Who’s Your Biggest Competitor?

When you work on sites and depend on them to bring you in some money each and every month, one thing that you need to be aware of is your competitors. To most people your competitor is probably the site that’s ranked 1st for your main keyword, or even the site(s) that are just a couple of positions above your own site. However, have you ever thought of Google being your biggest competitor?

Before I start going through some of the ways how Google can be seen as a huge competitor to your sites (especially affiliate related sites), I’d like to point out that this post isn’t about complaining about Google. At the end of the day Google is just like a lot of other companies – trying to make as much profit as they can for their shareholders. Us internet marketers are always giving out about the big G but you have to admit that they are good when it comes to making money!

(Not Provided) Keywords

No matter how big (or small) a site is it’s always nice to see what search terms people are using to find your site. If you’re like me and you’re constantly checking Google Analytics you’ve probably recently noticed that there are a lot more “(not provided)” keywords which can be really frustrating. Back in 2011 it was announced that users that are logged in to their Google account would have encrypted search on default (which means that “(not provided)” would come up rather than what they actually searched for).

When Matt Cutts originally told us about this he estimated that the percentage of searchers that would be using encrypted search on Google wouldn’t be over 10%, but that’s certainly not the case from what I’ve heard and it doesn’t help when Chrome made all searches from the omnibox encrypted (Firefox already does this).

This means that it’s getting increasingly difficult to find out how people are finding your site (vital to know, especially if you’re dealing with a large site) which then means that you don’t know what methods are working or not to gain additional traffic. When the vast majority of people use Google to search it’s fairly annoying when so much of this traffic ends up showing up as “(not provided”). There is an alternative though – to use Adwords. Even if the person has encrypted search enabled and then click on your ad on Google you’ll then see what keyword they searched for. Ouch!

Google’s Own Services

Imagine if you spent years building up a great brand online and offered exactly what people were looking for when they searched for something like “compare car insurance”. Now imagine that Google decides to launch their very own service which conveniently is always above your own site (even if you’re lucky enough to be 1st on page 1). This can happen overnight, which could easily mean that a very successful business could also be killed overnight.

In 2011 Google bought BeatThatQuote.com which shows that they are interested in getting involved in niches where affiliates used to dominate. As you can see on that site, at the moment they are involved in credit cards, savings accounts, current accounts, mortgages, car insurance and travel insurance. Notice a trend? All of these niches are niches which a lot of money can be made in. But who’s to say that Google won’t start expanding in to other niches in the near future? Before you know it, Google could potentially take over the market that you believed you were in control of.

Over the past few years it has become clear that Google are starting to stop bringing out new services that they can make money from. Instead, they are simply taking over existing online business models. Some people would argue that Google is a search engine and should remain a search engine, but when you’ve got such an advantage over everyone else you’d definitely be tempted to try something like bringing out your own car insurance comparison service to bring in some more money.

I’m actually surprised Google are passing on all of these leads to companies like Axa Direct and not their own car insurance company. Maybe the next step for Google is creating their own car insurance company, credit card company etc. and then they’ll be making even more money if they do it right.

When people think of features built in to Google it’s easy to think of how you can get the answer to something like “553 * 7 + 82” using the built in calculator or even getting the weather for the next few days by searching something like “weather in London” but there are also features which are a little bit less obvious.

One example can be seen by searching for “stainless steel dishwasher” as you can see in the image below. The arrow in the image points to what is known as Google Shopping. This has only been around for around a year or so. When it first started out Google basically used an algorithm in order to decide which products should be displayed on the page but nowadays things have changed. Now you’ve got to pay Google to have a product listed, either through CPC or CPA.

Now, imagine if you had a site based around dishwashers and had loads of useful content that would help a person choose the best dishwasher that’s on the market for their own particular needs. As you can see from the picture, you can’t even see what the first site is (apart from the title mentioning it of course) thanks to Google Shopping so even if you’re ranked 1st you’ll have a tough time making much money. It’s nearly as bad if you search for hotels in London. Even if you go to page 2 on Google you’ll still get shown the exact same hotels too. Not exactly useful considering Matt Cutts always goes on about creating useful sites etc.
Do you think Google feels bad for damaging your business if you’re in one of the markets that Google wants a piece of? Probably not.

Adwords

If you don’t use something like Adblock you’ll know about how most of the page can now be taken up by Adwords ads when you search for something on Google. As you can see in the image where I searched for a stainless steel dishwasher, pretty much all of the page is ads (and this isn’t on a tiny sized screen by the way).

This isn’t good news if you’ve spent loads of time trying to rank for certain keywords only to find out that now ads take up pretty much all the room on the screen. The funny thing is that when most brands notice this they’ll then start spending money on Adwords themselves rather than SEO which is really a vicious circle because if everyone does this the cost of a click will go through the roof and not be profitable. Google obviously wouldn’t mind the CPC going up though.

Algorithm Changes

Google are constantly making changes to their algorithm. For every one large algorithm change that we hear about (Panda, Penguin etc.) there are probably hundreds if not thousands of tiny little algorithm changes. Their aim is to make the search engine more useful, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case and because of this one day one of your great sites could become outranked by a site that looks like it was made a decade ago.

Not only this, but if you make some changes to your site that Google doesn’t like you could notice a huge drop in traffic, even if you think you’ve made the site better for people. My own blog has been hit by some of these changes actually, probably because a lot of my anchor text is “Jamie Farrelly”. A few months back I used to blog comment on some SEO blogs and thought it’d fine to use my name (which is the right thing to do really) but I now when I look back at it, it was a bit silly. Google now probably thinks I was being spammy to try rank for my name, and as a result this blog doesn’t really rank for anything (including my name) even though I haven’t done anything wrong in reality.

Hopefully this post has made you think a bit about why it mightn’t be a great idea to depend too much on Google for traffic. In the short term it’s perfectly fine, but definitely don’t do it if you’re thinking about the long term.

Thumbnail image courtesy of poppad / FreeDigitalPhotos.net