Let’s Get Optimized

Google’s Attack on SEO 2016

Am I the only one who has recently seen Google’s attack on SEO? I mean, SEO has been around for a long time. Ever since people realized that optimizing their website might get them to rank higher on search engine results pages, they’ve been finding ways to do so. For a long time, Google and SEO professionals shared a give and take sort of relationship.

Yes, it wasn’t always pleasant, but at least people from the SEO community knew what changes and developments Google had introduced. That information allowed them to come up with the right techniques to optimize websites. However, that seems to be changing.

In the recent months, Google’s attitude towards the SEO community and publishers has been both baffling and alarming. The company is noticeably more reluctant to share information about the changes it makes; it has become strict about penalties to such an extent that publishers are beginning to lose trust and interest in Google.

The Issue of SEO Transparency

Google has never really been completely open about the changes and upgrades it implements. However, there was a level of transparency there. People who are perceptive realized that Google did need SEO professionals as they interacted directly with the end product. While the company could control a lot of things, it really had no control over the quality of the websites.

SEO professionals interact with the publishers and improve the quality of the website. This leads to an improvement in the quality of the search results Google provides its users. It’s readily apparent that this is an interdependent relationship. In a way, the SEO professionals are a conduit between Google and website publishers.

Now, if Google maintains open communication lines with SEOs and makes them aware of the changes, the professionals can convey these rules to the publisher. That would help improve the overall quality of the website. In the end, both would benefit from this exchange. Google would get better quality results and website publishers would get more organic traffic.

But recently, Google seems to value mystery over transparency in most cases. Most of the recent announcements have been made directly, without communicating with SEO professionals. When the Google representatives are asked questions, they promptly reply that they know very little about the algorithm. It’s very possible that Google no longer cares about being transparent or giving the right information to SEO professionals and publishers.

Of course, Google does publish webmaster’s guidelines and other such helpful information, but that’s not going to do much. While SEO experts might be able to understand all of the information they put out, the website owners and publishers won’t be. All that technical information would possibly go straight over their heads.

Does Matt Cutts Leaving Have an Impact

When Matt Cutts announced that he was going on an indefinite leave last July, the SEO community really didn’t know what to think of it. Some people believed that it would be a good change. Not many liked Cutts because he wasn’t always very open and clear. However, many also felt that he did share pertinent information with the SEO community. He did provide as much information as he could about how search functioned in general.

However, Google has made it pretty clear that it would not be telling the industry much about Cutts’ replacement and the new person in the seat would be very unlike Cutts. It’s not yet apparent what the company means by this. But ever since Cutts left Google, the world of SEO has become considerably more complex.

Cutts and the SEO Community

Perhaps Cutts understood just how important it was to keep the SEO community informed and aware. He did communicate openly with the industry. He would inform SEO experts and publishers about updates to the algorithm months, even years in advance. He was also open to questions and active on social media.

While he didn’t provide as much information as SEO experts would like, he was willing to discuss and keep the communication lines open.  After the release of Hummingbird and Cutts’ indefinite leave, things started to go downhill; Google has become increasingly secretive.

There are no more advance announcements, no more clear answers to questions, and no more easy interaction between the industry and the company. Now, Google seems to rely more on their algorithms and AI than humans. The result of this is yet to be seen, but there’s very little doubt that there are significant changes on the anvil.

Drop in Search Quality

There has been a noticeable drop in search quality and people who’re experienced with search have even commented on it. People who rely on Google for research often find the results to be of low quality and sometimes even irrelevant. The engine seems to look for direct match for queries and when that’s not found, it seems to skip a word or two in the search query. Unfortunately, sometimes those words are the key to get the right information.

This leads to a significant drop in the quality of information. It makes the user’s job harder and they’re forced to look deeper. We don’t really know if this is just a temporary glitch that would be fixed soon or something that’s here to stay. If it’s here to stay, the quality will only continue to dip and people will start looking at alternative avenues to source the information they need. That would be a disaster for Google.

Google is Sitting on Thin Ice

The lack of transparency and drop in quality has placed Google on thin ice. There are competitors out there who’re perfectly willing to jump on any weaknesses displayed by the search giant. Already, a considerable number of people are migrating to Bing for their search engine needs.

Websites that want traffic are looking for alternatives that they can actually control, instead of trying to deal with Google’s secretiveness. Websites that enjoy large amounts of traffic often look towards Facebook and other such avenues to get it, rather than focus on Google. This doesn’t always work, as e-commerce websites and commercial pages rely quite heavily on Google.

That’s not likely to change very soon. However, with paid ads and algorithms like Penguin and Panda, the change is definitely on the horizon. After all, website owners are getting frustrated about penalties that come out of nowhere and ads that take up the entire SERP above the fold. How long before they decide that they don’t want to deal with it anymore and just stop caring about organic traffic? And how would that effect Google?

What’s the Future of SEO?

All these signs are starting to indicate that SEO might become irrelevant in the future. After all, if publishers stop caring about organic search, there’s little need for search engine optimization. Google wouldn’t want this to happen. It does depend on organic search and despite all of the ads that are pushing these results back, organic search is vital. Without organic search, Google won’t be able to sell ads; there are a large number of users who will ignore the ads and head directly for the real results.

If these results aren’t of good quality, they won’t be able to trust Google to provide the right information. If it has to be put bluntly, Google is already losing its reputation about reliability. If publishers suddenly stop caring about the company’s guidelines and SEO, it would impact the company significantly.

Publishers want control over the traffic. They want to be sure that the money they spend shows some results. As long as SEO gave results and brought organic traffic to them, they were content to spend money on optimization. However, as soon as Google’s algorithms become aggressive and started to target publishers as well as spammers, website owners started to become wary. At the moment, the future of SEO is very uncertain. It’s likely that Google would recognize the problem before the damage becomes irreparable.

Diverse Options are Reducing Google’s Business

For a long time, Google was the go-to entity for search traffic, marketing, and visibility. That’s no longer the case. There are other options out there that aren’t as unreliable and complicated. After all, who would want to spend hundreds of dollars on optimizing the website only to get uncertain results? Publishers would get better traffic and more conversions from sources like Facebook.

The existence of Penguin and Panda has also thrown a wrench in things. People don’t want to get penalized for reasons they aren’t even aware of. They don’t want to wait for several months before Google updates the algorithm and removes the penalty. This is a vicious cycle. Google should get the right information about algorithm updates and their expectations regarding the quality of websites, beforehand.

If they don’t, SEO experts and publishers can’t optimize their websites and remove factors that would lead to a penalty. Sending out information after the update or releasing updates without warning leaves no room for professionals and publishers to address problems.

Naturally, this frustrates everyone. SEO experts are aware of just how important organic search is, but publishers aren’t experts in this field. In fact, they have a business to run and aren’t going to waste time pouring over guidelines every time Google changes things.

The Marketer’s Position

SEO is harder now. Marketers are essentially operating on limited information and increasingly unreliable results. There has been a significant rise in competition in the commercial sphere. The top portion of the SERP is occupied by four ads, product listing ads, and in some queries, the knowledge graph. This leaves room for only 7 places on the SERP. Needless to say, the bidding is aggressive and competition, fierce.

As for the information sphere, the knowledge graph poses a major hindrance for publishers. For example, if the user searches for phrases like ‘how to write a poem’, Google would display the knowledge graph that offers the information directly on the SERP. In many cases, the user doesn’t need to click on the link.

From the users’ perspective, this is very convenient. But publishers are cheated out of their traffic. After all, they put effort into creating informative content to get traffic to their website. The knowledge graph denies them that traffic.

These factors, along with the decline in the quality of search results place digital marketers in a difficult position as well. They will have to adapt to the changes and come up with different strategies that don’t rely on Google as much.

The Negative Environment

It’s hard to deny that there is a crescendo of resentment and negativity. The search engine giant’s actions have placed SEO professionals and publishers in a difficult position. The company is completely focused on the bottom line, doesn’t seem to care about the quality of the search engine results, and simply refuses to communicate openly.

The secretive algorithm changes make no sense whatsoever because they don’t give publishers and SEO experts time to change things. Unexpected site shutdown that takes ages to resolve leads to considerable amount of problems for publishers. Naturally, they’re not inclined to think favorably about Google.

However, it’s not just the negative sentiments that Google should be concerned about. Soon, publishers might decide that they don’t need the search engine at all. If they become apathetic, they’ll start ignoring Google guidelines completely and that would harm the search engine significantly.

Signs of Positivity

Most SEO experts and publishers would welcome any endeavor from Google to improve this relationship. While marketers can change and adapt their strategies around Google, they don’t want to. They would rather work in harmony with the search engine. Perhaps the Internet giant recognizes this because it has been reaching out to SEO experts.

It has reintroduced Google Dance. This event includes 50 influential SEO experts that provide Google with feedback and recommendations. While this excludes the larger SEO community, it’s the first positive step the company has taken in a long time. It has made SEO experts and publishers hopeful that there are more positive changes on the horizon.

If Google once again starts communicating with SEOs and publishers, the general sentiment towards the company would improve and the balance would be restored. If Google doesn’t take positive steps and open lines of communication, the apathy amongst publishers will grow until Google is deemed too troublesome to deal with. That would be disastrous for the search giant.

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