Google’s corporate motto is “don’t be evil.” When this was unveiled in 1999 / 2000 (attribution claims vary), it was seen as something of a dig at various large companies and the way they operate. Zooming forward to the present day, I find myself wondering if Google are beginning to lose sight of this ethos and become a little drunk on their own power.
I run a number of blogs. One of them has, over the past few years, become rather successful. Now, I don’t mean “earn a fortune, quit my job” successful, but successful enough to attract advertisers, gain loyal readers running into the thousands, win a couple of small awards, and earn me enough money to make the time I spend on it worthwhile.
So, why am I moaning about Google? Well, it started a few months ago, when I began to notice my unique visitors dropping like a stone. I had a chat with an “industry” friend, and he pointed me in the direction of a very interesting article about how Google is slowly “killing off” organic search.
According to the article, there’s now less and less space on a typical Google search page dedicated to organic results, and more and more dedicated to revenue-generating Google products. The examples in the article include a search for “auto mechanic” where only 13% of screen real estate on a 13” Macbook Air ended up displaying natural search results. A search for “Italian Food” on an iPhone showed NO natural results whatsoever on the first screen (barring one from Google-owned Zagat) and required a scroll through four pages of information before any truly natural results appeared at all.
So how does this affect independent bloggers? In my case, my blog has been at the top of Google’s results for a number of relevant search terms for several years. Now it has dropped down, typically to fourth or fifth place. So why has this happened?
Well, it’s clearly due to one of the recent algorithm updates, but looking at the sites that are now on top reveals little. While one or two may arguably have more “authority,” some are small commercial companies appearing seemingly at random, which tells me that despite Google’s punishing algorithm updates, some sites are still manipulating their rankings with SEO techniques and are slipping through the net.
After spending years creating good content and building readers, Google moves the goalposts, resulting in far fewer people finding my site.
While I know this sounds like “sour grapes,” I’d be less bitter if I truly believed that all the results that have pushed me from the top deserved to be there. I’d find it easier to accept the situation if some didn’t contain vastly out of date content that (personal bias aside) simply doesn’t deserve to be there.
The more I think about it, the more it seems that increasingly, the only way to ensure people consistently find you on Google is to pay Google. Even if you’re doing well in the organic results right now, the next algorithm change may plunge you into obscurity, especially when Google’s page layouts now mean that even being on the first page of the natural results doesn’t mean anyone will see you without lots of scrolling.
Google built its popularity on being fast, clear and fair. It would be a terrible shame if that “don’t be evil” slogan came back to bite it.