Google Shuffles Deck on Natural Search Algorithm; Retailers Should be Beneficiaries
Buying the Farm: A Description of the Issues Being Addressed by Google
The recent algorithm changes from Google are designed to address two key issues: link buying and content farms. Google believes these are artificial techniques for executing search engine optimization to get higher natural search rankings without offering users valid content.
Link buying refers to leveraging services that allow for links from well-regarded sites to be connected to an advertiser's site for a fee, regardless of their relevance. Link buying has been around for years, and Google has made it clear that engaging in the practice is frowned upon. Companies that engage in link buying are subject to penalties if caught. The most famous and recent example is J.C. Penney, which has gotten a lot of negative attention in the past few weeks from both the search engine marketing trade press as well as the national press.
J.C. Penney was found to be ranking very well over the lucrative holiday season on a whole swath of keywords, some related to its business (e.g., dresses) and some not (e.g., area rugs). An investigation found the stellar performance to be the result of an aggressive link buying program by the retailer and its agency, SearchDex.
J.C. Penney has subsequently discontinued the practice and its results have foundered accordingly. Google wants natural search listings to be based on relevancy, not the wallet size of the advertiser. That’s what paid search is for, and Google wants that money to be spent with it, not agencies and link-buying firms.
The other big area of concern for Google is content farms, a 2.0 version of the old link farms that users would find often on search results that would display a long list of links of dubious quality. Content farms are similar in that they leverage a system to track trends in search queries, then either auto-develop or contract with writers to build content that's often irrelevant or low quality based on those top search queries. Google listed a couple of sites that it says are often associated with content farms: Yahoo’s Associated Content, AOL’s Seed, Demand Media’s eHow and Answerbag. Retailers either using these sites directly or having their agencies build content on these sites should expect to see degradations in ranking and traffic.
Most retailers don't use these types of services. In fact, link buying has been dying off over the past few years. The major vendor in this space recently sold its business in an acknowledgement of the increased vigilance on the part of Google to police this type of behavior.
Do the Right Thing: What Retail Advertisers Should Focus On?
What should retailers do? What does Google's algorithm change mean, and how can retailers take advantage?
First realize that most retailers won't be impacted by this other than positively. As stated above, none of Covario’s retail customers have been impacted adversely by the algorithm change, and a few have seen minor gains (largely as content farms that were ranking above them got degraded and relevant content moved up).