Google Cannot Forget Their Unique Selling PointThere's been a lot of talk about Google favouring big brands in their SERPs (search engine result pages) - and with their recent announcement that Google Shopping will now no longer be free, but be "pay to play", this surely plays into the hands of big brands who have deeper pockets than SMEs (small to medium businesses) - so is Google simply becoming the playground of the big boys?
It's easy to reach this conclusion, especially when you take into account the recent Panda and Penguin updates in regards to how Google now rank sites. It seems that the most recent updates will inevitably favour websites that have a much more established backlink profile (big brands) than smaller sites. If a small site decides to do some proactive link building to get some traction in the SERPs, they're now in a tricky situation - off-page links can hurt your site's rankings in 2012, so do they stick or twist? Unless their link profile is already well established, you have to be very careful with the kinds of links you build to your site. It's a kind of Catch-22 situation for small sites. You need links to rank, but those links have to be the "right kind" of links to not end up penalising your site.
So it must be the case that Google are favouring big brands while also making it difficult for small companies to get any kind of exposure in their SERPs, right?
If Google are moving in this direction, they are doing so at their own peril, and they should be well aware of the dangers of relying on a much narrower dataset when compared to what the entire web has to offer. Google surely do not want to lose their greatest selling point - to give the searcher relevant search results gleaned from their unique (in terms of depth and breadth) search index. If Google simply became the aggregator of big brands rather than a true search engine, why would people even bother searching in Google? It's not hard for another search engine to compete with Google if Google only show those familiar big brand websites in their top 10 SERPs. Indexing the top 1000 big brand sites is a doddle for any search engine. Moreover, searchers would soon disintermediate the whole search process if they're always arriving at the same destinations thanks to Google. If Google regularly send me to Amazon from my searches, why don't I just bookmark Amazon and cut out the middleman (Google) altogether? This would be a disaster for Google.
And so rather bizarrely, Google rely on those small boutique websites that offer unique products, and those obscure hobbyist blogs to show up in their index. It enriches the search experience and Google can show off their "unfair advantage" (owning literally millions of servers) by presenting us with an up-to-date index of tens of millions of sites - no other search engine has that kind of indexing power. It's impossible to provide a fresh snapshot of the web in 2012 without billions of dollars of hardware, and years of experience, to help you do it.
So if Google do decide to edge towards favouring brands more and more, they'll slowly be taking away their own unfair advantage and unique selling point - the depth and "freshness" of their index that no other search engine can match - you go to Google to discover all areas of the web, not just use it as a portal to navigate to big brand sites.
But having said all that, no doubt there are commercial pressures that conflict with the basic principles of what have made Google number one in search, and we will have to wait and see just how influential they are to Google's decision making. No doubt they could make more money from their SERPs by courting big brands, but they risk going from being a company that's virtually impossible to copy (huge index, fresh content) to one that's relatively easy (narrow popular index, much easier for any company to compete with).
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