Google’s much ballyhooed Penguin 2.0 update was expected to target sites that engaged in link spam, but it looks like there’s been a host of other changes. I wrote how localization is much more prominent in organic listings already.
Another change I’ve seen is the ever-increasing rise of brands ranking highly in Google’s search results. Big box brands like Amazon, Walmart, eBay, Overstock and more rank for nearly every ecommerce keyword. It’s rare to see smaller ecommerce stores (read: small businesses) ranking at all in the top five positions and sometimes even on the first page.
The biggest winners of the Penguin 2.0 update were all huge brands: YouTube (Google owned), eBay, Google, Amazon and Walmart.
How do small businesses compete as these giants take away more and more visits online? They seem to have two options:
1. Invest in becoming more of a brand online. This makes sense, but the level of investment needed to compete with big box retailers is significant. Most smaller ecommerce stores simply can’t afford it.
2. Start leveraging user generated content on 3rd party sites. Powerhouse sites that are ranking extremely well like YouTube, eHow and Slideshare are all user powered. For a lot of ecommerce websites, you’ll have a better shot at ranking on page 1 in Google for difficult terms by creating a video or slideshow on a 3rd party site than you would investing in your own domain.
This is the sad reality of Google’s heavy push on brand importance in search engine results. The only hope for your average online retailer is to bow down to Google and create content on a Google or Amazon owned property since they are more likely to be ranked highly than a standalone site.
Google has said that they are really pushing user experience when it comes to ranking pages in their search engine. Eric Schmidt says “brands filter out the cesspool.”
Brands certainly have their advantages: mostly consistent experience, larger inventory, low prices.
But they don’t have the knowledge and passion that a smaller and more focused company has. If you are buying a product, you’re likely to find more relevant and trustworthy information from a specialty store.
While Walmart and brick and mortar big box stores are pushing more and more small businesses out, the web provides a chance to level the playing field for entrepreneurs and mom and pop shops. It’s just as easy for a web user to visit Walmart.com as it is to go the website of your local furniture store or clothing shop.
The web provides such a unique opportunity to place more value on knowledge, experience and quality in the marketplace yet Google keeps pushing big box retailers more with every update. (Perhaps the shift is because Google themselves have become the biggest of all big box retailers.)
Google’s Age of Brands is starting to look a lot like the physical stores in American small towns. When big brands can easily rank for anything they want to in Google, you end up with Overstock.com selling insurance, Amazon selling groceries, Google selling airline tickets, and the Huffington Post as the leading authority on “divorce.”