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May 19, 2014

Seismic Shifts In Search: Google’s ‘Land-Grab’ for Online Revenues

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Photo Credit: Carlos Luna via flickr

Website copywriting is something I’ve been doing for over ten years. During that time, changes have been many and far-reaching. The techniques that drive and define online ‘success’ today are vastly different to what they were, even two or three years ago.

Anyone who follows this industry will know that Google has been exercising its SEO muscle. They’ve been hard at work driving out the ‘black hat’ SEO merchants who’ve used every trick in the book to help their clients achieve top search engine rankings for the most lucrative keywords in their industry.

To be fair to Google, I’d say their actions are long overdue. On the other hand, a major flaw in the search engine’s modus operandi has always been that the companies which achieve top rankings on search page listings (SERPs) are not necessarily the best at what they do. They are top of the pile because their SEO is better than the next man’s.

An attempt to change that came with Google’s Panda, Penguin and Hummingbird updates to the many criteria that go into creating what they call their ‘algorithms’. Unfortunately, in driving out the ‘black hat’ SEO people, Google has also made it difficult for those who play by the rules to implement workable techniques.

Rich Promise

One by one, Google has all but trashed the techniques which have hitherto delivered on their promise of higher rankings. Examples include keyword placement in meta tags and on-page copy; link building; online PR – and many others.

Aspects of these criteria are still valid of course. Keywords will always have a degree of significance (or how else can Google match searches with the web pages at their disposal?). Likewise, link building will always be important in identifying ‘popular’ (and therefore ‘valuable’) web pages. Social sharing via Twitter et al is a direct descendant of this.

At its heart, SEO reflects the dynamic and organic nature of the web. Social media is a mega presence nowadays – so much so that world leaders are regularly to be found tweeting about the latest outrage, policy or political rivals’ responses!

The challenge for millions of businesses of course is how do they win the brownie points that accrue from visible social sharing? Assuming that smaller companies have the time and resources to build a social presence, how do they boost their profiles without recourse to what may be seen as ‘spamming’?

The solution may lie in part with ‘content marketing’. From the earliest days of SEO (and Google’s pronouncements on the topic), quality content has always been heralded as being king of the castle.

In reality – and practical achievability terms – this translates into nothing more complex than using multiple channels and techniques to apply or re-purpose whatever news, resources or opinions a company may have.

No doubt Google’s Matt Cutts would claim that the search engine’s SEO mantra has always been focused, ultimately, on providing web pages that best answer someone’s search query. Without quality content that’s relevant to these queries, search engines would wither and die.

Too Many Questions

The fact that there’s a demonic drive within Google to forever fine-tune its search algorithms – whilst also driving out those who seek to manipulate the criteria for success – may lead some to believe that they’ve thrown the baby out with the bath water.

Who says Google’s criteria/algorithms deliver the best possible search results? Is this easy to prove – or is there an inevitable element of subjectivity in identifying which content is ‘relevant’? Such is the power of Google, few people (outside of the company itself) are in a position to influence these outcomes.

Should we be concerned about this? Did the transparent SEO techniques of recent years act as checks and balances on the criteria applied to achieve ranking success? Has Google made a ‘land-grab’ of the domain that was previously within the reach of anyone with a modicum of appreciation as to how SEO works? Is there a sinister alternative agenda that is purposely driving marketers to resort to Google’s expensive Pay-Per-Click online advertising?

If no-one can figure out how best to achieve high rankings on search pages, the only reasonable (and cost-effective) alternative is to combine Pay-Per-Click with a range of other marketing techniques – online and offline.

There has been a tangible shift in mindsets (and budgets) in this direction. SEO is no longer the route to riches it once was. Google has seen to that. Websites are now (ideally) receptacles of quality content to be accessed by multi-channel marketing activities – and via SEO.

This is a massive yet subtle shift in the way online marketing works. It’s probably too early for most companies to recognise and articulate what is going on. As a website (online and SEO) copywriter with a finger firmly on the pulse of change, I would rank these changes as seismic in both their proportions and effects.


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Mike Beeson is a highly experienced UK journalist, financial copywriter and PR consultant. Mike's company, Buzzwords Limited, was established over 20 years ago and is located in Knutsford, Cheshire (south Manchester).

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