Up until just after the Caffeine update in 2009, launching a new website with the intention of gaining organic traffic was a difficult, but relatively simple exercise of creating the strongest website in your niche. It was a linear but very competitive climb to the top which often resulted in the sites with the most/best links hitting the top five positions in SERPS. The state of the SERPS was stable but in direct conflict with Google’s anti-spam and PageRank manipulation policy which on the surface is a logical policy for Google to have.
A lack of foresight at Google
Within the past two years we’ve seen Panda, Penguin and many other updates dramatically shake up the SERPs with what we assume is Google’s intent to fix a broken, easily manipulated system. In theory, by targeting webspam and PageRank manipulation Google should be giving back the SERPS to those webmasters who are genuine providers of content without the intention to manipulate SERPs. To an extent, it has worked, but what Google didn’t foresee is how bad the non-SEO savvy webmasters really are at providing good content. After Panda and Penguin we have seen countless examples of deteriorating SERP result quality. What Google didn’t realise is that online marketers who are labelled “blackhat” by Google provided much of the quality content on the internet. Why? Because webspammers care about converting users, they care about understanding their target audience and they provide the best answers to queries in Google.
Providing user’s search queries with exactly what they are looking for is what blackhats do best.
To an extent, Google have achieved their intention of SERPs with higher listings for sites which don’t engage in webspam, but in the process they’ve replaced blackhat sites with boilerplate sites that contain little to no answers for a Google user’s search query. There are many examples of search results where authority sites who have perfected their content have been replaced by five page sites with a telephone number or subdomains from web 2.0 sites. And as always, when a system this harsh is actioned there have been many instances of collateral damage where good honest mom’s and pop’s businesses have been wiped out with no explanation or indication of the problem. This surge in confusion and anger can clearly be seen in Google’s webmaster forums on a daily basis.
Other driving factors behind Google’s change of policy
It is possible that the “do no evil” Google that was much loved has turned into a corporate cash grab. When you step back for a moment and take a look at the bigger picture a few things become apparent about Google’s policies and actions. Firstly Google has shareholders who continually demand a increase in profit in order to keep up the facade that Google is growing every year, they will not allow the company’s market value to drop by any means. With this in mind we’ve seen an aggressive stance towards SEO and organic search results are being pushed out in preference to PPC listings.
Just a few changes which indicate this;
It is always a big assumption to say “Google just wants PPC” and Google are just “money-grabbing fatcats”, I am not a conspiracy theorist, but I believe in logic and facts. What we’ve seen from Google is probably an internal conflict, on the one hand we have those at Google with the intention of doing well and genuinely want a better user experience, but as Google has grown there will be political factors at hand which are now influencing the company and from past histories of similar companies I do believe there are forces at work within Google which are now locking the company into relentless self preservation and do not care about the little guys or what they’re doing to the quality of their search engine. They are interested in numbers, they are interested in competing with Facebook and Bing, they want to win and in doing so they are going to step on anyone that gets in their way.
A lack of transparency and seeding false information
One of the more sinister and alarming occurrences is Google’s lack of transparency and in some ways lack of respect towards webmasters. Matt Cutts has repeatedly made statements which are then tested and proven untrue or that conflict with what another Google employee with less PR training but is more technically involved has stated.
What this means for us
It means that Google’s imperfect system has become unstable and problematic for users, online marketers and Google itself, in fact, in the past week Matt Cutts released a video stating that they will be relaxing Panda, something which I think highlights that Google knows about the declining quality of SERPs created by Panda. What we have to do as SEO specialists is begin to change our approach to SEO by evolving and adapting to the current state of Google’s SERPs, something i’ll talk about in another blog post. In essence, i’ll be looking at what currently ranks, how and why this is happening and how we should plan future SEO campaigns to cope with Google’s updates.