Google Changes the Game… Again – Paid Inclusion.
Google seems to be changing the ranking game.. again. If you were relying on an exact-match product name to secure an above-the-fold listing at Google, think again.
Google describes the change as a “delightful shopping experiences for consumers in close partnership with merchants.”
In a nutshell: Google is claiming more of its above-the-fold real estate. When you search for a product-related phrase, almost everything you’ll see — unless you scroll down — will be paid ads.
What it means for website owners: Unless your website is among the paid inclusions (meaning: you’ve bought ad space), or your website is #1 for that product or kind of product, your Google listing will appear below the fold. You know, the range where it’s so quiet, all you hear are crickets chirping.
The headlines are dire:
- Forbes.com explains How Evil are Google’s New Paid Shopping Search Results? As Anthony Wing Cosner explains, “Google will position itself as a collector of a tithe on all commerce that flows through it.”
- SEO Book shows you the bad news — in the form of a heatmap — at their article, Google Paid Inclusion Programs: Buy a Top Ranking Today. They said it well, “The issue of the incredibly shrinking organic result set is something that can’t be over-emphasized. For many SEOs the trend will absolutely be career ending.” If you want your product-related website or webpage to attract traffic via Google, SEO won’t matter; just buy your spot above the fold.
- And, in a short but to the point article, TrafficPlanet.com said it all in their headline, Google all set to kill the SEO business.. at least for ecommerce sites and amazon affiliates.
Where does that leave people like you and me, who don’t want to spend money on ad space at Google?
For a long time, I’ve been talking about the importance of content at your affiliate websites. Frankly, you want to be such a great resource, you’re able to bypass search engines altogether. You already have fans who never miss your latest article or review, and follow your website via RSS or email. And, when you post something especially good, they tell their friends (via Web 2.0 sites) about you… with a link.
This means that you can’t rely wholly on autoblogging, no matter how sweet they make that sound at places like the Warrior Forum. You absolutely, positively must build a solid reputation for unique, valuable and original content.
And, if you’re relying on SEO to make you the one-and-only site appearing above the fold when someone searches at Google for a product or a kind of product… forget it. You can no longer build your business on that concept. Google is stacking the deck against you. They may say the new listings format will enable shoppers to learn more about the product and then “buy it from their merchant of choice.” However, Google is making pretty darned sure that “merchant of choice” is a business that’s paid to become the shoppers’ choice.
The thing is, shoppers aren’t stupid. As Forbes’ Kosner said, “if consumers feel that the results that are returned are not necessarily the best deals and are there for purely commercial reasons, they may begin to look suspiciously at all of the new structured data displays that Google is rolling out.” (emphasis added)
If you’re thinking the game is entirely under the thumb of Google, think again. Remember the 1990s, when we thought Yahoo would always be the #1 search engine?
Yes. It’s like that.
After the recent privacy changes at Google, many people switched to the anonymity, clean lines and friendliness of Duck Duck Go. Bing is also rolling out some hard-core competitive advantages, to attract more visitors to their search engine.
The more Google becomes visibly commercial, the more searchers will feel uneasy about Google’s search results.
Stop investing in SEO aimed at Google. In fact, if you’re thinking of SEO first and your visitors’ experience second (or third, or lower) when you’re adding to your website, stop… full stop.
To paraphrase your grandmother: If you can’t say something meaningful and worth your visitors’ time, don’t say anything at all.
Affiliate sites can still succeed. They’re just less likely to succeed if they’re all about making money and not about creating enthusiastic, loyal fans. Seth Godin and others have been saying this kind of thing for years.
If your business model depends on manipulating and gaming Google to achieve above-the-fold positioning for products by name, it’s time to change your business model. Big time.
Affiliates: Quit aiming all of your website efforts at ranking well for “buyers’ keywords.” (You know, phrases that include terms such as: buy, cheap, best prices, reviews, purchase, bargain, compare, and discount.)
Remember, if people are searching for something that isn’t a “buyers’ keyword,” you’re less likely to be competing with paid shopping results. That’s where to invest your efforts.
Sure, click-through rates are far lower if you’re not targeting buyer keywords. If you can’t compete for the #1 spot using buyers’ keywords, the point is moot. Aim for the traffic you can get.
Likewise, if you’re aiming for long-tail keywords (even buyer keywords) that have little or no competition, you can still rank well; there won’t be any paid shopping results between you and the top of the page.
But, all in all, it’s time to bail from the whole autoblogging, SEO-for-product-name nonsense.
Create good content. Create lots of good content. You can still build your websites around affiliate links, just don’t waste your time making them the sole focal point of your work.
Rank well as an authority in your niche. Know your topic. Write great articles. Keep your readers current with real curated content from all around your niche. Include superb reviews that your readers trust, and — in those reviews — include your affiliate links.
Remember when you were in high school and you used to go to the library to do research? Everyone knew that was code for “hang out with your friends,” but you probably did some research there, too.
The Internet is the new library. Become one of the friends people want to hang out with. Make your website the cool place to be.
Let Google shoot itself in the foot. They’re losing major trust points with searchers as Google’s commercial interests push out meaningful search engine results.
You’re going to be fine, as long as you shift your focus to content, and become a resource people trust for recommendations more than they trust Google.
Hey, the way things are going, that’s not going to be difficult.