I was killing a bit of time and thought I’d check out the latest news from the Marketing World, and I stumbled upon this article outlining how:
“Moneysupermarket has become one of the first companies to blame recent changes to Google’s search algorithm for a negative impact on its bottom line.”
What surprised me the most was that Google had in actual fact entered the market themselves having acquired “Beat that Quote” in 2011, with their subsequent actions (outlined below) perhaps being more responsible for the downturn in performance than a bog standard algo update as the article referenced above suggests.
An old Adage; Multiple traffic sources = big brand.
Over the last couple of years there has been a rise of Online Marketers espousing the value of “Brands” and “branding”. A popular idea that is often repeated goes something like:
“If you’re business can be destroyed overnight at the whim of Google, you don’t really have a proper business”.
This essentially means that if you aren’t generating traffic from multiple sources or creating brand awareness or to use another fashionable term “equity” then you’re not even a proper company and you’re going about your business incorrectly.
The Example of Moneysupermarket
The Moneysupermarket example here shows that even if you do have multiple sources of traffic (Let’s say Branded search traffic such as “Moneysupermarket” in addition to keyword/EMD territory such as “Car insurance”) with the former being generated by basic offline activities such as commercials and advertising and are what some would call a “big brand”, Google is still capable of shrinking a significant portion of your business if it feels like it.
This is detrimental to business value because…
Search activity results in qualified leads…qualified leads result in customers…customers result in revenue…revenue keeps shareholders happy…Investment in Search activity increases… Lead generation becomes less diversified …Google changes something…Revenues decrease…heads roll…
“Search Algorithm” – In quotation marks for a reason…
Although my reductivist example above suggests that the change is within the “Search Algorithm”, in actual fact this can be any number of factors affecting search;
- New competition (High value niches attract competition…RED OCEAN),
- Over-optimisation penalties (Link-building activity or whatever trips the algo and penalties are applied),
- Manual clean up of SERPS (Google belives search term is dominated by spam and manually removes listing ala Pay day loans),
- any number or macro-environmental factors (Downturn in demand, spending power, consumer trends etc)
or perhaps most dangerous of all…
- Google getting in on the act and competing against you for a term.
In the Moneysupermarket example, I’m no expert but if generic Whitehat Search 101 is to believed then lower rankings = smaller CTRs (Click through rates). If you perform a Google search for one of MS’ “Money Terms” “Car insurance” you’ll see that Google has in fact muscled in on the market, effectively creating a new top spot for itself, which gives it a #1 without much work or the dangers associated with competitive SEO.
Although I’ve only just picked up on it (I clearly don’t operate within the high value niches) this tool has in fact been in place since 2012, and is the result of Google’s acquisition of “Beat that Quote” in 2011 which is well documented here.
As you have probably worked out by now, this isn’t exactly an “algorithm change” unless artificially propping a site at #1 constitutes an algorithm change? Hmm.
Wider Implications – Impending Ethical Debate?
Even though I haven’t got too much sympathy for comparison sites as they’re dime a dozen these days offering a homogeneous service (Resulting in some creative marketing TBF), I do have sympathy for anyone who is in direct competition with Google…for keywords, as it raises quite a few debatable questions.
Firstly, there’s suggestions that this isn’t the first time Google has made a downwardly vertical integration move into a Search Term Marketplace, with Retailmenot being accused of the similar practice here (Google Does SEO). This raises concerns not only for anyone earning a living in a competitive niche but for anyone concerned with business ethics in general. When does a dominant product such as Google (60+ share in the search market) become a monopoly and anti-trust folk investigate perceived anti-competitive measures? (I know Google owns the search engine and some would argue they can do what they want with it, but this doesn’t hold up to a World governed by regulations)
Secondly, relating to this point and the supposed mantra of “Do no Evil”, in a video released a few weeks ago, Matt Cutts actually raises and disputed a long running joke/conspiracy; algorithm updates are designed to increase PPC revenues as it’s the only way to generate #1 spots and traffic. Whilst, on the face of it these claims sound rather “tinfoil-y”, on the basis of the Insurance niche, one certainly has to believe that there’s a grain of validity to such claims.