly, demonstrably and unequivocally made the SERPs WORSE in most instances- EXAM RESULT = EPIC FAIL!
Google – I say “SHAME ON YOU!” There was a long period of time when the best sites rose to the top, and those who were too lazy, incompetent or inexperienced had to pay to be seen in sponsored listings. That always seemed fair enough. Now, it seems that the crap is on the top of the results by default, and the good sites must pay to be seen in the sponsored lists.
Because the topmost organic results are crap in many search genres, searchers are now forced to pick though Sponsored Listings in the hope that they will find something decent. That’s clearly an ass-backwards, counter-intuitive approach to search that directly contradicts Google’s own, oft-stated goals of delivering the most relevant results to searchers!
In sifting through some SERPs results, it often seems that the worst results occur more in searches where competition and pay-per-click costs are higher. That’s an aspect of the current situation that warrants some further exploration.
Does Reverse-Engineering the Changes Explain the Strategy?
What if you were looking for the fastest and most effective way to convert long-term successful (organic ranking) business sites into Adwords clients? What if Google decided that those previously successful sites should “pay their dues” for Google’s contribution to their online successes? Then, the Panda / Penguin strategy makes a lot more sense.
Accuse the successful of misdeeds, punish them harshly. Watch in amusement as they grapple for answers and solutions – and keep adding new twists via those dreaded algorithm changes to keep them off-balance as revenues drop. As traffic and revenues go into unrestrained free-fall, watch them come crawling into the fold – cap in hand – and sign up for Adwords accounts so they can stay in business!
At Google HQ, sit back and watch the stock prices and revenues accelerate upwards as the strategy steadily kicks into hyper-drive.
As conspiracy theories go, this one seems to have quite a lot going for it.
Google has been the darling of the internet for a long time and with good reason. They’ve had all the love and attention, and we’ve all gone along for the ride to our mutual benefit. It has been a truly mutual love affair – Google has helped us, and we have helped them.
Are the Branding Strategists at Google HQ all on extended vacation? Does no one comprehend how quickly one can go from internet hero to zero? What the hell is the boss doing while the techno-geeks and accountants are busily destroying the company’s reputation with reckless alienation of content providers and excessive greed in driving Adwords revenues?
The WIIFM Factor
What’s in it for the rest of us? The WIIFM factor is an important but apparently overlooked factor in all of this. If the previously satisfactory symbiotic relationship is being cast aside in favour of one-sided revenues, the whole house of cards will inevitably come crumbling down.
If we as “content providers” are getting the shaft while Google’s shareholders are getting the gold mine, there’s going to be a revolution against the arrogance of that particular decision! Perhaps people are going to start calling for “Google-Free Days” and “Google-cotts” in protest?
One would hope that someone at Microsoft or Yahoo is awake to the opportunity to regain some market share. While Google is shooting itself in the foot, is there a young gunslinger in the wings, preparing to challenge the greedy baron?
Website owners have a right to a fair deal, and Google seems to have overlooked our importance in the overall scheme of things. If Google wants to have paid search as the dominant content element in its SERPs, then it should be honest and transparent about it. If Google is destined to become mostly a PAID ADVERTISING Search Engine that places no ranking value on merit-based content, that’s fine. Good luck with that – the rest of the world will quickly move on.
Bing will prosper accordingly, perhaps Yahoo will launch a real search engine of their own.
Ben Kemp, a search engine optimization consultant since 1997, is a specialist in website redesign, and a veteran of 25-plus years of experience in the IT industry. Web: www.ComAuth.co.nz + www.Website-Redesign-Company.co Email: support@Website-Redesign-Company.co