SEO

SEO’s: Time to Revolt Against Google?

The day every SEO has feared has finally arrived. Google has successfully pushed organic search results below the fold for certain popular queries, leaving only paid ads and Google’s own properties. How should SEO’s respond to this?

Google’s Destroying SEO

googles destroying seo SEOs: Time to Revolt Against Google?

Take a look at the Google screen shot above. The popular search query “hotels” has 3 main areas:

  1. An image carousel that, when clicked, performs another search on Google.
  2. Paid ads, which now occupies what was the organic search space above the fold.
  3. Google Maps, which sits above more paid ads.

Any SEO who sees this should be outraged! It seems Google is systematically trying to destroy our profession, replacing it with lower quality results that boost their own bottom line.

Before you rally the troops, take a deep breath and realize that this is only happening on a very small percentage of queries right now. It will be some time before Google can move the organic results completely off the first page for most queries.

Let’s not kid ourselves either. Google WILL continue to suppress organic results in favor of paid as long as consumers will tolerate it. Consumers will tolerate it as long as the quality of the paid results is up to par with organic listings. Why do you think Google placed such an emphasis on quality score in its AdWords program?

Adding Insult to Injury

It is kind of ironic that Google seems to be on the path of destroying SEO, especially when you consider its role in their success.

For the past decade, SEO’s helped brands make their sites search engine friendly — giving Google unrestricted access to their content.

SEO’s convinced brands to create great content so Google’s users would have a better search experience.

SEO’s showed brands that paid and organic can work together to achieve maximum results.

SEO’s understood the importance of Google+ and urged brands to setup and use the network.

Now, Google has made it clear that organic results will play second fiddle to ads. What a shame, but what we can we do?

Taking Action

As an SEO, I see three possible responses to this trend:

1) Play Along

Ultimately, Google’s search experience is controlled by the user. If user engagement drops off because of the proliferous paid ads, Google will ease up and organic will take the forefront again.

For users to actually stop using Google in favor of Bing, the search experience on Bing would need to be much better than Google’s. This could happen if Bing focused on organic search results, Google focused on paid search results, and Bing’s organic results were significantly higher quality than the paid results on Google.

This scenario would make Google push paid marketers to further improve the quality of their listings and landing pages. In turn, it will also require organic quality to improve.

This back and forth would continue until the cost to improve the quality of a page exceeds the ranking benefit, at which point the paid and organic quality scores will more or less be so similar that the user doesn’t care if it’s a paid or organic listing and Google wins.

This is essentially the path we’re on today. This option just ensures that outcome.

2) Revolt

I’m always amazed at the power large groups of people can wield, yet they almost never work together to realize that power.

Consider modern day society. For the most part, governments provide support programs for the people, but hold the power. However, when people are pushed too far, they revolt, and the government can be overthrown. This can happen online as well.

Google provides sites with traffic, much in the same way governments provide support programs. If enough people rely on those programs, then the majority votes to keep the government in power. Likewise, brands and site owners rely so much on the traffic Google provides, they vote to keep Google in power (by following Google’s webmaster guidelines).

What would happen if all of a sudden all websites blocked Google’s crawlers? In theory, Google’s results would quickly begin to degrade, users would look for alternate search engines and Google would start to lose ad dollars. The revenue loss would spook Wall Street and Google’s stock would nosedive. With the value of the company crashing, Google would start cutting back on its non-core products, slowing their innovation and creating the opportunity for other companies to step up.

The goal of course is not to take down a company as much as it is to shift the balance of power back to the masses. It would help Google see that search engines should serve content creators, not the other way around.

3) Diversify:

Diversification is a hybrid of the first two options – playing along and revolting. It’s essential to continue optimizing for Google as best we can, while looking to other sources to supplement the traffic loss.

Social networks, Q&A sites, and vertical engines all have search bars. Your content and products on places like Facebook, Quora, Amazon, YouTube, App marketplaces, and Pinterest can drive significant brand awareness and sales. Why not diversify your time and money so that your risk of total Google reliance is reduced.

We’re essentially putting ourselves in the mindset of, “If Google went away tomorrow, then what would we do?” without actively trying to make Google go away.

It’s still very much search engine optimization, it’s just a broader look at where searches are being done.

What will you do?

Google has fired the first shot: Organic listings are being suppressed, which forces brands to spend more money on paid search, lowering ROI on both paid and organic. It’s bad for searchers, it’s bad for brands, and it’s bad for search professionals.

We don’t HAVE to just sit by and watch. We’re free to play along, revolt or diversify. What will you do?

038f92b2f96b4f03c1041fce68d1590e 64 SEOs: Time to Revolt Against Google?
Dan Cristo is the director of SEO Innovation at Catalyst Search Marketing, a thought leader in the organic, paid and social space. Dan has been doing SEO since 2002, when he started his first company at age 20. An avid programmer and entrepreneur, Dan's latest project is the social media tool for bloggers, Triberr. Look for him on Twitter: @DanCristo.

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48 thoughts on “SEO’s: Time to Revolt Against Google?

  1. My only bit of advice would be to not succumb to the idea that free natural search traffic is some sort of unalienable right and/or that free search results necessarily make for a better search user experience.

    The two best search results for e-commerce-related searches are Amazon.com and Google’s Shopping results. Both of which are 100% pay to play.

    There will always be some degree of “free” natural search traffic, but I think it’s a huge mistake to view the world through SEO-colored glasses. Natural search is one of many sources of traffic and any lost of share in that channel necessarily results in an increase in share within other channels. Smart marketers will take advantage of that.

    1. Good advice Hugo. Depending on Google to bring business via organic search results has always been risky. They can, and do, change their algorithm overnight.

      Google is a commercial business, not a public utility. They own their search engine and they’re entitled to do what they like with it. .

      1. Google has done very well but like anything that becomes a god unto itself, it’s a monolith and has a need for complete control at all costs. The only way to give it a wake up call is to spend less with Google and start spending more with it’s competitors. Maybe it’s time to help yahoo come up out of the ashes. :) Or maybe Apple’s new iOS7 will give Bing new life. Who knows. But I do think we should all start getting a little agitated. (ps hi James Bull – long time no see)

    2. You’re absolutely right.
      Google is a business, and we’re not entitled to referral traffic from their site.

      In the same sense, our websites are our own, and Google isn’t entitled to our content.

      If Google wants to monetize our content, then I’m fine with that, so long as Google gives me traffic in exchange. No traffic, no content. This is the unwritten agreement every webmaster has with Google. And should we decide that as a class we no longer feel this arrangement works, then maybe we terminate it.

      1. It seems to me that many people are missing the point of your message. Our websites and the content on them is our product. We allow Google to display our products to their customers almost like an affiliate marketing program. In return for giving Google free information (products) to sell, they provide us with traffic.

        I really cannot see any SEO company reading this and not being disturbed by that image.

  2. The idea that Google should not move forward this way seems kind of ridiculous when considering the fact that Google is a business, not a service.

    If you think of Google as a brick and mortar location, why would any business owner want to see their clients come in, only to be followed by other people who stand around telling their customers, “Oh don’t choose that product, pick this one! See how we put these keyphrases here and here, yea that makes the product much better.”

    In addition, why would Google want to push free advertising when it could continue to capitalize on the revenue they generate through paid ads? Why wouldn’t Google create a system that favors those who pay big bucks in paid advertising, by giving those customers more real estate to be found on?

    I don’t agree that this is a bad thing for anyone other than the lazy SEO consultant and the very small business owner.

    1. Hey just remember the very small business owner is the backbone of most economies. Kill him and we all die.

      And if we follow your argument to it’s natural conclusion, Google ends up with no organic search results at all and essentially becomes the next Yellow Pages, total paid inclusions.

      Google were founded on great organic search results, it is why we came in the first place. If they continue to blur the lines between what is paid (an advertisement – you know the ones you can’t trust because after all anyone can pay for an ad) and what is an organic search result, then they might just have a class action on their hands for massive public deception.

      If that pendulum swings too hard, it’s usually too late to correct when it is finally obvious.

      Great article Christo.

      1. Call action? Really? It’s a business that is allowed to structure their services and offerings in any way they want. They do not hide their paid inclusion model, as they adjusted their definition of what this is last year. All of the information is public so I do not know why there is so much chatter on this idea that Google is this giant monster.

        In a capitalistic society, just go somewhere else. It’s that simple. But don’t comment on how unfair this is or how deceptive Google is cause at the end of the day, we all choose to use Google as our prime search engine.

  3. I still don’t understand how could Google win the case on monopoly accusations in the US if that’s exactly what they’re doing. Organic results are not objective and they ARE being manipulated by Google. The intention is for companies to end up moving to adwords and pay for traffic. Is it bad for them to promote their own products? no,
    But in Europe they own 95% of the market……so in that case it is bad. That’s not fair competition.
    They’re digging they own grave. Paid ads won’t have the same credibility. I hope Bing knows how to take advantage of this.

      1. Bing and Yahoo know what is going on and will do something to counteract it. It would be stupid not to take advantage of a situation like this. If Google continues, they are going to run themselves right into the ground. They might have been great, but all great things come to an end.

        I say we avoid putting all of our eggs in one basket and give Bing and Yahoo a shot. Users don’t like the ads and that is really the bottom line. My clients tell me that they always skip over the ads and click the first organic result, because they don’t know where the paid ads will take them. It is a matter of trust, and paid ads don’t have that.

  4. >What would happen if all of a sudden all websites blocked Google’s crawlers?

    Very interesting question! Speaking for myself, my traffic would drop by about 50% if I did this. Frankly I wouldn’t mind — my site isn’t commercial and I refuse to pay for traffic. The good news is that sites are a lot less dependent on Google than they were a few years ago. About 30 percent of my traffic comes from social right now (but this will likely change as Wall Street pressures FB, Twitter, et al to charge for exposure).

    Microsoft — which still has loads of cash, could offer a “Robots Bounty.” Webmasters agreeing to block the GoogleBot would get a guarantee from MS to make up for any monetary loss for up to six months. MS in return would get a lot of exclusive content. I’m sure MS has thought about doing something like this.

    1. Yes. If webmaster started offering exclusive access to their content to specific search engines it would certainly turn the tide on the Google/Bing war.

  5. I couldn’t possibly disagree with Hugo more about Google Shopping and Amazon being the best eCommerce search places online. Yeah, I guess they are if you want to limit yourself to only places that advertise.

    There are plenty of local brick and mortars stores where I live that I frequent because they offer better service and more expertise about their core niche business. The big boys who are advertising on TV that offer many of the same products can’t touch them in regards to their expertise and their prices are very similar.

    The best places to shop online are the places that specialize in a product niche. Many of those places cannot afford to advertise with Google Shopping or Amazon and keep the price of their products in check. Make it impossible to find those places and you make the internet a worse place.

    In Hugo’s world, those specialty shops disappear and we are left with nothing but the poor service offered by the WalMarts of the world.

    Oh, and if you get the massive group together, I’ll pledge to block Google in robots.txt for all of my sites. Few things I enjoy more than taking the giants of the world down!

    Unfortunately, those same handful of places that dominate the SERPs – especially where eCommerce is concerned – will not sign on. Why should they? They are at the top of the listings for every search.

    So, to the average searcher, nothing changes whether you stage a revolt or not – the listings still look the same!

    1. Maybe the big players will never sign on to block Google, but what if all the small and mid sized sites did? Google will all of a sudden have a big gap in their content, and won’t be able to return results for specific queries. That alone produces a substantial blow to the trust Google’s users have.

      Searches trust Google to always product the best search result, just like they trust Walmart to always have the lowest price, and Amazon to get their order right. What if Walmart no longer offered the lowest prices on many items, or Amazon constantly screwed up your order. You wouldn’t shop at Walmart or Amazon. Likewise, if Google couldn’t answer all your queries, you would start using an alternative. Google can’t let that happen.

  6. revolt! it’s so very easy today. set up a grassroot movement on facebook. enlist top bloggers to endorse the movement. there are so many players who would relish a weakened google. if the movement starts gaining momentum, google will take notice.

    1. True, tools like Facebook and Twitter make a large scale revolt possible. In fact, once the mainstream media starts to take notice things will go viral very quickly.

      That said, launching full frontal attack against the most powerful company in the world will result in some casualties. You almost need to have the backing of a few big guns in order to make an sort of impact. I’m sure Microsoft wouldn’t mind stirring the pot a bit.

  7. There are two ways to look at it really… the take you point out here Daniel, that it is getting harder for organic rankings above the fold and the take that with the new local section listing 10 businesses in a such a small area they have now opened up room for 10 businesses organically below. With the previous map section, for some search terms it limited the number of organic listings below 10 results.

    Also for those who were not able to get into the first page results of the map section, this gives them an opportunity to now reach the first page. So for the company or individual working on their SEO campaign it may give them an opportunity to give their client ‘first page results’. I know this doesn’t mean they will necessary gain more traffic from being on the bottom of page 1 but I believe with the layout, it gives more opportunity for organic rankings.

    @Hugo – pretty tough not to view SERPs through SEO glasses as that is how we help companies gain new business and how SEOs make money.

    1. We’ll need to see the net affect of all this on traffic, but for the most part anything below the fold has a very low click through rate. Maybe some companies will see a tiny increase by being at the bottom of the first page, but the lions share of organic traffic for those at the top of the organic results will now be funneled into paid ads. Great for Google, not so much for businesses.

  8. What Resolution are you using?
    If I scale your screenshot I get 1150 x 640

    Here are my browser stats from one of my sites:
    Size Visits Percentage.
    1280×1024 20398 24.38%
    1024×768 17791 21.26%
    1920×1200 8494 10.15%
    Other 8217 9.82%
    1680×1050 7507 8.97%
    1440×900 6767 8.09%
    1366×768 6287 7.51%
    1600×1200 4350 5.20%
    1152×864 2034 2.43%
    800×600 1391 1.66%
    1400×1050 300 0.36%
    2048×1536 110 0.13%
    640×480 38 0.05%

    Less than 2% would have your view with the organic results cut off.
    On my own machine, I see 3 organic listings.
    The large graphic at the top sorts results by user ratings and does not seem to be commercial.

  9. Why you would be optimising for “hotels” is beyond me. So much time, effort and investment for a generic tire-kicking search term. Let Google have the big ticket terms and let people pay truck loads of coin on AdWords for terms such as this , longer tail terms are the place you ought to be.

  10. Google is a private owned company and not a public sector undertaking. They can do whatever they want with their own properties. However, you are right that when people see more advertisements than genuine results on the top fold then they might want to shift to BING or YAHOO. We as SEO’s can also shift our focus to other search engines. But, this would not be easy as Google still holds 90% of the market share.

    I smell something is gonna change if Google continues to butcher SEO’s

  11. Revolt would never work, ultimately SEO isn’t the decision maker – our clients are. And do you think our clients are willing to let go such a large market? no way. How about a legal option? sue google for monopolistic behaviour as it’s in fact stifling competition to unfairly benefit it’s largest paying clients…

  12. @Paul

    I’m afraid if we were all to sue Google it would involve going over to Amercan soil to do so ;)

    As for the rest of the article, there are some valid points but no amount of revolting will work, despite what people think. Google have the time, resources and funding to not care anymore. As long as people keep paying for AdWords then a revolt would be useless. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot…

  13. It would be interesting if someone could organize a single day to block Google from their website. What impact would that have on Google? What kind of repercussions would there be? Would it have any impact whatsoever?

    Food for thought.

    1. Exactly. This type of activity would clearly fall under the “Revolt” category.

      Personally, I’d be happy to take part in this sort of movement.

  14. I agree with your view. I myself find that Google takes too much space in our lives nowadays. I’m not only talking about SEO but also in our private lives. If we look for a place, we check Google maps, if we want to buy something, we surf Google Shopping, if we want to view a clip then its youtube. I’m starting to get a little fed by this lack of diversity…

    1. Believe it or not, there are actually many alternatives for the services your mentioned. The problem is that most of those services are startups, or unknown companies. Google dominates because it owns our mindshare. If we’re willing to explore the space, we can break away.

      1. I’ve fallen into this trap. On any given day I’m using;

        G Docs
        Gmail
        Calendar
        Maps (now as a GPS too)
        Analytics
        WMT
        Keyword Planner
        Google.com for SEO tasks
        PageSpeed Insights
        Trends
        YouTube
        …all on Google Chrome (except when on my iPhone)

  15. I am using the IP of San Francisco, CA and when i searched “hotels” on google, it showed me 10 organic results on 1st page. And also you haven’t put the entire 1st page result on the image. So how will we know that you have shared the correct info on your post.

  16. OK here is my £0,02 about google and what this article present us (well written btw and thanks for taking the time to post it)

    What you do here is take for granted that people are dependent on Google. Yes tGoogle is doing a fair good job at presenting results, but the moment people see that google has switched from a search engine into a ppc ad fest (cause yes google wants those ££££ in their adword accounts instead of your pocket) they will simply switch google with something else. This will happen for 2 reasons.

    1) Noone is interested at a space where a corproration is presenting self/ad/promoted stuff, this is not the reason they “google” something..

    2) Noone has ANY emotional involvement with Google. NOONE. (maybe 0,0001% but thats it).

    Before I get debated let me remind you that noone expected myspace to go off, yahoo to stop being top, msn to get retired, Microsoft to have the worse browser in history of the internet, hotmail to become the last email option etc.

    It is human nature for people not to trust advertisements. Remember all of you how annoyed you feel when people pitch you out of the blue, how defensive you immediately feel and act. Yes google for years now is following a more “do what we say” and a “we do what we want” attitude but i sincerely do hope they understand that noone gives a damn about them. the moment they do what this article states (or similar tactics turning their page one into a google magazine) and something more reliable comes people will simply switch. Ask yourselves: you care if google switch off tomorrow? how many weeks until people adopt bing (or any bing )? A week? two? at most. People will simply move on and google will fall behind.

    1. Thanks for the compliment, and comment on the article.

      Yes, people trust advertisements much less than other forms of content, but on the other hand, people find it very hard to leave things they are comfortable with, even if they aren’t happy with it.

      Take Facebook for example. Everyone I know hates the ads on Facebook, yet they won’t switch to Google+ even though it’s ad free. Why is that? Network effects, brand loyalty, enertia and other switching costs make it hard for them to leave.

      Like Superbowl commercials and movie trailers, people actually enjoy ads when the quality is high enough. That is Google #1 goal right now. Make ads so good people don’t notice that they are ads. This is Google’s game plan right now. The question is whether everyone wants to sit back and watch it unfold, or if there is something we can do about it.

  17. I definitely understand all the anger towards the knowledge graph carousel. But leveraging web semantics to deliver more relevant results is only going to become more prevalent. And i think this is a great thing. I am an SEO for a major hotel brand, and we are seeing two major things happen since the introduction of the carousel.
    1.) increased bookings. All of our hotels appear in the KG carousel, whereas in regular, non local results, our visibility was great, but not always #1. Now, these local results are the first thing potential customers see. They click out hotel entity on the carousel and Google requeries the SERP with our hotel’s name. This is great, but as a result,

    2.) We are losing tons of keyword data. Google does not pass on the initial keyword query data before it repopulates the new query, after the click. So we are contending with “term not provided” and “term inaccurately provided by Google”. So we basically only are seeing brand terms due to the carousel, and unable to access the nonbrand keywords that are initiating the conversion.

    Has anyone else seen this happening? It’s a big deal for the travel industry, but i dont think too many other verticals have to contend with this (yet). I can really see the carousel showing up for more nonbrand terms for other types of ecommerce sites.

    1. Hey Matt,
      Thanks for sharing your experience.

      I do think we’re going to start to see the carousel show up in many more queries. Google is 100% focused on building out the knowledge graph, and that beefed up graph is going to continue working it’s way into the SERPS.

  18. Here is how you can TRULY REVOLT:

    You need to build a BRAND pure and simple. Google will always do certain things that SEO’s don’t like and those types of things will always be in a constant state of change.

    We will always play the SEO game to stay ahead of the curve and use what’s working but the true solution to this is to create a dominating brand of your own.

    1. I wouldn’t say creating a dominating brand is revolting. In fact, I would say it’s exactly what Google wants. Big brands fuel most of Google adwords revenue. All Google needs to do is hook you on traffic, then slowly take it away in favor of adwords.

  19. This was a very well written article; thanks for this.

    Organic search being pushed down the page is a concern, for sure. Paid search is not something that all businesses can do, especially as individuals start a bidding war on certain phrases. It just is not feasible. However, one sentence you mention concerned me and where I would have to disagree:

    “It would help Google see that search engines should serve content creators, not the other way around.”

    I would disagree with this. The intent of Google search is to allow consumers to find content they are looking for. Does this serve a creator’s interests? For sure, but I would argue that should be secondary – depending on the site. A technical blog, as many of my colleagues in the field will attest to, sometimes serves as a place for them to put their thoughts and discoveries so they don’t lose it. Many have stated that years later they search the web for a keyword and discover their own site has the answer as they posted it some time back. It serves that purposes.

    Businesses, though, face a different challenge. Many businesses offer a service and/or product that they want people to find and to market to them. However, many of these businesses at times get bogged down by marketing agencies who have a specific look and feel and wording to their content that do not always work when considering search, and so businesses get impacted as a result. Why are we not on the first page of Google results? Because you have one sentence on your home page that is filled with images – albeit gorgeous ones – but hold no value to a user searching. The same holds for your interior pages – it’s very visual but little to no substance that provides users a proper channel in which to hone in on and discover content.

    Yes, creators are extremely important; without them, there is nothing TO search. However, the search users are consumers and so the focus on the search should be the consumer, not the creator. Creators should cater to the consumer (to an extent) because they want the consumer to come to their site. I agree 100% that focusing your site to cater to search engines is bad, but not catering to consumers at all I would argue is worse.

    Anyways, by 2 cents, long as it is. I am not an SEO professionally, but I do have to work in the space from a high level – just for full disclosure. Maybe I am wrong and, if so, I would like to be pointed to how I am.

  20. I think that if Google keeps suppressing organic results, another player will eventually introduce a substitute. Here’s my question – Is there a software company that can replicate the robust search queries Google can produce ?

  21. I think should ponder if google will survive with only the powerhouse companies with the budgets competing in adwords .

    I doubt that google would try and force this change in the services area, I can understand them doing this more and more where products are being sold. I have only really seen this activity around search results that are directly related to the sale of tangible products , I think it would be a mistake if google where to do this to service based websites also.

    Personally I have a few clients that don’t want me to even try and compete for organic search terms in google , they prefer to try an get their traffic from Bing, Ask , Yahoo and other search engines… they prefer putting their efforts in SEO towards a smaller market where it is slightly easier to rank a website.

    I see this happening if google where to attack the services based websites… the smaller companies would be forced and this would naturally occur where their focus for traffic would be other search engines and mediums of traffic (the social side etc), they just simply would not have the budgets to compete in the paid search results areas

  22. Unfortunately, it is still hard to beat Google for overall search experience. I was using DuckDuckgo for a while, but have mostly moved back to Google.

    Google really needs some competition though. Monopolies, or near monopolies, are never good things. Power always corrupts.

    1. I switched to DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, but I still find myself going back to Google for certain types of searches. Images, long-tail questions, site searches: those type of things. I do hate how Google has stripped away our privacy.

      1. I tried DuckDuckGo and have gone back to google as well. I did some research the past week and besides you Dan I hardly see a mention of this story.Maybe because I was using Google. People will leave if they push this too hard to quickly. But the writing is on the wall. The are a privately owned company with share holders. If they can extract every dime out of their platform they will. So long as doing so does not decrease revenue.

  23. You’re right. Google is not only the source of traffic. It’s time to think about alternative. There are many other resources doing well and provide targeted traffic. For example : bing, yell, yelp, Tripadvisor, FB, Twitter, Pinterest etc..

  24. Google will do this and will push it as far as it can go. Once the outcry is enough they will go back to more organic rankings on their site. They’ve pushed PPC hard before and they relented after a while. All this is is a money play, nothing more. Not every business will do PPC, and once Googles rep gets a little tarnish on it, they “will have a change of heart” and “be a search engine for everyone”…..After they’ve pocketed a few hundred billion….

    Want it to go back to the way it was?….Don’t talk “revolt”….talk “Best options for YOUR client.” Once Google gets a bad reputation as a money-grubbing corp….change will occur.

    It IS a business, but remember, they need us as well…start steering people towards Bing, Yahoo et. al and *poof* problem will be solved.