Business Magazine

Is Google the Online Marketer’s Perfect Frenemy?

Posted on the 28 August 2013 by Georgestevens @Nebstone
SEO guide

As an online marketer, how do you feel about Google? Do you worship the ground the search giant walks on, or are you more ambivalent about its influence over the online world?

Whatever your opinion, Google’s importance to the internet cannot be understated – it accounts for more than two-thirds of searches, while its nearest rival, Bing, accounts for just 17.4 per cent.

But can Google really be expected to act in the best interests of online marketers, especially when their needs often conflict with those looking to drive organic traffic to a website? Much of the evidence suggests not.

The SERPs battleground

Anyone who has a basic knowledge of search engine marketing will know that Google makes most of its cash through advertising. Its users, however, seem to be in the dark on this matter.

A study conducted by 123-reg revealed that half of people hadn’t spotted adverts in Google’s search results, even though 85 per cent of queries return at least one ad.

For digital marketers, the worry is that organic search becomes devalued if users are unable to tell the difference between paid and non-paid results – there’s no point in building your rankings if people are just going to click on the first thing they see and the first thing they see is an ad.

To make matters worse, Google seems intent on pushing organic results as far down the page as possible – with news results, stock tickers and a range of answers to direct questions appearing at the top of results pages, often everything apart from the first organic result is pushed below the fold.

Playing fair on AdWords?

But it’s not just those vying for contention in organic results who face issues with Google, reports suggest its AdWords customers have worries of their own. Matthew MacDonald, director of inbound marketing at Expedia, has released a recording of a voicemail which he says features a Google account manager turning a blind eye to breaches of the AdWords terms of service.

He believes this is because account managers are more focused on increasing the amount customers spend, rather than increase the quality of the ads which are being server to users.

Indeed, the search engine does seem to have form in this area – last year the BBC discovered Google was profiting from ads relating to unofficial London 2013 Olympics ticket resellers – reselling Olympic tickets without permission is a criminal offence.

In 2011, it had to pay a $500 million fine because of the way it allowed pharmacies based in Canada to use AdWords to target consumers in America. These are just two examples.

Whatever happened to quality?

All of the above seems a little odd for a company that has built its reputation on delivering quality results for users. Anyone old enough to remember search engines before Google will know that the most relevant results for your query could often be buried four or five pages deep. Google’s ability to rank pages in terms of relevance and present the most suitable result at the top was ground breaking.

Now, it seems quality is a secondary consideration to profit. Whether that really matters in the long term remains to be seen – perhaps Google’s reputation for quality is solid enough that it can trade relevance for profit without hurting its prospects. And, to be fair, it does partially rank its search ads on quality, so the principle hasn’t been abandoned totally.

However, it seems highly unlikely that the company will willingly concede any of the advantages it has created for itself, and that’s what should worry digital marketers.

Google is not your friend

Google can drive huge amounts of traffic to your website, and for that reason a lot of marketers view the search engine as a positive, benign impact on their business. However, as we’ve seen above, the company isn’t averse to squeezing your organic traffic.

So what can digital marketers do about this? It’s tempting to suggest a campaign to educate people about exactly what they can expect to see in search results, although the comparative flop that is Bing’s Scroogled campaign indicates this isn’t the way to go.

Waiting for regulatory bodies to take action doesn’t seem to be an option either – after all it took ten years for the European Union to act on Microsoft’s dominance.

Perhaps then, digital marketers should take a leaf out of Google’s book and try and twist things in their own favour – this is easier said than done when you’re going up against a company that generates billions in revenue, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

Even if organic traffic from Google is your top source of visitors, you can still take steps to wean yourself off it. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Offer an opt-in email newsletter to visitors - that way you can encourage them to visit again without relying on them finding you on Google a second time.

Push your social media accounts - again, this a way to get people to return to your site without being dependent on organic results.

Build a brand - This is easier said than done, but if you concentrate on building a well-known brand, as a consequence your reliance on non-branded organic keywords will fall.

The bottom line

Remember, Google doesn’t exist to make you money – it exists to make money for Google and its employees. If it comes down to a choice between acting in its own interests and acting in your interests, then it will always protect itself over you.

Google isn’t your friend, it’s your frenemy and it pays to treat it as such.

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