Recent articles have again cracked the curtain a little on a great and all powerful search engine god.
This article appeared in Mumbrella 2016, republished unedited here
To want to understand this marvel is no mystery. How benevolent this creation must be! A glimmering golem, giving only those who have worked hard a golden blessing in the form of a top listing.
The spirit of this great brand assured us that businesses that played by the rules got organic listings and the ads were a necessary tax for making sure you got the best of both worlds.
Look closer though and organic is likely not a signal for authentic anymore as competition for rank becomes even more pronounced. Will this mean Google gold turns into yellow paper due to the rules of the game it created and plays in?
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Google does not want you to click on the organic results. It is in its best interest to create such an unholy mess below the fold that its controlled, pin-pointed and paid for results become more attractive to click.
That is its main source of revenue and this is well under way. But users want businesses they can trust, not those that are good at link building and content, which is strangely what Google encourages.
So, much like in days gone by, the race to the top of the organic directory creates a distorted picture of legitimacy.
Whereas before you reached the top by calling yourself AAA Accounting, now it has become 600 words spun and sprinkled with intent keywords that is then linked to in some other 600 word blog whose authority is determined by having held the domain since 2007.
Or, much like adding a few As, if you want to rank higher these days, just create a longer listicle than anyone has ever done before. Yes, that sums up the state of SEO, in that the advice from one of its most promoted prophets is to just make things longer. No wonder it’s becoming harder to use Google.
The plot thickens when you read some of the other disciples’ advice. Buying expired domains and redirecting, buying links, reviews, weaselling onto educational sites and creating your own networks centred around the ‘money site’.
These are all accepted techniques to rank organically, which kind of dampens the whole ‘organic’ meaning. One can only imagine what secret methods the trade actually keeps to itself these days. Wait, but Google is working really, really hard on algorithms to counter these practices, correct?
Hold on to your foil hats. This may seem crazy, but Google is a business. Why wouldn’t it allow these practices to eventually turn the organic results into such a poor indicator of ability to fulfil the query, so that a searcher would begin to be more likely to trust paid results?
It could even fan the flames of competition periodically with rule changes designed to create arms races, currently being seen in the race to build pages upon pages of linked content.
Firstly, is the content prioritisation merely Google wringing what it can from its partner sites before ad-blocking truly takes hold, as more pages equals more eyes, but mostly, is the customer truly better served by all this content?
Therefore, how long before the good king Google steps in and saves us from organic listings completely? It’s not hard to imagine that the paid listings are then seen as more trustworthy – Google “Refined” by the consumer.
This would suit the Google brand personality of a just saviour and overcome the problem of avoiding ads due to the ‘inauthenticity’ of them.
It would perhaps announce that, reluctantly of course, in response to being unable to control the Serps (search engine result pages) any longer, and in order to fulfil search intent, isn’t it better that we moved the organics off page one altogether?
If you want to go ‘organic’ you can always risk page two. Of course, that would likely mean the end of the SEO industry *sniff* and with so many infographics left undone! Seriously though, what might this future look like?
More aggregate and comparison portals seem likely as PPC (pay-per-click) makes more sense for them. In what may already be a signal of what the future may hold, Menulog, HiPages, Finder, Oneflare are examples of local directories with big investments made in the last few years.
Iselect, Compare the Market, Wotif and the REA Group’s pages are other examples of very large companies that have thrived despite or due to how easy it was for businesses to be found on Google.
When everyone is going content crazy for attention is it any wonder that sites that have the bare minimum, or that save you searching through its content, become popular?
It’s taken massive usability and architecture investments along with big brand building campaigns, but now they have the purchase intent traffic for their vertical seemingly sown up.
For top-of-funnel, it’s hard to see social and trusted forums reducing their influence, also due to superior authenticity to current organic content.
So, between the new directories, aggregators, Adwords, Merchant and Map listings, you would think the writing would be on the wall for investment in content for organic search purposes.
Not to mention all the effort put into artificial link building to actually make the content rank.
All Google has to do is point these tactics out to the public to remove trust from any listings it doesn’t get paid for.
Even if you don’t subscribe to this outlandish theory and value brand awareness at research stage, even the most ardent content marketer and SEO must realise we have developed content fatigue by now, and something’s got to give. Whatever that is, it will probably end up suiting Google just fine.