Is the unwritten contract between Google and Webmasters broken?
I’m writing this on a phone so forgive the formatting and lack of links and screenshots, i’ll tidy up later.
There’s a lot of change on Google these days, a lot of activity in spaces that Google were once content to monetize with ads.The clear separation that once existed between Googles organic results and its paid ads inventory is becoming increasingly blurred as it pushes on into query spaces that were once the preserve of a diverse bunch of web publishers.
Unwritten Contract? WTF – Explain Yourself Man
Defining the contract is important, it went a little like this. Google would spider and index webmaster content and show the outputs to user queries in its web results. It would overlay these with ads and monetize through clicks from people interested. It wouldn’t participate in the SERPS directly unless there was a clear deficit in the marketplace. The distinction was clear and plain for all to see. Organic and paid were separate, Google wasn’t in the business of ranking its ad supported services over competing services. It was not an abuser of its monopoly position.
So, let’s look at a very recent change and ask the question, “Has the unwritten contract between Webmasters and Google been broken?”
For this query http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=distance+from+rome+to+geneva I’m seeing that Google now displays a map, with the distance and a link to directions above its organic results.
This reduces the likelihood of a click through to an organic result and helps drive traffic to Googles map product. You can see it in action in the graphic below.
In a week where the search giant announced a change to it’s tos regarding the map api, what are your thoughts on what appears to be yet another step of many encroachments into the organic space? If you were Google, you might well say, ‘Encroachments’ wtf, how very dare you but read on, as it’s a little more sophisticated than that and Google well knows it.
It’s our dinner plate and we are going to eat it
Last week or so it was ‘what’s my ip‘ and their learn more hyperlink.Providing users with both an answer to their query and a link to a Google page explaining. Net effect, other tools and publishers all lose as google pushes its own content.
Whilst some might “say no big deal move along”, others might see the wider implications of things like this and note how Google continues to eat at the table of organic.
What may seem like innocuous moves, the reality is that they often reduce people’s need to leave Google (take dictionary queries or date/time/currency/math based queries) taking traffic away from publishers that build content and thus increasing queries and ad clicks on Google. If the user finds what they need, then why even leave Google. Net impact, happy user, blissfully unaware of the slow death of content creators.
The logical extension of much of the above is that ultimately, Google finds ways of replicating what others do to a point of Google becomes a super affiliate feed of products and suppliers. Organic traffic becomes marginalised and joe public is hoodwinked under the guise of a better search experience. Meanwhile publishers become poorer dying a slow death and Google grows richer.
If you’re a brand then you might be safe or erm, maybe not as this post about yelp describes.
Before anyone shouts deal with it, or that’s business, or go build a search engine and do it yourself, please, let’s try and be intelligent here and react from the perspective of a publisher. Many of the “Google deserves it all” type debates have been done to death so I doubt anyone want’s those back and forths rehashed. My view is that with great power comes great responsibility. Google has a responsibility to behave in ways that aren’t anti competitive or that stifle creativity.
Publishers built the web but it’s ok as we’ll just replace them
I’m more concerned with what if anything publishers can do about it. Sure, the answer of build a fabulous product that everyone wants and loves and needs rings true, but that doesn’t do much about the fact that for many people, a chrome browser or a search box on Google is their default way of finding things. If Google keeps chipping away like it does, then one day it might very well be your cool ecommerce/travel/hobby/science/news/art site that gets marginalised.
Without traffic, publishers on the web can’t survive. The unwritten contract that once existed between Google and webmaster is effectively broken.
What say you?
Meantime, here’s a nice track by the O’JaysPosted on: 30th October 2011, by : Rob Watts