Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reeling from Anti-Competitive Actions at Google

I maintain a collection of independent directories for the mountain west (Durango, Moab, Salt Lake City, etc). This is a labor intensive activity. The directories contain some 26451 active links. Through the years, I've removed 11,000 broken links.

This is a manually edited directory. I actually looked at every single one of these pages. I manually check each site every two years to see if the site is still up.

Removing broken links is time consuming. I actually look at each site to verify the link is broken. Often I will look at a site twice (a month apart) to see that it wasn't just down temporarily.

The goal of the project is to help people find small local businesses. If you go to the sites, you will see links to blogs, churches, foot races, community services, stores and businesses. I list anything I can find with local information.

My hope to fund the directory was with affiliate links. Unfortunately, this has proven a bust. If you have a parasite on your computer, the parasite will steal any commission that I make from the site. The affiliate links no longer pay the hosting cost of the sites.

I allow people to submit links. I was getting a ton of spam entries (places not relevant to the directory). So, I started asking people with a marketing budget to pay a one time $10.00 listing fee. Asking a listing fee reduced spam and helps pay hosting fees. The sites are hosted on a cloud account from WestHost. The hosting fees are $50 a month. I am paying about $360 a year for domain names and about $26 a month for internet access. My costs are about $100 a month.

For awhile I was getting six listing fees a month which paid half of my web hosting costs.

Last year, Google announced that they would penalize any web site that bought listing services from any company except Google. BTW, Google makes its billions by selling web site listings. You pay for inclusion at the top of the web page. If you have a high resolution monitor, you will notice that there is an almost imperceptible shading around the top listings on a page. This very light shading separates the paid listings from the free listings.

Long ago, Google had about 3 paid listings for every 10 free listings. This meant that they were giving away a great deal of free traffic.

A whole industry called "Search Engine Optimization" formed around getting the free listings.

In recent years, the number of free listings fell to about 5 for 10 links on popular search terms. Googling "Toaster Oven" I see there are 10 free listings and 9 paid listings on the page. There is a big link to Google Shopping. 100% of the links on Google Shopping are paid listings.

For the last two years, Google has been on a major campaign telling companies that buying links from any company other than Google is bad and they admonished "SEO experts" to remove their web sites from any company that accepts payment for listing.

The end result of this action was an immediate 80% drop in paid listings on my site. The thing that really upsets me is that I keep getting emails from small businesses demanding that I remove their listing from my site.

My goal was to provide a large list of local links. Being forced to remove sites because of the anti-competitive actions of Google diminishes the quality of my directories.

Removing links is actually more labor intensive than adding the links because I have to go through the task of verifying that the removal request is real. This can take an unpaid hour per request.

The problem here is with authentication. If I were into black hat SEO, I would research the back-links of my competitors. I would then send out emails to all the back links demanding removal of my competitors' links. If I can reduce the inbound links to my competitors, then my site would rise in the listings. Capiche?

Quite frankly, I hate SEO. SEO says the search engines are more important than the content of pages.

When I contact people to verify removal requests. I am often deluged with a hateful torrent from web site owners who have convinced themselves that my linking to their web site decreased the free traffic that they used to receive from Google.

I am here to tell you the truth: The free traffic you used to receive from Google was manna from heaven. The primary reason that you stopped receiving free traffic from Google is that Google has increased the ratio of paid links to free links on search results. The second reason is that the number of web pages grows exponentially. If your site is not growing exponentially, then your free traffic will diminish.

Personally, I think people were foolish to put so much faith in free traffic from Google. A better approach is to be involved in the community and to support smaller sites engaged in organic linking ... like the Community Color project.