This week: Are you killing your business?; EU votes to end Google monopoly; Google rushes to defamation settlement; Facebook Grapevine; Twitter Offers, & more…
Last week Google’s web spam team hammered a large link network in Poland. The network hit was Prolink.pl and thousands of sites have suffered manual penalties as a result. This wouldn’t be big news of itself except that not only did Google penalise sites in the network that were selling links, but also penalised sites who were BUYING links to try and improve their rankings.
Why should you care?
Being penalised by Google can be devastating and it can even kill businesses that are wholly dependant on traffic from Google. To illustrate, in May this year eBay was hit with a search penalty by Google. eBay’s CFO has acknowledged that the resultant loss in traffic from Google may cost up them up to $200 million in lost revenue this year.
Closer to home, over the last year we’ve been approached by a number of businesses at a loss to understand why their Google traffic and sales have plummeted. Most don’t realise they’ve been hit with a Google manual penalty due to a poor link profile, usually the result of dealing with an inexpensive but unscrupulous SEO provider (although some damage has been self-inflicted). In some cases, links have been purchased from overseas networks, including this particular Polish network.
It takes very little time to acquire these links (and that, no doubt, is what appeals to the SEO companies involved) but considerable time and effort to remove and replace them. Google may remove its manual penalty after a reconsideration request, but rankings and traffic can take much longer to recover. Penalised businesses can literally bleed to death waiting for things to improve.
The message is clear. Whether you’re doing SEO yourself or outsourcing it, ensure that Google’s webmaster guidelines aren’t being contravened. If they are, it could cost you dearly.
Google’s stance on link building is that every external link to your site should be natural and acquired due to the quality of your content. Any link created with the purpose of manipulating search rankings is considered a violation of Google webmaster guidelines. This includes paid links.
Don’t buy links – instead invest that time and money in creating great content that earns you links.
Fearing Google has become too powerful a monopoly and is abusing that power, European Union lawmakers last week voted overwhelmingly in favour of breaking up the company.
EU parliamentarians were voting on the “Resolution on the Digital Single Market”, which urged antitrust legislators “unbundle search engines from commercial services”. The non-binding resolution does not mention Google by name, however. But if enacted it would effectively require Google severe its search engine business from other services (including YouTube, Google News and Google Maps).
Will this mean the end of Google as we know it? Not exactly: the vote was symbolic, as the EU Parliament lacks the power to act on the resolution. It was, however, a way for MPs to voice their feelings on the issue, and a strong indication of European sentiment.
In most European countries, Google enjoys over 90 percent search engine market share (as it does in Australia and New Zealand). While even Google does not deny it has a de facto monopoly in these markets, the concern is that the search engine favours results from its own properties over better content from other sites.
What this vote does is to send a clear message to the European Competition Commission (ECC), which does have the authority to take action and has been investigating Google’s alleged monopolistic abuses in Europe for over four years now. It also puts pressure on newly-appointed ECC Commissioner Margrethe Vestager who is reported as telling Reuters she will “review the case and talk to complainants before deciding on the next step”.
In the US, Google has 65 percent share of the search market and, two years ago, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) dropped a similar case against Google after failing to approve monopolistic abuse.
Why you should care?
Is a lot of little Googles better than having one big one? How many of those other services would successfully compete?
YouTube, the world’s second-most popular search engine, is also owned by Google and is unlikely to be greatly affected if separated from Google search. However, Google has been accused of favouring YouTube in search results when the same content exists on rival video site Vimeo or on the video creator’s website.
YouTube apart, then, what of Google Shopping or the Google reviews shown in local search results as part of Google+?
It’s notable that review site Yelp heads one of the coalitions of companies protesting Google’s anti-competitive behaviour. Others with an axe to grind include The FairSearch Coalition, which originally comprised online travel companies Expedia, TripAdvisor, Hotwire, Sabre Holdings, Travelocity, FareLogix, Kayak and SideStep. FairSearch has more recently been joined by companies protesting Android’s monopolisation of the mobile OS market – Microsoft, Oracle and Nokia.
Ironically, Microsoft already has first-hand experience of dealing with the ECC. It was fined $2 billion USD for anti-competitive behaviour in bundling Internet Explorer with its Windows operating system.
Microsoft’s battle with the ECC was long and protracted, but Google has already shown itself ready to cooperate and compromise.
We don’t expect Google to be broken into separate companies in the way that AT&T and its Bell System were in the mid-80s. But the search engine’s dominance in many and most markets should require that it be even-handed in the search results it displays, without favouring its own properties to the extent that competitors are only shown if they run an AdWords campaign.
If you are unlucky enough to have a business that competes with Google, you’ll be interested to see what happens next. If Google acts to improve competitors’ visibility in European search results, will it do so in other markets where it is just as dominant, but not subject to parliamentary investigation?
Following a UK defamation case, settled last week, Google has agreed to remove from its search indices links to false and defamatory content maligning UK businessman Daniel Hegglin. The material – most if not all posted anonymously – called Hegglin “a murderer, paedophile and Ku Klux Klan sympathiser.”
The court action was not against Google in this instance, but the company was unusually cooperative with Hegglin and his attorneys. This despite Google’s long-established policy that it’s not legally responsible for the third party content it links to in search results.
In a 2009 UK court case, Google successfully claimed it was not liable for defamatory comments appearing in the news articles, blogs and forums linked to from its search results. Google was a “facilitator” but not a publisher of the content, according to the High Court ruling in a case brought by London-based Metropolitan International Schools.
So why did Google decide to settle in this particular case? Speculation is that, in the wake of the EU’s right-to-be-forgotten laws, the company wants to avoid taking on any further responsibility for policing the content in search results.
Interestingly, a 2012 case in Australia found in favour of the plaintiff – former music promoter Milorad Trkulja. Google was fined $200,000 as the publisher of defamatory content (which the company refused to remove) suggesting Trkulja had links with Melbourne’s criminal underworld.
Why should you care?
Sit up and take notice if you have a website that encourages user generated content, moderated or otherwise, whether that’s articles, forum posts or just comments on news stories.
Quite apart from the legal repercussions in being the publisher of material ruled to be defamatory, Google will no longer index pages on your site. While the specific pages containing the defamatory content are certainties for removal, it’s probable that any other website pages linking to that content will also be removed.
While Google is notifying webmasters via Google Webmaster Tools that links to website content considered defamatory have been removed, there is no process for webmasters to notify Google that the content in question has been removed.
Given that over 95% of Google’s massive income comes from advertising revenue, the company has just rolled out a rather surprising experiment. A limited number of online publishers are participating in Google Contributor, giving users ad-free experiences in exchange for a nominal monthly subscription. The new paywall alternative launched last week with 10 publisher partners, including Mashable, The Onion, and Urban Dictionary.
Web users who sign up choose how much they want to pay (they can choose between $1 and $3 per month) for the privilege of seeing participating websites without Google ads. Where Google ads would typically appear, they see instead a thank you message or pixelated spaces. Part of the users’ monthly contribution goes to the publisher sites they visit, and Google takes a cut.
Currently Contributor is only available by invitation – if you’re interested you can sign up here.
We imagine that only people who are dedicated fans of participating websites and who want to support them financially will do this, given there are already plenty of ways to block ads.
Why should you care?
If Contributor takes off it could dramatically change the face of the Web and how the Internet is funded. Just how much you’ll welcome this probably depends on whether you’re a consumer, publisher or advertiser.
Facebook is launching a new promotion platform that gives select big spending advertisers exclusive access to information gleaned from its 1.3 billion users. Dubbed ‘Grapevine’, it will help give context to topics so that brands can customise their messaging accordingly.
An AdWeek report quotes industry insiders as saying the data derived from the Facebook tool is both qualitative and quantitative – advertisers can see what users are saying about a topic and craft ads based on the prevalent sentiment. For instance, AdWeek reports, “a shampoo brand could get insights into what Facebook users are saying about frizzy hair and then tailor ads based on that sentiment”. This will provide advertisers with very powerful targeted messaging.
Why should you care?
This illustrates just how quickly digital advertising is evolving, but if it sounds like a tool you’d like to exploit as an advertiser don’t get too excited too soon. Currently Facebook is only inviting BIG spending advertisers into the program. Advertisers granted access are only those spending in the millions on campaigns or a half-million dollars for one ad – ouch!
Twitter is piloting a new advertising product that allows brands to tweet promotional offers and easily track their redemption, even when fulfilment is offline. Now testing in the US with select brands, Twitter Offers requires Twitter users first link their credit card or debit card accounts to Twitter. They can then redeem the credit-card connected promotions online or in store, without needing a coupon or promo code.
Why you should care?
Of course, some consumers will be reluctant to share their credit or debit card account details with Twitter. But assuming worldwide rollout reaches our oft-forgotten shores, here’s an ingenious way to ensure that your promotional tweets get to your audience and that sales are tracked back to your social media campaigns.
OK, that’s what we think. We’re keen to hear your thoughts on any of the above – please comment below.
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Jeremy and Mark are two of the partners behind SureFire Search. Despite their deceptively youthful appearances, both have worked in search marketing for many years. To put that in context, Google didn't even exist when Jeremy started.