Media & Tech Tuesday - Google – Too Big to Trust?

Google is powerful.  Really powerful.  But can you trust the search results it delivers?

It’s all about SEO…or is it?

In case you need reminding about the importance of being at the top of Google’s search results:

  • Sites listed on the first page of results generate 92% of all traffic; and
  • The top ranked site receives 33% of all traffic, quickly falling to 18%, 11%, 8% and 6% in positions two to five respectively.

And these rankings directly drive revenue – just ask, whose shares fell 15% in a single day last week as the price comparison site announced that it had lost some of its leading natural search listings due to changes in Google’s search algorithms.

The manual override

The whole SEO industry has emerged to try to beat the algorithms.  But you can spend millions of pounds on SEO techniques for nothing.  Why?  Because Google can manually override its algorithms at will.
Yes, that’s right, Google can manually change the positions of websites in its rankings.  And it does:

  • In 2006, BMW’s German website was blacklisted from Google’s search results after it was discovered to have used “doorway pages” to boost its search rankings; and
  • In 2011, after violating Google’s guidelines on paid links, American retailer JC Penney fell from an average search results position (based on 59 search terms) of 1.3 to 52 in the space of a few days.

This raises some disturbing implications – with a stranglehold on the search engine market (it is responsible for around two thirds of global searches), Google holds enormous power in influencing what consumers see and where they spend their money.

Play nice

If you want to avoid Google’s “corrective action”, I suggest you take a leaf out of Google’s book and “Don’t Be Evil” in your attempts to get to the top of the rankings.

While spending money on SEO can certainly help, there are some simple, inexpensive changes that you can make to your website that can really have an impact:

  • Do have a clean, well-structured site architecture.  Users should find it easy to use and navigate your site, with all pages, sections and categories properly labelled and tagged, and your site should employ clean URL structures (eg, use descriptive names like “/articles/google_SEO.htm” rather than “/1597432/x1/000075a.htm”).
  • Do have simple, clear webpages that quickly address the average user’s reason for coming to the page.
  • Do offer high-quality content, and keep it fresh and unique, encouraging users to comment, share, tweet, blog, “like”, etc.  Google now factors in social media metrics to its rankings.
  • Do ensure a good mobile experience on your site.  Google penalises sites that are not optimised for mobile.
  • Do have a useful “404” (not found) webpage that guides users back to a working page on your site.
  • Don’t show too many adverts that distract from or interfere with the main content (particularly at the top of the webpage).
  • Don’t make spelling mistakes.  Google considers several quality signals when ranking webpages, and there is a positive correlation between higher rankings and the ability to spell.

See here for more suggestions from Google itself.

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