As Google Satiates on SERPS What is Left for Small Independent Sites?
Clearly there have been major changes in search driven by Google which, remains dominant despite various start ups trying and failing to make a dent. Bing has been slowly increasing its market share. Newcomers like Facebook challenge the status quo with greater emphasis of social platforms.
Many in the SEO arena claim that keyword-based search and the standard SERP delivery, where various independent websites compete to be displayed, is a threatened species.
Clearly Google controls all the strings through its personalized delivery of ads and autocomplete, which tells you what you want and delivers results even before you have completed entering words in the search box.
Google's aim is to give you exactly what you want and to eventually emulate HAL the computer in 2001 a Space Odyssey. Google's Knowledge Graph project is working to do just that via semantic search that delivers the answers from a database of actual answers, not a list of links where the answers lay hidden.
All of this squeezes out the little guy, who may have developed niche websites and articles for product reviews, travel, restaurant reviews, accommodation, various "How To's" and the variety of 'Info' type pages. What's left for the little guy as the 'Jaws' shark Google aggressively gobbles up the great majority of the market share. This article explores some of the options that remain.
The Bite from Above (The Upper Jaw)
Google’s stated mission is to be the repository of the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. However, the other side or goal is to make lots of money. Google has been steadily acquiring various travel, accommodation and restaurant inventories so that it can deliver its own results, bypassing the many websites developed to deliver this information. If you have a travel website you will know how Google has bought space for itself in these markets
Google recently acquired major travel assets from John Wiley and Sons, including Frommer's, one of the most popular, well respected and best-selling guidebooks throughout the world. This new purchase adds to Google's developing portfolio of food, travel and tourism sites.
Zagat, a restaurant-review guide was recently bought by Google. It has been said that Google is wants to become a complete source for food and travel reviews. This immediately by-passes all the websites and niches that have been developing these reviews including many small niche sites. Another stated goal for Google is to provide a review for every relevant place in the world. Travel review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp have been growing in popularity and Google wants a bite of the action and to claw back advertisements from these sites.
Google wants you to stay on Google and not follow links to remote websites, even though they have adsense ads on most of them. Google has started to shut the door on being gateway, and to develop their own content for users beyond links in the SERPS.
One of the most recent developments is the stand-alone Google Shopping application, which uses Google's search technology to find and compare prices from online stores and directly shows you where you can buy them. While this is clearly a commercial site, separate from the usual Google search engine, but it shows where Google is heading. The number of ads displayed on the SERPS for standards search results has increased dramatically.
So basically for a small site its goodbye for any chance at competing for any of the following:
- Any Navigational searches
- Commercial / Products Searches. This includes queries like "buy yellow roses" and "two-man tent." It will also apply to most product reviews in the future as Google compiles more information about these as well.
There is still scope for reviews, now, but this area is likely to be dominated by Google in the near future and it is very hard to compete in such a flooded arena.
Bite from Below (the Lower Jaw)
Requests for information, and getting answers to questions, is the heart of what many people search for by 'Googling' it. This is a huge category of search queries, for which the small independent has been very successful by focusing in narrow niches and long-tail topics.
However Google has made major commitments to dominate in this area as well through Semantic Search and Knowledge Graph.
The long term aim of this is to develop the 'HAL' and 'Siri' models to the point where the search browser machine will be able to converse with you, being aware of the right context, and at the appropriate level, so that it can understand your queries and instantly deliver the results you (as an individual) desire.
Once again the aim is to bypass the 'middle man', to deliver the answers directly from a database of answers that Google is developing. There will be links, but only for follow-ups to get more detailed responses. The links are dominated by Wikipedia.
Knowledge Graph summaries are already appearing in the search results as answers and links - not as the traditional summaries 'open me, open me' that appear in the snippets on the conventional SERPS, but as actual answers to the question. This instant answer approach can can already be seen in the solutions provided for calculations and conversions in the search results. This will be extended into a series of text summary answers delivered from data stored in the database along with the links to the sources for more information. So, the author who writes independent articles about various topics, will now have to compete Google itself, which will have ALL the answers, as well as other website owners.
How will and does Google get the information they are compiling in their huge database? Well this has not been stated clearly, but it will probably follow the lead of many of the pioneers in semantic search such as "SenseBot.com", which use data mining techniques to extract information from the internet. What this means is that Google is in the process of extracting information from the internet and storing it in databases to be delivered directly to the user. This feature is similar to the answers provided by Wolfram Alpha.
According to published sources from Google, these data are derived from many sources, including the Freebase, CIA World Factbook and Wikipedia, but many other sources it has not divulged. As of 2012, Google's semantic Knowledge Graph network contained over 570 million objects and more than 17 billion facts about the objects and the relationships between them.
According to Google, the Knowledge Graph enables you to search for people, things or places that Google knows about - works of art, celestial objects, movies, geographical features, buildings, sports teams, cities, celebrities and landmarks and much, much more. As Google has stated this is merely the first step towards building a database by tapping into the "collective intelligence of the web".
Clearly if you have focused on niche websites or articles designed to provide answers, and simple"How To's", Google's Knowledge Graph will bypass you. Perhaps the data mining will collect information from your site and re-phrase it, or even worse.
So What's Left?
There is some potential gaps for less commercial, information type websites, niches and articles, where the answers to questions are complicated and extend well beyond the simply 'How to' responses to questions. This applies to detailed advice requiring complex arguments and information. It will require a lot of research to ensure you will be competitive in narrow, long-tail topic areas which attracts a reasonable number of searches and for which there are only a small number of low ranking sites and articles already available. Using Autocomplete to help to choose popular and competitive titles is a good idea. This provides the only real opportunity for small operators.
It is difficult to see how Knowledge Graph can present such complicated information without referring to your site. Whether you can compete without having to pay for ads remains to be seen. It is a good sign, when your search for your chosen topic and the SERP page is not stuffed with Google ads down the right column and in blocks at the top or the SERP. This is the traditional SERP that small operators can still compete for successfully.
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