Is Google too powerful?

The other day I heard an interview on NPR about an online furniture store who got completely thrashed by Google’s recent change of algo for its ranking. If you don’t know a few months back Google decided that it would focus on site quality more and changed it’s ranking algorithm in order to push up sites that were: “nicer” from a design stand point, but also had more unique content. The result is that tons a small online shops like that guy with his furniture store got completely downgraded and lost roughly 75% of their traffic overnight. As you can imagine this probably put some people out of business and there isn’t much recourse for those little guys. So is Google too powerful? who is Google to decide the fate of all those online stores? who is Google to declare that a site is “Nicer”, isn’t beauty very subjective? Isn’t craigslist the ugliest site you can imagine but still people use it and love it?Who is Google to decide that now businesses need to have unique description for their inventory? I mean, if I am a reseller and I am part of a distribution network, my differentiator might be on price and or services but the objects I’m selling are  the same as my competitor.. why should I be impacted for that? The furniture store guy decided to rewrite everything with a bunch of writers and now has unique descriptions for his inventory, but how accurate are they? Isn’t that now a bunch of marketing BS where the original description could have been more accurate?

I got a bit worried about the situation honestly.. There is no alternative today to Google as an online store.. yes, yes.. there are Bing and Yahoo.. whatever.. There are no alternative I said! those last two do the same.. Put yourself in the shoes of a small online shop, you have very limited resources to maintain your SEO at the top of the curve. Google is changing it’s black box algo all the time, your big competitors have dozens of guys signing-up deals with other site to have links to them (they can, they have the money for it), how can you win as a small business in this environment? Wasn’t the web suppose to give a chance to everyone and not only big corporations? Google is also playing with algo that now basically only show 3 or 4 organic results on the page.. Small businesses don’t stand a chance unless they are very different, which is not a bad thing in itself but that makes it really much harder to start a business.

The point here is not to say Google is evil, because I do not believe that is the case. Google is a business and they need to make sure their users uses them. So what is the logic behind the change is that there was a increasing number of site that just bring inventory from other sites and resell. Those sites have no added value what so ever, those sites hurt legitimate businesses, those site require little or not effort to set up and real plague for legitimate businesses. If you are a user searching on Google, and land on those sites, which typically are pretty poorly designed and full of ads/pop-up and other annoying stuff, you will, as a user have a bad experience, and Google wants to avoid that. So, Google took the decision of forcing good design, which require investment and work to build, as well as unique content, which also require time and investment in order to automatically filter out those link farms automatically and boost legitimate businesses in the ranking. Of course some site are impacted, like our furniture store guy, but I believe that the overall result is better and Google probably made the right choice. So, yes, I think Google is too powerful, but I think they played a business game that is fair (not evil) and tried to just be better at what they do: providing useful and relevant search results for users.

The conclusion I would draw from this little story are the following:

  • Try to diversify your sources of traffic: Google of course, but Facebook, forums, blogs, SEM, etc.. the more diverse, the less sensitive you will be from Google’s changes. I know it’s easy to say.
  • Invest in your business: if you are serious, have a differentiated position and show it in your content. Why should people shop at your site rather than another that sells the same stuff. the message has to be clear and repeated through your site to SEO crawlers can understand why you are different.
  • Don’t be a link farm.

I think Google is really trying hard to bring results, trust your judgment, focus on your business and don’t try to fool the engines, that is not the business you are in, I don’t think that is really worth it.

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