2011 seems to be the year of keeping SEO for businesses off kilter for Google search. In 2011 alone there were 19 updates to the search algorithm, from the Overstock.com and JC Penny fiasco’s that prompted the Panda updates. The 10 pack updates in November (at least Google told us about this one). Which brings me to some questions about Google’s 950 Bpenalties and when you are a big spender is there a 949A which penalizes you for a small period of time and then back to the front of the line you go?
Let me explain, in 2011 Overstock and Penny’s (both huge spenders with Google) were penalized for less than honest SEO practices, (actually gross manipulation) this usually if caught would be penalized by Google with a 950B which moves your organic ranked listing back to the last page of results in SERPS. As of this writing I just searched “Bed Spreads” which is pretty generic and there ya go, Overstock.com is #2 in the organic results. So the question? Is Overstock that good at SEO that they can rise in less than a year back to page 1 result 2 on the organic ranking? Or in a year when Google is on a revenue push they for sale to the big companies that spend millions in ad dollars? Even though they adamantly deny it!
This brings me to the title of this post, if I am a small to medium size business and running an honest SEO campaign from my back office or even using a small agency that charges me by month rather than content, am I at a disadvantage because the bigger guys cheat? I can understand that big corporations have the money to push me back or keep me on page 2 due to the amount of landing pages and content they generate but when they cheat, grossly manipulate, and downright break the rules to gain space shouldn’t the small guy move up? (oh yea back to the title)
In February 2011 the first Panda update rolled out, Panda Farmer. Affecting more than 10% of the search results, some businesses started to see dismal results from their organic click through rates. This was probably one of the best changes they have made because it cracked down on link farms, the only problem I have is that in the past Google considered this business as usual, it was a gimme, the way you ran an SEO project because Google put a high amount of relevancy on those back links. The problem with Google updates is that there really is no defined playbook, no map that tells you exactly how to get your site to page one without having a Seal Team Six type of SEO firm. So some of that money spent back linking was a waste, I am not saying you should link to “non relevant” sites like Penny’s and Overstock but hey, throw us all a bone and give some notice when you are going to turn our SEO efforts upside down. Give some notice that what we have done all this time based on Google’s history is going to actually hurt us. Maybe we can stop payment on that last check. All in all there were 8 Panda updates. September saw some bigger dudes hit hard by the latest update including the Today Show, one that benefited was YouTube, hmm, who owns that again? This I guess should have started SEO pros that the social interaction for search was about to begin. Google + is one of those examples. My point here is that as a small business you use small agencies with good to moderate in most cases SEO people. If you don’t have deep pockets to turn you previous efforts into current efforts you’re pretty much screwed. Let’s not forget that for every update there are probably 1,000 tests going on before they perfect it.
November brought what Googlecalls the “freshness update” this would affect over 30% of web sites, this was to insure that the most recent content, freshest content would be rewarded, wait, isn’t that what Google said back in the 90’s when they started? wasn’t that what we were all working for? So what’s the deal with the whole freshness thing now? Google results are supposed to be the most relevant and freshest content already. This poses a problem for not only small businesses but for agencies as well, I would look at my agency and say hey, I spent thousands of dollars on this stuff and now you tell me I need to be fresher? What does fresher mean? This is like playing a game with that kid you knew who makes up the rules as you go along, my house my rules crap. The only thing is that you did not tell me when I pass go I have to share my $200 with the free parking space!!!
Among all the updates, 8 in all for Panda and lets not forget the Google instant that took searches away from those who type while looking at the screen, oh yea, did you all forget about that? Google instant and suggested search hurt some too. The problem is here, many people type while looking at the screen, so as they start to type a company or retailer and are ready to buy they see a suggested list of searches (this is the dropdown you see as you start to type) and many choose one of those. What if I was looking for Kmart.com but it shows Kohl’s and I decide to click that? This means all that money Kmart spent on branding and driving to the site is affected. I am sure they have seen their visits dip a bit. Wonder if Kohl’s have gone up. This is just an example of the change that can affect in a big way some retailers. To be continued…
OK. I’m back to finish, wrapping and Christmas stuff ya know. Anyway, to finish this post, the small businesses are at a huge disadvantage, I myself in a big corporation find it hard to keep up. I can however mobilize an agency to make changes or make them myself once I find out about the changes Google has made or is making, but what about the mom and pop retailers?What about the small business guy/gal that works hard and doesn’t have time to sit in front of a PC all day and work on their SEO or SEM campaigns or have access to an agency that handles most of that for them? This is where it hurts the small guy! So you see, in 2011 there were some 19 updates, but looking closer and what Google does not tell you is that there could have been 9,000 tests run before they settled on the 19 updates.
Let’s ask the small business guy, go ahead, ask any small business owner if they know what the Panda updates were for, or the “Freshness” update that focuses the algorithm on more recent content. Now I am all for the recent more relevant thing, but if a small business or any business has the most relevant content but it’s 2 years old and will still be more helpful to a searcher why is that the big guy who capitalizes on this update and updates their content will be considered “Fresher”?
So that’s it in a nutshell, my opinion is that even though Google has done the “Local” thing, many smaller businesses are looking to go national, thank heavens for the Internet where anyone can conduct commerce anywhere any time. So maybe in the local arena they can compete ( providing they know about Google Places) at all, what happens when they want to go national? Just seems that the big guys get favored and the small guy gets squeezed, wait, that’s congress and the whole taxes and deficit thing… don’t get me started… comments always welcome.