The Baffling Black Hat Baron of Search
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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