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Government Intervention in Search Won’t Save Your Business

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Techcrunch (one of my personal favorite tech blog), posted an article today about Search Marketing. The title (“The Time Has Come To Regulate Search Engine Marketing And SEO”) really caught my attention, but later I realized that the article is not from the usual in-house Techcrunch editors but from an “Anonymous” writer, who is the supposedly a well known executive of one of the largest sites on the Internet. Techcrunch writes: “The author wants to remain anonymous – because of the backlash he would receive from the SEO industry and possibly Google itself…” [Yeah you bet..]

Anyway so whats the deal? The author goes on and rants about how “search ranking” is not fair in general. He writes –

Through an uncontrolled set of factors search engines determine which listings appear at the top and bottom of any individual query. In addition, consumer behavior dictates the top three results on any search page are all that matter. If you happen to own an online business, unless you exist within those top three, the amount of individual traffic you will obtain from organic listings is very, very low.

Its funny that even though search has been there for over 10 years, many people still don’t get search! The author says that unless you are in the top three of an individual keyword you get very low traffic — I just find this statement completely ridicules. What he is trying to imply here is, if you sell cars and you don’t rank in the top 3 for the key phrase “car”, you are done!

But if any of you have done Organic or Paid search for a while then you would probably agree with me that ranking for the phrase “cars” might not give you the best ROI, when compared to ranking for some other terms related to cars. Search is no longer a ‘keyword game’ like it used to be in the early days. Many people still live in 90s and looks at search as a Yellow page or Web directory (which it is certainly not!).

A Search engine is not a place where people comes and just throws in a generic word and find a bunch of address to buy stuff. Yes, that was search when Yahoo was “Jerry’s Guide to the World Wide Web” and Google did not even existed. But now search involves more than just a bunch of keywords. Search engine is a place where people does their online research. It is like a huge digital library of anything and everything on the web. Search was never intended for ‘advertising’, but Google sort of found a way to make search more useful by showing relevant ads (of products/services) that you search for. The model became successful and thats why Google is in its current position and has so much money that they could really afford to continuously evolve search by making it better and doing new things with it. If they couldn’t make any money out of search then this industry wouldn’t have come this far!

Its not a Search Engine’s job to help your business to make money on the web. A search engine is there to provide its user the most relevant information when a user searches for something. Now if any advertisers could just pay $100 bucks and get into the search engine then that ‘relevancy’ and ‘quality’ wouldn’t be there and people wont trust and find the search engines any useful! Just imagine if this model was actually practiced, who would have been the winner? Google! Because then they could just control the search ranking in any way they wanted and they could just decide that — ranking for #1 spot for the word “cars” would be say $22,339 per day. But luckily no major search engine (including google) followed that model and did a pretty good job of keeping the organic search ‘separate’ from paid search so that “We” (users) are benefited and the search results stays non objective and useful rather than being like an online version of a Yellow page full of paid listings.

The author goes on and writes…

…. As the proprietor of that business you may hire search engine optimization companies to assist in increasing your rankings on organic results, with or without success. And at any one time, the controller of these borders (that is, the search engine itself) can change and manipulate those rules – and that can substantially decrease or destroy all organic traffic coming to your website, without notice and without your knowledge.

Certainly a search engine needs to often ‘tweak’ its algorithm to make things better and to keep all the garbage out. If someone ever leaves a spammy comment it my blog, its very likely that I’ll notice it during the comment moderation and remove it straight away. Even if it by chance gets in, as soon as I find it out during my weekly/monthly housecleaning, I’ll definitely take all the actions that is required to keep that ‘spam’ out of my blog and also to further prevent that from happening.

Search engines crawls billions of pages. If they were to rank everybody Number #1 then a search engine wouldn’t have the same level of usefulness as it has today. If I have a question that I don’t have the answer to – I can pretty much guess that I’ll get something after I “Google” or “bing” (lol) it! This assumptions has not built up in a day – it has built up from our past experiences with these search engines.

Google really have set the standard of search pretty high right from the beginning, which eventually got the other search engines like Yahoo & now Bing to improve their results as well. Now we really take it for granted that no matter what it is, If it ever existed, It can and will be found via the search engine.

If Google and other search engines didn’t do those ‘tweaks’, search engines would be full of SPAM! And if those tweaks took your site out from the index, then definitely you were doing something that you shouldn’t be doing. And if there has been a mistake, you can always request for a reconsideration or invest money on Sponsored Search. I’m not saying that Google is a saint here, But I don’t think that we should generalize a few bad experience here to call a search giant ‘evil’.

The question that you should be asking yourself is – Why your business needs to depend so much on Google that if they stop showing your site in the top 10, you are out of business?

What happened to – the other search engines? Display Advertising? Social media? Your Branding?

If your ‘business’ is really that good, I don’t think that you are limited to getting traffic only by ranking your site in the top 3 for a search term. If I need an antivirus software today and I go on to Google to search for one, I would probably come across tens and thousand of reviews that vouches for AVG to be a very good one. So even if AVG somehow gets removed from the Google index, the reference of AVG being a Good antivirus will always be there. And that is exactly what search is all about today. People mostly does ‘research’ on the web, and the advertising/marketing opportunity is just like a bi-product of search. Right now I can think of at least a dozen queries that I’d personally use to search for a new antivirus –

antivirus review
best antivirus
top 10 antivirus
free antivirus
free antivirus download
top antivirus software
Antivirus for home
virus removal software
remove ‘x’ virus
PC Antivirus
Windows Antivirus
Buy Antivirus
Antivirus 2009
antivirus with firewall

and the list can go on and on… and the opportunity is almost endless!

He writes:

…. if you haven’t successfully obtained enough traffic to your site from organic listings and you decide to rely on paid search, you still face a situation where regardless of how much you bid per click you may or may not show up at the top of the paid results. That’s because paid results that are displayed on any query are not only determined based on the price the buyer is willing to pay. Unlike other auctions that are completely priced-based, these results are determined and sequenced not only on price but also on quality of advertising and click-through volume.

Tell me why its not a good thing? Do you think it would have been really fair if everyone could just bid their way up to the top? Being a Google searcher for almost 9 years, I do find the advertising that is shown in the SERP useful! And why is it still useful? Because Google didn’t make it a solely auction based advertising network. If anybody could show up there by paying ‘more money’, then eventually businesses would just end up paying more and more and Google would have been the ultimate winner!

But due to the fact that they came out with a metric like “Quality Score”, it has sort of kept all the bad seeds away making the ads as useful as possible and at the same time maximizing their own earnings, which is pretty smart in my opinion. So If I sell a product/service that is really good and i have targeted it to the right audience then I should eventually get a good quality score. (More people would be interested in my product, they would click on my ad and they would convert). I think that’s fair, right?

The second factor is that the search engine can, at any time, determine that either company A or company B may or may not buy traffic within its index. And without notifying the company and with no path toward recourse and statement, the search engine can disable the paid search account from either business.

Well, Personally I never had my paid search account terminated nor that I have heard too many legit users who had issues with their Adwords account. But yes I can certainly understand if you were trying to run “poker ads”, running arbitrage, doing sneaky redirects to adult sites or just to put it simply — doing things that are against their TOS. If you break the law, you are to be punished – there is no escape, anywhere.

But certainly Google won’t bother to terminate your account for any competitive reason. I see both Bing & Yahoo search marketing ads in Google all the time. If they wanted, they could have said that “We wouldn’t allow any of our competitors to purchase ads on our network”. But thats certainly not the case.

Google, just like any other search engine does care about their users. Because the users is all they got. They don’t want to give them a bad experience and lose them forever. Pretty much all advertising network that are out there has something called “Terms of Services”, and if you break any of the terms – a temporary/permanent ban is inevitable.

Try to think from Google’s prospective — If you are spending money on Google’s ad network, its Google’s benefit (because they are getting your money). So unless you do something really ‘bad’ to piss them off – its on their best interest to keep you in the network so that they can drain your advertising budget. They are very aware that if you don’t to spend your advertising budget in Google, you would probably spend it somewhere else.

He further writes:

I’ve worked with many businesses who feel they are playing in Google’s world — behaviors from product decisions to marketing strategies rely completely on appeasing these undocumented and often mystical Google desires. I’ve seen companies choose to not work with Google’s competitors for fear that by building those relationships, they’re damaging the ability to be indexed properly on Google and are anxious that result sets will be compromised. Many likewise believe that by having a monetization relationship through Google, they will somehow achieve higher quality listings through organic search. I’ve also witnessed companies who, in addition to using Google for monetization, have preferred relationships with purchasing traffic through Google Adwords. By supporting this dual relationship, they appear to want to live by two sets of rules – those that exist within the Adwords marketplace and those that apply to the Adsense product. And because they’re walking on both sides of the (Google) street, they feel they have a strategic advantage — as though the Adwords product will enable them to acquire traffic at both a lower cost and with a looser rule set than their competitors.

Nice theory but unfortunately these are just speculations. People has the right to believe what they want to believe. Unfortunately thats not how the world does business. And I can’t think of a reason why people won’t speculate the same about Yahoo & Microsoft’s bing? They both have search, Ad network (serving ads in search and contextual ads running on publishing sites).

He ends his article by saying:

…. traffic generators that use rule-based algorithms to determine result sets must publicly disclose their methodologies. That is the means by which all businesses can compete freely in the organic and paid search marketplaces. If we lived in a world where Google didn’t hold sway over such a significant portion of consumer behavior, this kind of regulation wouldn’t be necessary. The market would be self-correcting, and we could trust the individual decisions of a healthy and competitive search industry. Regrettably, due to search dominance, the industry can’t be left to its own devices.

Today if a Search engine tells you exactly how and why it ranks a particular site, tomorrow there will be thousands of spammers, spamming the hell out of all search engines with their viagra and adult friend finder sites and make them rank #1 for every keyword on the planet. Is that the type of transpharency we need today? I don’t think so.

What is the Actual Problem with Search?

Well in the whole article, the author didn’t really identify any realistic problem with search. So I thought of adding few myself:

  1. Lack of competition- Search is definitely not a very competitive industry at this moment. Even though Bing looks promising, but it is still far away from where Google stands today. I believe a lot of problems will go away when people stops thinking of Google as the only search engine out on the planet. Have you ever tried Yahoo Search (http://search.yahoo.com). Sometimes it does return a lot better results than google.

    The problem is not with Google, the problem is with us! We like to stay dependent on Google (because probably they are currently the best in search), and are afraid to try other alternatives and use them. If all the 4 search engines today had the same quality standards, and same market share – Google (25%), Yahoo (25%), Bing (25%) & Ask (25%), then we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

  2. Lack of Technological Advances- We are still sort of sitting in the Web 2.0. Unless some ground breaking technological change happens anytime soon with new web technologies, search is going to stay pretty much the same. But isn’t Google always trying to make the difference? Let me list down the few things that I can remember right now, that Google introduced in search —
    • Personalized Search – Google now personalizes your search results, thus a search results page that you see is sort of customized to your preference and past web history.
    • Search Wiki – Google has given more control on User’s hand. Users have the ability now to perform certain social interactions on the search results page. They can leave a review on the page, move it up/down in the search results page or even remove it (and hear it ‘explode’.)
    • Geo Targeted Search – I’m located in Malaysia, and when I search for Pizza Google shows me results that are relevant based on my Geo Location.
    • Universal Search – As web has evolved over the years, people are using search engines more than just to find 10 plain links. Google’s Universal search is now showing maps, news stories, blog stories, Videos, pictures etc. right in the search results page.
    • Search options – Google also introduced several search options for filtering and refining your results
  3. Lack of Innovators – It took many years for people to understand the power of social media & the viral web. We are always late to innovate and adapt things. If blogs existed at the same time when web first came along, a lot of mainstream media wouldn’t have existed today. If Youtube and Hulu was there earlier than when they came in, we would have less TV channels and More “talents” today. Innovation and adaption evolves over time, Just because something isn’t perfect at the present time doesn’t necessarily make it ‘bad’ or ‘evil’.
  4. I’m not favoring Google here. But I’m just laying out the facts. Is Google perfect? No! Do they sometimes do things which are ‘unexplained’ and not by the book – Yes, Probably! But being a user of Google Search when I ask myself – is any other ‘better’ search engine today that does the job any better? My answer would be -No, Not As yet!

    So obviously search needs more competition, which will eventually make things better. But I don’t understand how putting regulation on SEO / Search Marketing or Google by the government is really going to help someone to rank in the search engines any better.

    Instead, Try thinking out of the box and look beyond “keywords”. If your sole way of marketing your business is your organic or paid ranking in a search engines for a keyword that
    100,000 other businesses are competing for then its not a very viable marketing plan, IMHO.

    You need your Purple Cow

    On top of everything, Google is one of the most ‘transparent’ when it comes to Organic & Paid Search. Their online help documentations and training materials & also several online help groups are by far the most extensive and detailed. (Look at the documentations of other engines like Yahoo. Ask & Bing). Google also have dedicated blogs on almost each areas that they cover on the web. They are also getting involved in the social media by officially announcing their 45 twitter accounts. So it really sounds kind of funny when we get mad at Google for “not being transparent” on the other hand we don’t really complain about anybody else who are probably doing things even worse.

    And lastly this is exactly WHY government shouldn’t be regulating search….


One Comment

  • Reply SEO Tools Hub |

    Isn’t this like taking away failing grades in school? Don’t want someone to rank poorly because it might hurt their feelings. Hey, guess what businesses are in business to make money. Competition is natural, as everyone is competing for their share of the consumer dollar. If you can’t lie with the big dogs…

So, what do you think ?