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The Politics of Search: it’s just beginning…

When a blog gets “popular”, the blogger is faced with a quandary. Continue to do what has made the blog popular, or recognize that there is now audience expectation, and accommodate it? The audience is people, and people live by politics. If you don’t accommodate the people, you can find yourself on the wrong side of a pitchfork (or tied to a stake). If you do go “politically correct”, won’t the critics sway that mob against you eventually? People is politics. No matter how much you might wish it weren’t so, politics will play an active role in any successful business or industry as it evolves.

Search is no exception. Google seemed to eschew politics for years as it grew into one of the world’s most powerful corporations. Google referenced “the algorithm” as the source of every nuance, skew, prejudice, or bias evident in the search results. Have a political complaint? Concerned about search results which seem to infer something about Judaism, abortion, creationism, white supremacy, or even left-handedness? Don’t blame Google. Blame the algorithm, and recognize that Google is trying really really hard to make it better, every single day. “Thanks for the highlight of the problem“, Google would say in response to criticism. “This helps us to make the algorithm even better!” It worked. The defenders of Google escorted Google all the way to the bank, heralding the “don’t be evil” company as a leader and innovator worthy of the massive profits it had earned.

Of course what Google was really doing was playing politics. Better than most, I might add. Sans the lobbyists and open debates, Google was working the people. Price controls? No, Google doesn’t control prices. Google measures quality, and adjusts pricing based on quality scores. People believed it, and Google controlled pricing. And now Google is controlling Internet commerce using the new Google Politics, while we all watch. Google gets hugely richer and more powerful every single day, as we watch and (if you are an SEO, you play along).

But one emerging area that might test the waters of this new political Google is domaining. Domainers control a very large amount of Internet traffic. Domainers are keen on developing that traffic, to better serve it commercially, while earning a share of the commercial profits associated with serving that market. Just as Google delivered search and then monetized it via commercialization of the traffic flowing through search, domainers have published on domains (parked pages) and are now seeking to monetize the traffic flowing through those domains. The problem is, in the current PPC marketplace, Google is managing that traffic, too.

As a search consultant, I work with companies to help them earn more search referrals (targeted traffic) from Google. I am very confident in my knowledge of what helps Google to give you free targeted traffic, and my ability to execute. I see the tangible results of my efforts every day in the traffic logs. More traffic, more conversions, and more rewards from Google for meeting the needs of the Internet searcher. But when I look at this emerging field of domain development, as defined by domainers, I see a political storm developing.

In Miami I was lucky to meet Jay Chapman of Digimedia. Jay and his company have published a site you won’t find in Google’s index: DiamondsDirect.com. If you look at it from an SEO perspective, you might classify it as a thin affiliate site or a shopping aggregator. We SEO people would expect that site to suffer from poor quality scores in Google, ranking off the first page for sure, and in need of substantial SEO work to go after the long tail terms represented by its content. We would have to do some work to keep it out of the supplemental index, because it uses a popular data feed. Since Google is not yet selling diamond jewelry, I would not expect it to be completely absent from the Google index, just off the first pages. I’m not sure how much of an arbitrage play it is, but I’m assuming that’s not a primary problem.

From a domainer perspective, DiamondsDirect.com is a rich parked page. It has supremely relevant content, quality imagery, and several layers of content behind navigation that engages the visitor and genuinely guides the visitor to appropriate jewelry choices ultimately sold up by affiliated sites. To the domainer, there is no reason at all that DiamondsDirect.com should no rank #1 for its own name “diamondsdirect”, if not for many other very closely related searches. But it doesn’t. It’s banned from Google (or at least completely absent).

Politically, where is the line that separates worthy vs. unworthy sites? The quality score approach enabled Google to effectively control who gets and doesn’t get search traffic for the money terms, without openly assigning value. But what about these rich parked pages? What happens as they get richer and richer? Certainly this site is already better than most of the “made for adsense” sites out there. We expect those to be supressed below page 10 or so, but dropped completely? here’s one that still exists out there, and ranks #1 for it’s own name. And yes, it ranks for its content as well. (if it goes away after I publish this, it was www.nr59.org).

I would not have mentioned a specific site here except that Frank Schilling already highlighted Digimedia’s rich parked pages on the Seven Mile blog a few days ago. Frank suggests that this is the future of the web, as more and more of the millions of parked pages develop into useful, commerce-driving “billboards” on the web. I can’t disagree, although I have my reservations. This is a political battle, and Google is very very good at politics. Those who know how I work as an SEO consultant know that I would never publicly call my pages “parked pages”, never have them on parked page domain services, and never highlight them as projects seeking search traffic. I know Google better than that, and I’m not in the business of advocating for change but rather quietly integrating with the status-quo to earn profits from free search referral traffic. If you heard my “speech” at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Miami referencing “Google the grumpy old man”, you know what I mean. But unlike regular web publishers, domainers have leverage. Google is earning a large percentage of its PPC profits from parked pages. Google is getting a large percentage of its traffic from parked pages.

How will domainers use their leverage? How will Google respond? This is politics, folks, and it should be exciting to watch. In the mean time, duck and cover, and if you want search traffic, I’d suggest a solid stealth SEO strategy.

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8 Responses to “The Politics of Search: it’s just beginning…”

  1. Shane Says:

    I have no doubt that Google is biased against sites like this, but DiamondDirect looks like it might be a bad example.

    If the site is only a few months old, it definitely still doesn’t have enough quality backlinks to rank for anything in Google — even its own name. Yahoo shows only 7 links to the homepage, and none of them are very compelling.

    I could definitely see Google automatically penalizing a site that clearly is just a Yahoo shopping feed as well — rightly or wrongly.

    There are also a number of very basic SEO things that need to be done to the site. First, every page has the exact same title tag and meta description. That’s a clear indicator of generated content, or at least a site that doesn’t know how to use those tags. Second, some of the pages have hundreds of markup validation errors. This may or may not cause problems, but when you couple it with 1,230 lines of debug code before you ever get to the actual start of the HTML, it can’t be helping.

    The site looks outstanding, though, and functions extraordinarily well, so I’d be really interested to see how it ranks once these problems are cleaned up and the site gets some age and backlinks behind it.

    John replies: Shane, you make good points w/r to seo, but let’s not forget that SEO is not a necessary condition for inclusion. Validation and non-unique title tags for example have nothing to do with inclusion. For now, let’s not look to this page as an example of SEO (because it is not) but rather an example of a real site that for some reason is not included in the index (I assume you did not suggest that lack of SEO could be responsible for lack of inclusion).

    You said it shouldn’t rank based on youth, but I am noting it is not even listed in the index. If you want to make a case for youth correlating with non-inclusion, I would argue with you unless there is a current hold on index updates (I haven’t looked this month, but it has happened). Absent some unusual barrier to inclusion like that, this site should be at least listed in the index.

    I’d love to see Google confirm that a site built around a Yahoo! shopping feed is a candidate for non-inclusion. Again, I have no evidence to suggest that, especially because this is not in travel or any of the niche markets Google itself is monetizing. As for quality as a “thin” affiliate site, that was my point. Where does one draw the line? Is every affiliate of BlueNile jewelry a candidate for non-inclusion? I doubt that is the case, either.

  2. Ben Wilks Says:

    It’s just a set of filters* That lack of SEO is be responsible for lack of inclusion. Goog are very good at discerning between a parked page and a small business website. There are different thresholds for inclusion based on the SERP(s), ie. Diamonds/pet food/legal/business name, etc. If the serps are less competitive your milage will very.

    One good link establishing a local address and prehaps some words on the homepage would certainly help. Some good tips there ;-)

    (*I am only talking about indexing ranking the site on it’s keyword(s), not the subpages) Ignore the site and address the basics.

    John replies: Ben, I hear what you’re saying, but I think we have different meanings for the word “SEO” in this case. Yes, search engine optimization can be considered a factor for inclusion, as you say (because search optimization starts with inclusion… of course), but I was referring to the ranking factors normally known as SEO factors. So yes, SEO can solve the inclusion problem (by doing what it takes to not be a parked page and to be included) but the barrier to inclusion in this case is not normal SEO factors - it’s Google’s specific intent to block “parked” pages from being included. That said, the question really is, how long can they hold that position as parked pages get more “normal”? Again, I don’t mean “normal” from an SEO perspective, but normal as in “they are still obviously owned by domain parkers, but they are very much like regular web pages”.

  3. Dan Says:

    Hi,

    John…very nice article.

    Peace!
    Dan

  4. website magazine Says:

    The Politics of Search: it’s just beginning…

    When a blog gets “popular”, the blogger is faced with a quandary. Continue to do what has made the blog popular, or recognize that there is now audience expectation, and accommodate it?…

  5. jotting.org » Frank’s blog Says:

    […] “”Of course what Google was really doing was playing politics. Better than most, I might add. Sans the lobbyists and open debates, Google was working the people. Price controls? No, Google doesn’t control prices. Google measures quality, and adjusts pricing based on quality scores.”” … Reading this quote Danno sent from Johnon’s blog really struck me… […]

  6. john andrews Says:

    @Ben: Wow… look what is appearing at #9 for “diamondsdirect.com”:

    d-i-a-m-o-n-d-s-d-i-r-e-c-t.com, a parked page at GoDaddy!

  7. john andrews Says:

    Update 11/2007:

    Since this article was published, Google has removed the offending “made for adsense” site that showed Google does include and rank sites of low quality. Google has also removed the hyphenated parsing exploit domain which was noted at GoDaddy’s parked page warehouse.

    So we know Google is actively monitoring and correcting what it decides makes for bad public perception. Selectively.

    The core problem remains, however, in that certain sites are excluded sans explanation, despite obvious awareness of that fact. Does that confirm intent? Confirm that Google deliberately denies access to certain sites based not on “technical factors” but rather censorship?

  8. » Google vs. Innovation - John Andrews - johnon.com Says:

    […] I was reviewing my DiamondsDirect.com post and noticing that Google had (manually?) corrected all of the embarassing bits I noted in that post, while avoiding acknowledging their censorship of the web via profiling (parked pages, innovative methods etc). In the past I have vocally encouraged Google’s support for creativity and the expansion of the web. But for many years I have also noted that Google’s business model leads it towards biased censorship and anti-competitive practices. It looks like we are seeing plenty of that now. […]

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