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Rand Fishkin: Google oggi è il competitor di tutti i siti web

Keynote di Rand Fishkin sull'evoluzione di Google

La scorsa settimana, parlando delle reazioni della comunità SEO all’attacco del Wall Street Journal contro Google, avevamo riportato anche la posizione di Rand Fishkin, sottolineando come fosse significativo il suo intervento in difesa di Big G, contro cui il fondatore di Moz e di Sparktoro non è mai stato particolarmente tenero. Ed ecco che arriva una nuova conferma, con l’intervento “Google in 2020: From Everyone’s Search Engine to Everyone’s Competitor” con cui Fishkin ha aperto l’evento SMX East a New York.

Google è il nuovo competitor di tutti i siti

Dalle pagine del blog della sua (nuova) compagnia, Fishkin spiega il ragionamento che ha portato avanti nel suo intervento (oltre 80 slide, leggibili sempre all’interno della pagina): Google sta abbandonando il suo ruolo di motore di ricerca (search engine) per avvicinarsi a un motore di risposta (answer to engine) e, tendenza sempre più recente ed evidente, a competitor diretto di un numero enorme di siti e settori di business.

Sempre più strumenti, funzioni e risorse per catturare utenti

In questa ottica, la strada per i web marketer sembra chiara e segnata: la più grande fonte di traffico sul web – gratuita e a pagamento – sta diventando un “giardino recintato“, interessato non solo a mantenere le persone nelle sue proprietà, ma a competere direttamente con le realtà che l’hanno aiutato a diventare un potere monopolistico e dominante. Lo abbiamo visto di recente con Google Shopping, ma anche con gli esempi di SERP senza link e con box diretto di risposta.

Come diversificare le fonti di traffico secondo Rand Fishkin

Secondo Fishkin, “se sei un marketer o un’azienda che si affida a Google hai ancora tantissime opportunità, almeno nella maggior parte dei settori – mi dispiace per Expedia, Yelp, TripAdvisor e chiunque cerchi di competere contro YouTube”. Tuttavia, per stare al passo bisogna pianificare il metodo giusto di diversificare le fonti di traffico, far crescere la domanda branded al di fuori della ricerca e come guadagnare valore dalle ricerche a zero clic.

Nuove stime sull’erosione di traffico organico

Proprio su quest’ultimo fronte arrivano nuovi dati che confermano l’erosione dei clic provenienti dalle pagine di ricerca di Google: oltre la metà delle ricerche su Google da mobile e quasi il 35% da desktop si è conclusa senza che l’utente abbia poi visitato altri contenuti, come segnala l’analisi di Jumpshot. Inoltre, secondo Fishkin la tendenza continua a essere un calo dell’organico a fronte di un aumento di ricerche che si completano su Ads o con nessun clic.

Quota di mercato dei motori di ricerca

Il 7,5 delle ricerche porta a proprietà Google

Nello specifico, solo a settembre 2019 “il 7,5% di tutte le ricerche ha portato a un clic su una proprietà Alphabet“, ovvero la holding che controlla Google e le altre aziende collegate. Quindi, già oggi “Google è il principale beneficiario della Ricerca su Google, perché nessun altro sito si avvicina a quel dato del 7,5%”, emerge dall’indagine. Basti pensare, come dicevamo anche in un altro articolo sull’ottimizzazione SEO delle immagini, che il secondo motore di ricerca più usato è Google Immagini!

Google lancia la sfida a ogni sito e settore

Ma non c’è solo questo da evidenziare, perché Google è entrato in competizione in tanti altri settori attraverso le risposte dirette e le “incursioni” in nicchie verticali, come meteo, viaggi, locali e recensioni, che consentono all’utente di ottenere le informazioni richieste senza mai fare clic sui siti che hanno originariamente pubblicato questi contenuti.

Portando come dimostrazione i risultati di Google Hotels, Flights, Jobs Search, del “local pack” e degli altri tipi di rich results che compaiono sulla pagina principale dei risultati, Fishkin afferma che “la tendenza è molto diffusa” e sottrae traffico e business “a Skyscanner e Kayak nei viaggi, a Eater e Yelp nei risultati local, da US News e FiveThirtyEight nelle classifiche dei college, a Wunderground e Weather.com per il meteo, a MetaCritic e PC Game”. In pratica, tutti i siti tranne quelli di Alphabet stanno perdendo quando si cercano temi di “cultura popolare e media“.

Come resistere a Google?

Cosa possono fare i siti per continuare a competere? Nel suo intervento, l’esperto SEO offre qualche indicazione pratica: il primo passo è ” trovare il modo di rendere il nostro marchio quello che cercano gli utenti”, ovvero brandizzare la ricerca. Proseguendo l’esempio sulle previsioni, “non voglio più solo traffico per la keyword meteo, ma voglio ricerche per il mio marchio, per Weather Underground, Weather.com e Weather Channel”.

Esempio di query monopolizzata da Google

Puntare su ricerche branded e rafforzare il marchio

Inoltre, bisogna trovare il modo di beneficiare delle ricerche a zero clic, cercando di posizionarsi nei featured snippet con contenuti mirati e guadagnare così la fiducia e la familiarità degli utenti verso il proprio brand, che può aiutare la visibilità. Anche l’acquisto di Ads può essere pensato come strategia, così come possono risultare utili campagne promozionali offline vecchio stampo, come “cartelloni pubblicitari, annunci radiofonici e televisivi”, che possono influenzare il comportamento di ricerca.

È poi importante implementare correttamente il knowledge panel legato al proprio brand, certificandone la proprietà e chiedendo eventualmente modifiche se necessario, perché questa feature può aiutare a influenzare positivamente la percezione del marchio. Insomma, secondo Rand Fishkin dobbiamo pensare alla gestione della reputazione e alla branding awareness in ottica SEO per ottimizzare i risultati delle ricerche branded.

Le strategie per continuare a competere

Si pone a questo punto il classico dilemma del prigioniero, che per i siti assume questa forma: “Ottimizzo i contenuti per le ricerche a zero clic, per fornire queste risposte, contrassegno i miei risultati nel modo in cui Google li vuole, ma dall’altro lato mi espongo a una consequenziale perdita di traffico organico dalle ricerche”.

Dilemma SEO: ottimizzare o no per rich snippet?

La soluzione al dilemma del prigioniero SEO

Il meccanismo suggerito per uscir fuori da questo dubbio divide il problema in due categorie: un percorso da seguire per tutti i tipi di contenuto che possono emergere come rich results (l’immagine qui sopra) e un’altra specifica per i risultati di ricerca derivati ​​da dati strutturati (l’immagine successiva).

I siti che si trovano nel primo caso devono porsi due domande: “ho benefici nel posizionarmi per questa query anche senza traffico?”, seguita da “il mio team o cliente darà credito ai posizionamenti che non portano traffico?”. In caso di risposta affermativa a entrambe le domande, si deve investire in quella che Fishkin definisce On-Serp SEO, ovvero l’ottimizzazione per i rich results e le altre feature proposte da Google; altrimenti, bisogna focalizzare gli sforzi sulle parole chiave che generano (ancora) traffico.

Per i dati strutturati, le domande sono “guadagno o perdo valore aggiungendo dati strutturati che Google potrebbe usare in un box di risposta diretta?”, e poi “preferisco piazzarmi in un answer box o cederlo a un competitor per focalizzarmi su altre parole chiave?”. Se le risposte sono positive, si andrà a lavorare all’aggiunta dei dati strutturati, mentre in caso opposto conviene da subito spostare la strategia verso altre opportunità.

Soluzioni per chi opera con dati strutturati

Creare una domanda per il brand per proteggersi da Google

In definitiva, ogni sito deve cercare di proteggersi dalla competizione che sicuramente Google porterà in ogni settore, ma Fishkin lascia un messaggio di speranza dicendo che “abbiamo opportunità per costruire il nostro brand e avere successo”. È chiaro che basarsi sui motori di ricerca per raggiungere i clienti rende intrinsecamente i marchi dipendenti dal modo in cui tali motori di ricerca forniscono risultati: tuttavia, integrando gli sforzi SEO con una strategia che crea domanda per il brand potremmo riuscire a preservarci da questi cambiamenti e stare al passo con la concorrenza.

L’articolo Rand Fishkin: Google oggi è il competitor di tutti i siti web proviene da SEOZoom.

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Why You Don’t Need an Instagram Marketing Guide – Seriously!

When a colleague asked on Twitter who has written a brilliant Instagram marketing guide my willingness to help made me start my favorite search engine – Ecosia – and look for one.

Of course I found like a dozen more or less comprehensive Instagram marketing guides – most of them written by tool makers who make money by helping you market on Instagram. Yet before I clicked and compared those my brain finally started working.

I remembered the odd statistics and reports about Instagram. Sure, it’s still one of the most popular social media services these days. Sadly Instagram generates almost no traffic to publishers even when it comes to Instagram’s favorite topics – think fashion and cosmetics. How come?

What is Instagram and How Does it Work?

In simple terms Instagram is a photo and video publishing service. It’s similar to Flickr but it also has editing features like Canva. The combination of those two approaches made it a success possible in the first place.

In the early days photographers would make photos look vintage or low quality by adding some of the filters Instagram offered. By now Instagram is more about showing a picturesque lifestyle that is often too good to be true.

People are faking images left and right to show themselves better, stronger, sexier. Others who can’t keep up with the Joneses get depressed while trying or looking at those perfect travel, beauty and fashion photos.

Unlike actual social networking sites Instagram – owned by Facebook’s billionaire founder Mark Zuckerberg – is not about leading visitors astray to other websites. It’s about keeping them on Instagram from day one.

It’s almost impossible to even link out from Instagram. You can do it from your profile description but that’s about it and most people overlook or ignore that link.

As mentioned above Instagram popularity leads to almost no traffic to your own website:

“Instagram drives very little traffic: under 1% overall across all niches.”


Even compared to other – less popular – sites the traffic is meager. The much smaller Pinterest is far more impactful, especially when it comes to topics like fashion and beauty – the ones that are in the spotlight on Instagram:

One of the main reasons why brands flock to Instagram is because it’s still a cool site among teens and it has like a “billion” of users. Yet these users are not going to visit your site.

You have to create content for Instagram. Ideally you are a photographer who uploads their own photos to the service. That’s who used it when the site started and it’s still their most important use case.

On Instagram you can’t just share things from other people. Instagram is about creating and publishing visual content – think mainly photography. There are other ways to create images for Instagram but most of them won’t suffice by themselves.

Some accounts to indeed take content from other accounts and simply republish it but that’s frowned upon by photographers and copyright holders. You risk a hefty bill for that unauthorized usage later on.

The Best Way to Practice Instagram Marketing – Work with Influencers

The best way to approach Instagram marketing is not to try to create a popular Instagram profile. Instead the only feasible way for most brands is to work with existing Instagram users – some call them influencers and to make them share your products and promote your brand.

How you convince people to spread the word about you – whether involving direct sponsorships – or by trying to become hip among those influencers by others means does not matter as long as you get them to talk about you.

Red Bull is a great example of proper Instagram marketing.

They don’t have to pay Instagram influencers to post something featuring their brand they simply sponsor athletes who are also on Instagram and report about themselves while wearing Red Bull clothing or drinking their drink.

Also Red Bull has a magnificent content creation machine running. They have whole film making teams following extreme sports athletes around the world or staging stunts in attractive locations just to film them.

Most brands that aren’t publishers already do not have something remotely similar. There aren’t even photographers on most teams, even large ones.

Influencers on the other hand literally live for Instagram and treat their whole life as a way to Insta fame. Sometimes they go bankrupt while at it and many influencers are faking follower counts and even engagement but there are still people out there who are indeed successful on the site.

Trying to Be Cool like the Kids?

Many brands are trying hard to become cool on Instagram – often years late – after the service has gone mainstream. I even see visually unattractive industries like Web hosting trying to impress the cool kids and show them that they also belong. Yet it does not work that way.

The coolest kids have moved on from Instagram already.

It’s not just that the site is infamous for spreading unhealthy body images of barely clad teens bordering on pedophilia and among the leading causes of anxiety and depression. Instagram is not that cool anymore for those in the know.

When Instagram became more than just an image sharing or photo manipulation app I considered to start using the service but quickly realized that it’s a futile attempt at trying to howl with the wolves.

Instead I focused on my hitherto established Pinterest presence. There I could reshare content from other people and spread the word about them instead of stroking my ego and trying to make myself a celebrity or something with the proverbial 15 minutes of fame.

When you are young, cool and sexy you still can get popular on Instagram despite the picky algorithm they use now. As a brand you will always be just “also ran”.

How to Decide Whether to Join Instagram

The decision making process about Instagram marketing for brands goes something like this: “why aren’t we on Instagram yet? Everybody else is! Let’s join the bandwagon! How? We don’t have visual content to post! Then create some!” That’s about it.

Then graphic designers try to come up with shareable content that also reflects brand values. It’s rarely cool though as most brands aren’t and they can’t simply show off almost naked bodies or nearly impossible stunts that usually get traction on the site.

Focus on what you do best and stick to it. Do not just waste money on establishing an Instagram presence when other services are much better suited to represent your type of business.

Approach influencers and make them spread the word about you.

There are many tools that even help you find influencers on social media. Just remember to have a proper budget for influencer marketing and do not contact the same superstars everybody else does. People who have organic reach aren’t into working for you for free and the ones that have lots of reach have no time to deal with you at all in most cases.

For me personally Pinterest is still the best social media site. I get hundreds of visitors from Pinterest while I get a few from Facebook and none from Instagram on my cycling blog that hasn’t been publishing in years. Why? I have lots of evergreen visual content people still share voluntarily.

Pinterest is the second biggest source of social media traffic to publishers’ websites for many years in a row according to Statcounter. It comes right after Facebook.

In the US 30% of social media traffic comes from Pinterest! That’s ten times as much as Instagram yields. Globally it’s still 15%.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Social Media Market Share in the US

Instagram is barely a blip. Sure Red Bull has also millions of followers on Instagram yet they don’t do it for traffic. They can rely on brand recognition as a consumer product when you probably can’t.

That’s also how you can decide whether you or your company can effectively build an audience on Instagram without sacrificing much need resources elsewhere.

  • Do you sell to consumers directly?
  • Are you a lifestyle brand or do you offer lifestyle products?
  • Is your business model highly visual and visually attractive?
  • Do you have people already talking about you and your products on Instagram?
  • Is your direct competition really successful on Instagram or are they just there because “everybody” is?
  • Can you allocate enough budget to Instagram content creation without reducing spend on existing channels or minimizing other tasks?

The last company I worked for decided to go after Instagram instead of promoting content that was already created for the blog wrote for. It was a huge distraction and did not really reach the right audience at the right time. The only goal was seemingly brand recognition.

The blog did not get because of lack of audience building measures. Much needed resources were bound on Instagram.

Meanwhile graphic designers barely had enough time to search for free images on Unsplash instead of creating illustrations or infographics for the blog. Why? The desired Instagram fame required a steady flow of “creative” images.

Instagram Alternatives for Marketers Who Dislike Vanity Metrics

When you are a Web-savvy marketer you will probably be careful when allocating resources to Instagram and consider also alternatives that may be more valuable for your business. Just following hypes may be costly.

Vanity metrics like user numbers aren’t helpful to determine the actual outcome of marketing campaigns. A billion wows you but does it really mean revenue?

I mentioned Pinterest above more than once. You get much more traffic there and need a lot less resources to get traction. You can just multiply other people’s content most of the time and only occasionally add yours.

That’s indeed the best way to get recognition on Pinterest. Purely self-promotional accounts do not get much attention. Also the context you appear in is much better. Pinterest is an inspirational site. Instagram is infamous for causing depression among teens.

When you are into B2B you probably won’t have any use for Instagram anyway. Even though they added shopping features in 2019 you rather won’t sell software there.

Your best bet might be LinkedIn instead. The social networking site for business people has become better and better over the years and surprisingly further improved since Microsoft took over.

Mere text ads won’t work well there but genuine engagement driven by content marketing has been proven to show encouraging results for some of the marketing leaders. LinkedIn even favors smaller businesses now.

Just in case you are really after the cool crowd or teens because they are the future literally consider a site or service that is still growing in popularity and hasn’t arrived in the mainstream yet. Snapchat is almost there but it’s still so cool that Instagram frantically attempts to copy their features.

TikTok is an app from China that conquers the West like no other. Even Mark Zuckerberg fails at copying its successful features or formats. Early adopting such services before they are already populated by “everybody” might be a better idea than joining an overcrowded platform late

Always remember that social media are distribution channels and not meant to replace your own publishing outlets.

Imagine the New York Times giving up their website or newspaper and publishing on Instagram instead. Impossible! Why would you do this? Publish on your site first and foremost. Use social media to spread the word about your content right where it belongs – on your own property.

When First Joining Instagram – Where to Start?

Still not convinced? You want to try and invest money into Instagram beyond just working with influencers? You really want to do it yourself, create an publish content on Zuckerberg’s site? Then at least do it right from the start. How?

Hire people who will do it for you instead of tediously learning yourself, several years late! Remember that Zuckerberg bought Instagram back in 2012! It was the next big thing already then.

You will need an experienced social media manager of course but that won’t suffice. As mentioned above you also need content creators who are into visual media – mainly photos and videos. You also consider artists and designers but with photos you will miss the main pillar of Instagram success.

Do not assume that after reading an Instagram marketing guide or two you will become the new kid on the block everybody wants to check out.

As a brand ambassador you can’t just flaunt your body or use irresponsible footage of dangerous stunts. People literally kill themselves while trying to get famous there.

When you arrive late at least acknowledge that fact and act accordingly. Build upon the experience and expertise of those who came before you. Do not start like a newbie. Start with professionals on your side assisting you.

OMG! This article turned into another Instagram marketing guide. Let me summarize my message then: do not join Instagram just because it’s mainstream now. When you need to learn Instagram marketing from scratch in 2020 you are already a decade late. Make an informed decision.

In case you still want to join Instagram and popularize your business there after reading this post at least do it right by getting the right people to implement it. Those unpaid social media interns are probably way better at Instagram than you. You better offer them a real contract.

The post Why You Don’t Need an Instagram Marketing Guide – Seriously! appeared first on SEO 2.0.

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Google Florida 2.0 Algorithm Update: Early Observations

It has been a while since Google has had a major algorithm update.

They recently announced one which began on the 12th of March.

What changed?

It appears multiple things did.

When Google rolled out the original version of Penguin on April 24, 2012 (primarily focused on link spam) they also rolled out an update to an on-page spam classifier for misdirection.

And, over time, it was quite common for Panda & Penguin updates to be sandwiched together.

If you were Google & had the ability to look under the hood to see why things changed, you would probably want to obfuscate any major update by changing multiple things at once to make reverse engineering the change much harder.

Anyone who operates a single website (& lacks the ability to look under the hood) will have almost no clue about what changed or how to adjust with the algorithms.

In the most recent algorithm update some sites which were penalized in prior “quality” updates have recovered.

Though many of those recoveries are only partial.

Many SEO blogs will publish articles about how they cracked the code on the latest update by publishing charts like the first one without publishing that second chart showing the broader context.

The first penalty any website receives might be the first of a series of penalties.

If Google smokes your site & it does not cause a PR incident & nobody really cares that you are gone, then there is a very good chance things will go from bad to worse to worser to worsterest, technically speaking.

“In this age, in this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes, or pronounces judicial decisions.” – Abraham Lincoln

Absent effort & investment to evolve FASTER than the broader web, sites which are hit with one penalty will often further accumulate other penalties. It is like compound interest working in reverse – a pile of algorithmic debt which must be dug out of before the bleeding stops.

Further, many recoveries may be nothing more than a fleeting invitation to false hope. To pour more resources into a site that is struggling in an apparent death loop.

The above site which had its first positive algorithmic response in a couple years achieved that in part by heavily de-monetizing. After the algorithm updates already demonetized the website over 90%, what harm was there in removing 90% of what remained to see how it would react? So now it will get more traffic (at least for a while) but then what exactly is the traffic worth to a site that has no revenue engine tied to it?

That is ultimately the hard part. Obtaining a stable stream of traffic while monetizing at a decent yield, without the monetizing efforts leading to the traffic disappearing.

A buddy who owns the above site was working on link cleanup & content improvement on & off for about a half year with no results. Each month was a little worse than the prior month. It was only after I told him to remove the aggressive ads a few months back that he likely had any chance of seeing any sort of traffic recovery. Now he at least has a pulse of traffic & can look into lighter touch means of monetization.

If a site is consistently penalized then the problem might not be an algorithmic false positive, but rather the business model of the site.

The more something looks like eHow the more fickle Google’s algorithmic with receive it.

Google does not like websites that sit at the end of the value chain & extract profits without having to bear far greater risk & expense earlier into the cycle.

Thin rewrites, largely speaking, don’t add value to the ecosystem. Doorway pages don’t either. And something that was propped up by a bunch of keyword-rich low-quality links is (in most cases) probably genuinely lacking in some other aspect.

Generally speaking, Google would like themselves to be the entity at the end of the value chain extracting excess profits from markets.

This is the purpose of the knowledge graph & featured snippets. To allow the results to answer the most basic queries without third party publishers getting anything. The knowledge graph serve as a floating vertical that eat an increasing share of the value chain & force publishers to move higher up the funnel & publish more differentiated content.

As Google adds features to the search results (flight price trends, a hotel booking service on the day AirBNB announced they acquired HotelTonight, ecommerce product purchase on Google, shoppable image ads just ahead of the Pinterest IPO, etc.) it forces other players in the value chain to consolidate (Expedia owns Orbitz, Travelocity, Hotwire & a bunch of other sites) or add greater value to remain a differentiated & sought after destination (travel review site TripAdvisor was crushed by the shift to mobile & the inability to monetize mobile traffic, so they eventually had to shift away from being exclusively a reviews site to offer event & hotel booking features to remain relevant).

It is never easy changing a successful & profitable business model, but it is even harder to intentionally reduce revenues further or spend aggressively to improve quality AFTER income has fallen 50% or more.

Some people do the opposite & make up for a revenue shortfall by publishing more lower end content at an ever faster rate and/or increasing ad load. Either of which typically makes their user engagement metrics worse while making their site less differentiated & more likely to receive additional bonus penalties to drive traffic even lower.

In some ways I think the ability for a site to survive & remain though a penalty is itself a quality signal for Google.

Some sites which are overly reliant on search & have no external sources of traffic are ultimately sites which tried to behave too similarly to the monopoly that ultimately displaced them. And over time the tech monopolies are growing more powerful as the ecosystem around them burns down:

If you had to choose a date for when the internet died, it would be in the year 2014. Before then, traffic to websites came from many sources, and the web was a lively ecosystem. But beginning in 2014, more than half of all traffic began coming from just two sources: Facebook and Google. Today, over 70 percent of traffic is dominated by those two platforms.

Businesses which have sustainable profit margins & slack (in terms of management time & resources to deploy) can better cope with algorithmic changes & change with the market.

Over the past half decade or so there have been multiple changes that drastically shifted the online publishing landscape:

  • the shift to mobile, which both offers publishers lower ad yields while making the central ad networks more ad heavy in a way that reduces traffic to third party sites
  • the rise of the knowledge graph & featured snippets which often mean publishers remain uncompensated for their work
  • higher ad loads which also lower organic reach (on both search & social channels)
  • the rise of programmatic advertising, which further gutted display ad CPMs
  • the rise of ad blockers
  • increasing algorithmic uncertainty & a higher barrier to entry

Each one of the above could take a double digit percent out of a site’s revenues, particularly if a site was reliant on display ads. Add them together and a website which was not even algorithmically penalized could still see a 60%+ decline in revenues. Mix in a penalty and that decline can chop a zero or two off the total revenues.

Businesses with lower margins can try to offset declines with increased ad spending, but that only works if you are not in a market with 2 & 20 VC fueled competition:

Startups spend almost 40 cents of every VC dollar on Google, Facebook, and Amazon. We don’t necessarily know which channels they will choose or the particularities of how they will spend money on user acquisition, but we do know more or less what’s going to happen. Advertising spend in tech has become an arms race: fresh tactics go stale in months, and customer acquisition costs keep rising. In a world where only one company thinks this way, or where one business is executing at a level above everyone else – like Facebook in its time – this tactic is extremely effective. However, when everyone is acting this way, the industry collectively becomes an accelerating treadmill. Ad impressions and click-throughs get bid up to outrageous prices by startups flush with venture money, and prospective users demand more and more subsidized products to gain their initial attention. The dynamics we’ve entered is, in many ways, creating a dangerous, high stakes Ponzi scheme.

And sometimes the platform claws back a second or third bite of the apple. Amazon.com charges merchants for fulfillment, warehousing, transaction based fees, etc. And they’ve pushed hard into launching hundreds of private label brands which pollute the interface & force brands to buy ads even on their own branded keyword terms.

They’ve recently jumped the shark by adding a bonus feature where even when a brand paid Amazon to send traffic to their listing, Amazon would insert a spam popover offering a cheaper private label branded product:

Amazon.com tested a pop-up feature on its app that in some instances pitched its private-label goods on rivals’ product pages, an experiment that shows the e-commerce giant’s aggressiveness in hawking lower-priced products including its own house brands. The recent experiment, conducted in Amazon’s mobile app, went a step further than the display ads that commonly appear within search results and product pages. This test pushed pop-up windows that took over much of a product page, forcing customers to either click through to the lower-cost Amazon products or dismiss them before continuing to shop. … When a customer using Amazon’s mobile app searched for “AAA batteries,” for example, the first link was a sponsored listing from Energizer Holdings Inc. After clicking on the listing, a pop-up window appeared, offering less expensive AmazonBasics AAA batteries.”

Buying those Amazon ads was quite literally subsidizing a direct competitor pushing you into irrelevance.

And while Amazon is destroying brand equity, AWS is doing investor relations matchmaking for startups. Anything to keep the current bubble going ahead of the Uber IPO that will likely mark the top in the stock market.

As the market caps of big tech companies climb they need to be more predatious to grow into the valuations & retain employees with stock options at an ever-increasing strike price.

They’ve created bubbles in their own backyards where each raise requires another. Teachers either drive hours to work or live in houses subsidized by loans from the tech monopolies that get a piece of the upside (provided they can keep their own bubbles inflated).

“It is an uncommon arrangement — employer as landlord — that is starting to catch on elsewhere as school employees say they cannot afford to live comfortably in regions awash in tech dollars. … Holly Gonzalez, 34, a kindergarten teacher in East San Jose, and her husband, Daniel, a school district I.T. specialist, were able to buy a three-bedroom apartment for $610,000 this summer with help from their parents and from Landed. When they sell the home, they will owe Landed 25 percent of any gain in its value. The company is financed partly by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Mark Zuckerberg’s charitable arm.”

The above sort of dynamics have some claiming peak California:

The cycle further benefits from the Alchian-Allen effect: agglomerating industries have higher productivity, which raises the cost of living and prices out other industries, raising concentration over time. … Since startups raise the variance within whatever industry they’re started in, the natural constituency for them is someone who doesn’t have capital deployed in the industry. If you’re an asset owner, you want low volatility. … Historically, startups have created a constant supply of volatility for tech companies; the next generation is always cannibalizing the previous one. So chip companies in the 1970s created the PC companies of the 80s, but PC companies sourced cheaper and cheaper chips, commoditizing the product until Intel managed to fight back. Meanwhile, the OS turned PCs into a commodity, then search engines and social media turned the OS into a commodity, and presumably this process will continue indefinitely. … As long as higher rents raise the cost of starting a pre-revenue company, fewer people will join them, so more people will join established companies, where they’ll earn market salaries and continue to push up rents. And one of the things they’ll do there is optimize ad loads, which places another tax on startups. More dangerously, this is an incremental tax on growth rather than a fixed tax on headcount, so it puts pressure on out-year valuations, not just upfront cash flow.

If you live hundreds of miles away the tech companies may have no impact on your rental or purchase price, but you can’t really control the algorithms or the ecosystem.

All you can really control is your mindset & ensuring you have optionality baked into your business model.

  • If you are debt-levered you have little to no optionality. Savings give you optionality. Savings allow you to run at a loss for a period of time while also investing in improving your site and perhaps having a few other sites in other markets.
  • If you operate a single website that is heavily reliant on a third party for distribution then you have little to no optionality. If you have multiple projects that enables you to shift your attention toward working on whatever is going up and to the right while letting anything that is failing pass time without becoming overly reliant on something you can’t change. This is why it often makes sense for a brand merchant to operate their own ecommerce website even if 90% of their sales come from Amazon. It gives you optionality should the tech monopoly become abusive or otherwise harm you (even if the intent was benign rather than outright misanthropic).

As the update ensues Google will collect more data with how users interact with the result set & determine how to weight different signals, along with re-scoring sites that recovered based on the new engagement data.

Recently a Bing engineer named Frédéric Dubut described how they score relevancy signals used in updates

As early as 2005, we used neural networks to power our search engine and you can still find rare pictures of Satya Nadella, VP of Search and Advertising at the time, showcasing our web ranking advances. … The “training” process of a machine learning model is generally iterative (and all automated). At each step, the model is tweaking the weight of each feature in the direction where it expects to decrease the error the most. After each step, the algorithm remeasures the rating of all the SERPs (based on the known URL/query pair ratings) to evaluate how it’s doing. Rinse and repeat.

That same process is ongoing with Google now & in the coming weeks there’ll be the next phase of the current update.

So far it looks like some quality-based re-scoring was done & some sites which were overly reliant on anchor text got clipped. On the back end of the update there’ll be another quality-based re-scoring, but the sites that were hit for excessive manipulation of anchor text via link building efforts will likely remain penalized for a good chunk of time.

Update: It appears a major reverberation of this update occurred on April 7th. From early analysis, Google is mixing in showing results for related midtail concepts on a core industry search term & they are also in some cases pushing more aggressively on doing internal site-level searches to rank a more relevant internal page for a query where they homepage might have ranked in the past.

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Platform Independent Online Publishing

A wood platform on the beach which is already under water.

Platform independence is a term known from programming. It’s not solely about software though. In reality it matters for website owners and online publishers as well.

In practice platform independent programming means that a piece of software does not depend on a certain browser, plug in or operating system.

Dependence on a single platform can make or break a business.

At a certain point in time platform dependence might seem the right way to go – think Google optimization today.  In the long run being dependent on a single service is a recipe for disaster.

Need an example? By now we see that some websites only “support” Google Chrome – the currently market dominant browser. They don’t work or are buggy on Firefox.

History is repeating. When Microsoft dominated the browser market with Internet Explorer many sites only worked on IE. It was a short-sighted decision as we know by now.

 

When gatekeepers close the gate or walled gardens degenerate

Any business person that has lost a substantial part of its visitors and revenue due to a Google penalty or tweak in the Google algo knows what I am talking about.

People who relied on Facebook and have seen organic traffic turn into a trickle for no apparent reason other than to make room for ads know it too.

In 2018 many publishers cried foul when Facebook – many of them depended upon for traffic – announced a major algorithm change to remove their pages from people’s feeds.

Platform dependency on Google is still common.

In countries like the UK, France or Germany where Google is the de facto search engine monopoly many people readily give up on their freedom by relying on Google traffic and ads.

On social media this situation gets even worse. Many legit social media participants create power accounts on sites like

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+

just to discover that they have been banned. I have also seen all kinds of legit users being axed for various reasons on social media sites. Other sites simply disappear due to

  • bankruptcy
  • acquisition
  • negligence.

Marketers (of course!) but also bloggers and even activists are often affected. Facebook has even banned gay-rights activists for not using their real names.

You have no rights whatsoever on social media sites. They can ban you on their whim. Being angry about it does not make sense. You have to prepare yourself for that.

Leaving for another “next big thing” service will only help temporarily.

At first startups innovate and grow backed by “venture capital” but sooner or later they have to squeeze out their user base.

Making money online from third party content and connections still largely amount to ads. These sites have to be squeaky clean to attract advertisers. You may not fit in anymore. Think Tumblr!

 

How to play by your own rules

How to prepare yourself for being platform independent in times when only a few sites seem to control everything, both in search as well as on social media?

  • Make sure to collect your contacts internally, that is using CRM software or similar tools.
  • Make sure to (be able to) connect with your peers using tools like Email, Skype etc. and NOT by using internal social media sites systems.
  • Make sure not to publish solely on third party sites like Blogger, WordPress.com, Facebook, Twitter or Medium but make sure to have your own self hosted blog.
  • Make sure to have several major traffic sources, especially focusing on returning visitors and subscribers.
  • Make sure to brand yourself as a person or business. When people know you by name they will proactively search for you and seek you out.
  • Make sure not to rely on solely one ad provider, especially Google ads but try to get several revenue streams.

While I attempted to become independent from Google with this blog I failed to practice truly platform independent online publishing.

In order to stay independent for good you need to build your won audience using tools you control yourself. Feeds or mail have been such tools for a while.

Now Google even controls the inboxes of the global population through Gmail.

I invested much time and effort in some platforms like Google+ that either failed to become mainstream or that made it but throttle organic reach to sell more ads.

 

Connecting on your own terms

From now on I want to learn from my own mistakes and connect with my peers in a platform independent way.

Contact me by mail or comment below this post here so that we can connect independently of gatekeepers and walled gardens.

You can also tell me your favorite way of communication in case you prefer another channel. Tell me who you are and how can I contact you in future independently from any social site.

Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin etc
. are great tools but they own you. They own your content. They control your connections. They decide what you see and what not.

There is even a popular term for the sad state of the Web. We call it the “filter bubble” where you only get shown what the algorithms chooses for you based on your past interactions.

First published: September 14th, 2009. Last updated: January 26th, 2018. I completely overhauled the post without diluting the message.

 

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