As an online entrepreneur, one of the biggest challenges you will face will be building a substantial presence in the results pages of popular search engines. The ultimate goal is to drive targeted traffic (people who are specifically seeking exactly what you’re offering) to your site. If you go at this blindly, you’ll accomplish nothing. It helps to look at this task as a challenge that online entrepreneurs will be perfecting for years. You’ll likely not find yourself on the first page of Google during your website’s first week of life.

With the effort that major brands are pushing into this arena, it can be more difficult than ever to make a dent in this already crowded market. Looking beyond the competition that has ebbed and flowed just as in every market throughout history, the latest updates to the Google website and to Google’s approach to business in general, may cause it to take much longer and be much harder to find yourself appealing to the good graces of this black hat baron of search than ever before.

The Google Philosophy

According to Google’s Philosophy Statement, the chief cornerstone of their business practice revolves around this simple principle: Focus on the user and all else will follow. Further they add:

Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible. Whether we’re designing a new Internet browser or a new tweak to the look of the homepage, we take great care to ensure that they will ultimately serve you, rather than our own internal goal or bottom line. Our homepage interface is clear and simple, and pages load instantly. Placement in search results is never sold to anyone, and advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting.

Three key concepts seem to jump out at you as you peruse that portion of their mission statement. I’ve highlighted them above in bold. First, their primary goal is to create a web platform with you, the user, at the forefront of each and every change. Second, they will not be swayed or manipulated by their financial goals in regard to their first objective. Third, advertising is not the primary element of their search results and as such it is clearly identified and not positioned in a way to be distracting or overwhelming.

These three concepts are promoted as the center of Google’s business model, yet in their ever growing need to please their corporate shareholders with increased revenues, they’ve proven time-after-time in practice that these are no longer anything more than self-promoting rhetoric, the truths of which their team has long forgotten.

Over the past few months, Google has made many changes to their site that are incredibly unfriendly to both their users and webmasters alike with no other logical explanation other than to simply increase their profit margins.  For a company whose sixth point in their philisophical statement is that you can make money without doing evil, they’ve certainly blurred the lines separating online integrity from pure corporate profiteering. Their behavior has become very disappointing in contrast to the innovative, user-friendly creations that they are so famous for creating on a regular basis.

Domain Crowding

In April of 2012, Google posted on their blog a list of 52 updates to their search system. Among those was a reference to domain diversity, or rather the lack thereof. This metric measures the number of root domains found in each set of search results. Of ten search results returned, if only 5 domains are found due to several domains being listed in more than one result, we would label that as 50% diversity. Here’s what Google had to say about the update and how it would effect domain diversity throughout their search results:

More domain diversity. [launch codename “Horde”, project codename “Domain Crowding”] Sometimes search returns too many results from the same domain. This change helps surface content from a more diverse set of domains.

Since their claim to increase diversity, quite the opposite has proven true. According to research by Dr. Pete J. Meyers at seoMoz, there has been a marked, steady decline in domain diversity since that public announcement as is illustrated by the chart below.

This change adds significant weight to the assertion that it is now harder than ever to find yourself listed on the search results pages of Google. While you used to have ten opportunities to land on the front page of the search listings for a particular keyword, you know have just over 5. Unless you are one of the top five domains you’ll find yourself bumped to a later page in the results.

All by itself, this is not a tremendous set back for webmasters. Although it hurts, it’s only a minor modification. The problem with this domain crowding comes into play in a much more drastic sense when you examine our next point of contention with Google: SERP Shrinkage.

SERP Shrinkage

In yet another article at seoMoz, Dr. Meyers revealed another startling trend in Google’s search results which has been dubbed as SERP Shrinkage.

Traditionally Google has delivered 10 search results per page with between 1 – 4 percent having 7, 8, or 9 results. Following an update to their system around August 12 there are now approximately 18% of search listings that contain exactly 7 results for their first page listings. The search engine results pages (SERPs) have shrunk drastically and seemingly overnight.

Google Display 7 Results Per Page for Nearly 20% of Queries

You can read more about the SERP shrinkage phenomenon at Search Engine Watch, Brafton: Fuel Your Brand, Search Engine Land, and Daily Blog Tips.

Sidebar:

Neither domain crowding nor SERP shrinkage adequately demonstrate that Google is the baffling black hat baron of search. When combined with the following and final observation these three concepts combine to create a weight of evidence that not only demonstrates that they are indeed suited for this label but that they are also slowly slipping away from deserving to even be called a search engine.

Advertisement Spam

Since the dawn of Google’s Adwords and Adsense programs, the vast majority of internet users have rallied together in their disdain for spammy websites with clearly no purpose other than to attract clicks on Adsense pay-per-click advertisements. Sites included in this disdain often contain virtually no content and yet are plastered from top to bottom with advertisements.

In the example below, you’ll see a combined total of six lines of actual content (which is actually quite worthless) surrounded and stuffed with five blocks of Google advertisements each of which contain several advertisement links. These ads combine to provide 20 pay-per-click advertisement links for 6 worthless lines of content. It’s easy to see why people despise this type of garbage being produced across the web.

An example of made for adsense website garbage

Google should begin by taking a more proactive approach to where they allow their self-serve ads to appear, but instead, they have chosen to do the opposite. Their complete disregard for this sewage quality content has now developed into an acceptance of it that has spilled over to their very own home page.

In Google’s philosophy of business statement which was quoted above, they summarize their approach to advertising by stating, “…advertising is not only clearly marked as such, it offers relevant content and is not distracting.” When put to the test, their statement about not being distracting is found to be severely unrepresentative of the truth.

When you consider that domain diversity is now at an average of 55% (5 1/2 domains out of 10 results – Domain Crowding) and that there are now a reduced number of listings per page (4 domains out of 7 results – SERP Shrinkage) and that they have up to 11 ads per page (Advertisement Spam), it becomes much easier to see whose interests they are truly serving… and it’s not the users.

Consider the following screen shot, and as you do, try to determine which is the greater carrier of spam, the Olympic Garbage screenshot above or the Google search results page below.

When viewed in my browser, the first four organic results were visible above the fold (without scrolling). At that point, I had a visual plethora of 10 advertisements with only 4 organic search results until I began to scroll. That is not the mark of a search Engine. It is the mark of an advertising agency and nothing more.

Google has declared war on unpaid, organic results and they are sweeping the battlefield. According to Word Stream, almost 2/3 of clicks go to paid results.

Google and SEO experts have referred to practices that artificially manipulate your listing on their results pages as being black hat. This most often includes some form of payment in exchange for an inbound link(s) in an effort to boost your placement on Google. Although they don’t allow webmasters to pay one another in exchange for these links, they do allow you to pay Google directly to be listed in the top three results shown on the first page of their search system in the form of sponsored results.

I’m sure that by now you’re beginning to see the big picture so I’ll end this mile-long discourse and allow the Baron to deliver the closing remarks:

Our users trust our objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust. ~ The Baffling Black Hat Baron of Search

Nicholas Cardot

About Nicholas Cardot

It's my personal quest to enable every person that I can to unlock that dormant potential concerning their online influence. Also, I'm a geek.

18 Comments

  • Jeff Baldwin says:

    “Don’t be evil.”
    — Google

    Wasn’t that their motto?

  • Dave Doolin says:

    I’m done worrying about Google. They lost me with their policy of author attribution being weighted towards “authority” authors, which in this sense, simply means “popular.”

    I say this having been listed and not listed as an attributable author seemingly at random on several of my own sites.

    I’m back to publishing in the formal, peer-reviewed literature. The lag time is longer, but the results are permanent and Google’s opinion about that doesn’t matter.

    • I’m with you on that. I actually get a lot of traffic from Google, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to cower behind their power and remain silent.

      I actually just read another amazing article over at seoMoz a week or so ago about the topic of Outranking Google (http://www.seomoz.org/blog/outranking-google) and some of the ideas resonate with exactly what you’re talking about. The main idea is that if you make something that’s truly amazing and useful for your users then they’ll take care of sharing it for you and word-of-mouth traffic is far more valuable than random clicks any day of the week.

  • Jackson Tan says:

    everyone using the internet should read this..

    thanks Nicholas for the in depth article..

  • Fred Sheller says:

    Hey there Nicholas, truly a very well-written and inspiring article.

    Remember the days when people mass migrated to Google since it was the only search engine not over saturated with ads?

    I feel it’s more and more difficult to find useful information with Google, and as they are now kicking out all owners of smaller websites from their ad programs, what will be the future for Google?

    Personally I think their days are numbered. And that’s a good thing.

    • I agree. I remember when Yahoo and Ask Jeeves were the dominate players in the search scene, but over time their influence waned in the wake of Google’s growing influence. It’s only a matter of time now before the same happens to Google. It won’t happen over time, but Rome didn’t fall in a day either.

  • Ted says:

    Hey Nicholas,

    I think that everyone is pretty much in agreement that Google is a hypocrite for the most part when it comes to what they say they do and what they actually do.

    The biggest thing for me is when they say that their ads are clearly marked. But when you look at the search results page on their site, the first 3 or 4 ads are so well blended into the organic results that you honestly don’t even notice where the paid ads end and the organic listings begin.

    It infuriates me beyond words to hear them preach about their holiness when they are breaking their own rules. Just goes to show that the people running the show there are not all that honest after all. What a shame.

    • According to that infographic that attached to this post, 45.5% of people couldn’t differentiate between the paid advertising and the organic listings on Google’s search results pages. When half of your audience are unable to tell the difference, then you are either blissfully ignorant of the truth, or you are intentionally be deceitful when you say otherwise.

      I always enjoyed watching, listening and reading Matt Cutts material that he puts out on behalf of Google, but anymore, I’m like you. I can’t stand hearing them preaching about ‘not doing evil’ anymore when they’ve clearly decided to take the route of a corporate enterprise rather than that of a user-focused web platform.

      The worst part about this whole ordeal is actually something that I discovered almost immediately after publishing this article which I’ll be talking about soon in a following article. Everything in this article actually only lays the groundwork for what I believe has been their overall strategy over the course of the last year or so…if not longer.

  • I really hope that a new search engine appears on the scene and goes on to become as big as (or bigger than) Google so this search engine monopoly can come to an end.

    Thanks.

    • I do too. And just as I mentioned to another reader above, I think it’s only a matter of time.

      We used to use Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves and a few others way back, but they declined in the shadow the emerging Google. It didn’t happen overnight. It was over the course of years, but the same will happen to the Baron.

    • Simon Duck says:

      It will be really interesting what will come along to replace Google or at least try and knock it off the top.

      DuckDuckGo seems to be gaining some ground, especially with more privacy concerned people.

      Regards,
      Simon Duck

  • prateek says:

    That was a very informative post . I learned a lot from it..

  • Craig says:

    Nice article, and very cool website. You’ve done a beautiful job.

    It would be worth exploring PPC, then, right? Especially if you are trying to sell something that people want to buy (computers, training, cakes). That’s the takeaway I got from this.

    That is, if I want to do content marketing to build a huge list of people interested in learn and following, SEO is the key. But if I have something to sell and a solid sales process, I will just need people who want to give money right now for a solution.

    I’ve experimented with both and find local SEO much more effective than PPC, at least for my industry.

    Cheers,

    CG

    • Actually, it’s funny that you say that. My ultimate conclusion is that Google made these changes under the guise of eliminating spam and providing better results, but that their real intention was to drive more people toward their advertising programs.

      I currently work with Adwords on some of my other websites and recently we had our account suspended for a minor violation of their terms of service. We had the problem corrected within a few minutes and then submitted our account to be reviewed for reapproval.

      Their program states that this can take up to 3 business days. After a week and a half of waiting, we contacted them to ask what was taking so long. They informed us that over the past few months they’ve had such a flood of new customers that their employees are swamped and backlogged with sites to review.

      This, my friend, is the ultimate goal of their changes. You would have to convince them, their staff, and all of their shareholders to start hating money in order to get them to actually act according to their published philosophy of business statement.

  • Danny says:

    Some great points, Nicholas…

    Without a doubt the serps results have shrunk, and as you have mentioned, sponsored(paid) spots, seem to be taking an ever growing slice of the search engine results real estate(turf)……

    Those “coated in ads minus the content” sites, are still quite common…which is a little annoying…

    Another thing is that, Google seems to be really pushing “big name–Authority ” sites, which means any genuine “not fully established–up and coming’ sites will have their work cut out for them….

    I have seen some search terms totally dominated by “the big Kahuna’s ” within that niche(topic) and that trend continues from page one way back to around page ten….

    Yeah, a few smaller sites do manage to get a seat, sometimes a front row(page one for quality search terms….
    Though, they simply would not have the money(for advertising, marketing,etc) nor, the connections(with the big players) to take full advantage of this..

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