The web search giant, which is embroiled in a long-running row over the way it deals with pirated material, is considering the radical measure so that it can get rid of the root cause instead of having to change its own search results.
Executives want to stop websites more or less dedicated to offering links to pirated films, music and books from making money out of the illegal material. The plans, still in discussion, would also block funding to websites that do not respond to legal challenges, for example because they are offshore.
Last month Google announced a new format for their image search results, where they pull the image inline without sending the visitor onto the publisher website. At the same time they referenced some "phantom visitor" complaint from publishers to justify keeping the visitor on Google & highlighted how there were now more links to the image source. If publishers were concerned about the "phantom visitor problem" we wouldn't see so many crappy slideshow pageviews.
Google's leaked remote rater guidelines do mention something about rating an image lower under certain situations like where the author might want attributed for their work that they are routinely disintermediated from.
On Twitter a former Google named Miguel Silvar wrote: "If you do SEO and decide to block Image Search just because it's bringing less traffic, you can stop calling yourself an SEO expert."
Many "experts" would claim that any exposure is good, even if you don't get credit for it. Many clients of said "experts" will end up bankrupt! Experts who suggest it is reasonable for content creators to be stripped of payment, traffic & attribution are at best conflicted.
As Google continues to win the game of inches of displacing the original sources, they don't even need you to mark up your content for them to extract their knowledge graph. Bill Slawski shared a video of Google's Andrew Hogue describing their mass data extraction effort: "It's never going to be 100% accurate. We're not even going to claim that it is 100% accurate. We are going to be lucky if we get 70% accuracy ... we are going to provide users with tools to correct the data."
If you as a publisher chose to auto-generate content at a 70% accuracy, pumped it up to first page rankings & then said "if people care they will fix it" Google would rightfully call you a spammer. If they do the same, it is knowledge baby.
Google pays for default placement in Safari & Firefox. Former Google executives head AOL & Yahoo!. Google can thus push for new cultural norms that make Microsoft look like an oddball or outsider if they don't play the same game.
With so much interest and buzz around mobile and its impact on search, this recent study by the Harris Poll was telling and helpful from an SEO and link building standpoint.
Harris asked smartphone users about their habits and which appliance they used when performing certain online tasks like reading email and researching goods. They polled 2400 adults, 991 of whom use a smartphone. Here are a handful of interesting results from the survey with potential to influence SEO:
Uses a computer (desktop/laptop) %
Uses a smartphone %
Research good or services
Research goods and services
Read work emails
Read work emails
Send work emails
Send work emails
Read social media on sites/apps such as Facebook & Twitter
Read social media on sites/apps such as Facebook & Twitter
Share social media
Share social media
The fact 81% of the people polled use a computer to research or take a survey isn’t surprising, both tasks are easier from a visual and aesthetics view when done on a large screen. But… 45% mobile users is not a number to dismiss. Both numbers reinforce a number of SEO points:
Keep your visual and written content separate so anyone using a smartphone can easily click to what they want to find. Good case for building a presence on Pinterest or Flickr if you have a lot of visual products.
Keep producing descriptive, informative and up-to-date content for your website. (Don’t send it away!) Promote what you write through social media, email distribution lists and on your blogs, forums, etc.
Use a “social media” type press release when announcing new products and major content additions to your site.
For affiliate marketers: A growing number of shoppers use bricks and mortar stores as “showrooms” before going back online to make a purchase. Keep your best promotions and discounts on your site rather than on sites like Coupon Cabin. Create an app to alert people when new products and discounts are available.
Add RSS sign up options on all pages especially those with content and discounts.
Promote new content through an app as well!
If you use email in any way to build links, know more people use computers to read and send work email than mobile devices.
If you are contacting people for content or link placement and doing it after business hours, know more people will see your message on their smartphones. Keep the email short and to the point, if you need to use images link out rather than embed.
Keep in mind most people using smartphones do so when they are on the move or after business hours. Either scenario means you need to hook their attention the second he/she opens the email. Work hard to make subject lines pop and state your mission in the first sentence or two.
Based on the percentages shown here, people like their social media no matter what device they are on!
Include social media share elements on everything you publish (even PDF’s)
Use niche social media sites as well as the big boys
Mix up the type of content you use, create contests for Twitter and polls on Facebook
Although this wasn’t included in the Harris Poll, the fact people are using their smartphone 45% of the time to research goods and services warrants a mention: add a click-to-call option and/or telephone number on all your mobile pages as well as links to your full website and email.
My name is Brandon. I have been with FindTheBest since 2010 (right after our launch), and I am really bummed you posted this Infographic without reaching out to our team. We don't scrape data. We have a 40 person+ product team that works very closely with manufacturers, companies, and professionals to create useful information in a free and fair playing field. We some times use whole government databases, but it takes hundreds-of-thousands of hours to produce this content. We have a product manager that owns up to all the content in their vertical and takes the creation and maintenance very seriously. If you have any questions for them about how a piece of content was created, you should go to our team page and shoot them a email. Users can edit almost any listing, and we spend a ton of time approving or rejecting those edits. We do work with large publishers (something I am really proud of), but we certainly do not publish the same exact content. We allow the publishers to customize and edit the data presentation (look, style, feel) but since the majority of the content we produce is the factual data, it probably does look a little similar. Should we change the data? Should we not share our awesome content with as many users as possible? Not sure I can trust the rest of your "facts", but great graphics!
I thought it was only fair that we aired his view on the main blog.
...but then that got me into doing a bit of research about FindTheBest...
In the past when searching for an issue related to our TV I saw a SERP that looked like this
Those mashed sites were subdomains on trusted sites like VentureBeat & TechCrunch.
Graphically the comparison pages appear appealing, but how strong is the editorial?
How does Find The Best describe their offering?
In a VentureBeat post (a FindTheBest content syndication partner) FTB's CEO Kevin O’Connor was quoted as saying: “‘Human’ is dirty — it’s not scalable.”
Hmm. Is that a counter view to the above claimed 40 person editorial research team? Let's dig in.
Looking at the top listed categories on the homepage of Find The best I counted 497 different verticals. So at 40 people on the editorial team that would mean that each person managed a dozen different verticals (if one doesn't count all the outreach and partnership buildings as part of editorial & one ignores the parallel sites for death records, grave locations, find the coupons, find the company & find the listing).
Google shows that they have indexed 35,000,000 pages from FindTheBest.com, so this would mean each employee has "curated" about 800,000 pages (which is at least 200,000 pages a year over the past 4 years). Assuming they work 200 days a year that means they ensure curation of at least 1,000 "high quality" pages per day (and this is just the stuff in Google's index on the main site...not including the stuff that is yet to be indexed, stuff indexed on 3rd party websites, or stuff indexed on FindTheCompanies.com, FindTheCoupons.com, FindTheListing, FindTheBest.es, FindTheBest.or.kr, or the death records or grave location sites).
Maybe I am still wrong to consider it a bulk scrape job. After all, it is not unreasonable to expect that a single person can edit 5,000 pages of high quality content daily.
Errr....then again...how many pages can you edit in a day?
Where they lost me though was with the "facts" angle. Speaking of not trusting the rest of "facts" ... how crappy is the business information for SEO Book on FindTheBest that mentions that our site launched in 2011, we have $58,000 in sales, and we are a book wholesaler.
I realize I am afforded the opportunity to work for free to fix the errors of the scrape job, but if a page is full of automated incorrect trash then maybe it shouldn't exist in the first place.
I am not saying that all pages on these sites are trash (some may be genuinely helpful), but I know if I automated content to the extent FTB does & then mass email other sites for syndication partnerships on the duplicate content (often full of incorrect information) that Google would have burned it to the ground already. They likely benefit from their CEO having sold DoubleClick to Google in the past & are exempt from the guidelines & editorial discrimination that the independent webmaster must deal with.
One of the ways you can tell if a company really cares about their product is by seeing if they dogfood it themselves.
Out of curiousity, I looked up FindTheBest on their FindTheCompany site.
They double-list themselves and neither profile is filled out.
That is like having 2 sentence of text on your "about us" page surrounded by 3 AdSense blocks. :D
I think they should worry about fixing the grotesque errors before worrying about "sharing with as many people as possible" but maybe I am just old fashioned.
Certainly they took a different approach ... one that I am sure that would get me burned if I tried it. An example sampling of some partner sites...
analytics-software.businessknowhow.com "BusinessKnowHow ended the relationship with find the best as soon as we realized how spammy they were." - Janet Attard
we have seen search results where a search engine didn't robots.txt something out, or somebody takes a cookie cutter affiliate feed, they just warm it up and slap it out, there is no value add, there is no original content there and they say search results or some comparison shopping sites don't put a lot of work into making it a useful site. They don't add value. - Matt Cutts
That syndication partnership network also explains part of how FTB is able to get so many pages indexed by Google, as each of those syndication sources is linking back at FTB on (what I believe to be) every single page of the subdomains, and many of these subdomains are linked to from sitewide sidebar or footer links on the PR7 & PR8 tech blogs.
And so the PageRank shall flow ;)
Hundreds of thousands of hours (eg 200,000+) for 40 people is 5,000 hours per person. Considering that there are an average of 2,000 hours per work year, this would imply each employee spent 2.5 full years of work on this single aspect of the job. And that is if one ignores the (hundreds of?) millions of content pages on other sites.
Here’s one reason to be excited: In its own small way, it combats the recent flood of crappy infographics. Most TechCrunch writers hate the infographics that show up in our inboxes— not because infographics have to be terrible, but because they’re often created by firms that are biased, have little expertise in the subject of the infographic, or both, so they pull random data from random sources to make their point.
Get that folks? TechCrunch hosting automated subdomains of syndicated content means less bad infographics. And more cat lives saved. Or something like that.
The gadget comparisons we built for TechCrunch are sticky and interactive resources comprised of thousands of SEO optimized pages. They help over 1 million visitors per month make informed decisions by providing accurate, clear and useful data.
SEO optimized pages? Hmm.
Your comparisons will include thousands of long-tail keywords and question/answer pages to ensure traffic is driven by a number of different search queries. Our proprietary Data Content Platform uses a mesh linking structure that maximizes the amount of pages indexed by search engines. Each month—mainly through organic search—our comparisons add millions of unique visitors to our partner’s websites.
If we expand the "view more" section at the footer of the page, what do we find?
Sorry that font is so small, the text needed reduced multiple sizes in order to fit on my extra large monitor, and then reduced again to fit the width of our blog.
Each listing in a comparison has a number of associated questions created around the data we collect.
For example, we collect data on the battery life of the Apple iPad.
An algorithm creates the question “How long does the Apple iPad tablet battery last?” and answers it
So now we have bots asking themselves questions that they answer themselves & then stuffing that in the index as content?
Yeah, sounds like human-driven editorial.
After all, it's not like there are placeholder tokens on the auto-generated stuff
Looks like I was wrong on that.
And automated "popular searches" pages? Nice!
As outrageous as the above is, they include undisclosed affiliate links in the content, and provided badge-based "awards" for things like the best casual dating sites, to help build links into their site.
That in turn led to them getting a bunch of porn backlinks.
If you submit an article to an article directory and someone else picks it up & posts it to a sketchy site you are a link spammer responsible for the actions of a third party.
But if you rate the best casual dating sites and get spammy porn links you are wonderful.
Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.
This data presents information specified in requests we received from copyright owners through our web form to remove search results that link to allegedly infringing content. It is a partial historical record that includes more than 95% of the volume of copyright removal requests that we have received for Search since July 2011. It does not include:
requests submitted by means other than our web form, such as fax or written letter
requests for products other than Google Search (e.g, requests directed at YouTube or Blogger)
requests sent to Google Search for content appearing in other Google products (e.g., requests for Search, but specifying YouTube or Blogger URLs).
Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner. And we’ll continue to provide "counter-notice" tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated. We’ll also continue to be transparent about copyright removals.
"In a July 19, 2005 e-mail to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote: 'jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.'"
"Chen twice wrote that 80 percent of user traffic depended on pirated videos. He opposed removing infringing videos on the ground that 'if you remove the potential copyright infringements... site traffic and virality will drop to maybe 20 percent of what it is.' Karim proposed they 'just remove the obviously copyright infringing stuff.' But Chen again insisted that even if they removed only such obviously infringing clips, site traffic would drop at least 80 percent. ('if [we] remove all that content[,] we go from 100,000 views a day down to about 20,000 views or maybe even lower')."
"In response to YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley’s August 9, 2005 e-mail, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen stated: 'but we should just keep that stuff on the site. I really don’t see what will happen. what? someone from cnn sees it? he happens to be someone with power? he happens to want to take it down right away. he get in touch with cnn legal. 2 weeks later, we get a cease & desist letter. we take the video down.'"
"A true smoking gun is a memorandum personally distributed by founder Karim to YouTube’s entire board of directors at a March 22, 2006 board meeting. Its words are pointed, powerful, and unambiguous. Karim told the YouTube board point-blank:
'As of today episodes and clips of the following well-known shows can still be found: Family Guy, South Park, MTV Cribs, Daily Show, Reno 911, Dave Chapelle. This content is an easy target for critics who claim that copyrighted content is entirely responsible for YouTube’s popularity. Although YouTube is not legally required to monitor content (as we have explained in the press) and complies with DMCA takedown requests, we would benefit from preemptively removing content that is blatantly illegal and likely to attract criticism.'"
"A month later, [YouTube manager Maryrose] Dunton told another senior YouTube employee in an instant message that 'the truth of the matter is probably 75-80 percent of our views come from copyrighted material.' She agreed with the other employee that YouTube has some 'good original content' but 'it’s just such a small percentage.'"
"In a September 1, 2005 email to YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and all YouTube employees, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim stated, 'well, we SHOULD take down any: 1) movies 2) TV shows. we should KEEP: 1) news clips 2) comedy clips (Conan, Leno, etc) 3) music videos. In the future, I’d also reject these last three but not yet.'"
Broader Copyright Questions
There still are a lot of murky questions in Google's "transparency."
If a person embeds an image from Imgur, ImageShack, TinyPic, PhotoBucket or elsewhere & the page that has a hotlink gets a DMCA how does that count?
If a brand is large enough does it take many DMCAs to get hit?
Is there any analysis of the underlying business model of the site? What happens to document storage sites like DocStoc & Scribd, or even image sites like Pinterest?
What happens to sites that link at penalized sites too frequently?
Has anyone registered DMCASEO.com & DMCA-SEO.com yet? ;)
In terms of impact on the web for publishers, this change is every bit as big as Florida, Panda & Penguin. It may not seem so at first (as it will take time for market participants to consider the uses) but this is a huge deal. Consider some of the following scenarios...
You try to create something like YouTube for another form of content (Pinterest?) and it gets hit as spam for following Google's lead.
If You are Amazon or eBay you can afford premium featured content to pull up your other listings. But if you can't afford their cost structure & hire freelance writers or work with outsourced workers to create some of your content & they use some copyright work without you knowing. But does Amazon now have to vigilantly review their reviews for plagiarism?
A competitor licenses some of their content as Creative Commons for years & doesn't mind wide use of it. Then you use it & one day they see you as a competitive threat and remove their Creative Commons license & bulk DMCA you. Or you have a lifetime syndication deal with a company, they later change the policy & claim that your documents are forged.
Getty images presumes you didn't license an image that you did & files a DMCA. At some point there is no purpose in targeting the webmaster or host...just go direct to Google knowing that you can create the equivalent of a "patent trolling" styled business model where you create a business model where it is cheaper for people to pay to have the issue resolved the quick way before they lodge a formal complaint. Some organizations might even have a subscription service set up where you pre-pay for immunity.
A former employee who wrote content for you claims you used it without permission. Or that same former employee used pirated images & longish quotes from other sources that they didn't disclose to you that they now highlight via DMCA.
You license data from a source & they do a mid-contract change leveraging the small print & have a bot lined up to send 40,000 DMCAs against you if you do not agree to the higher pricepoint.
Google is considering making an investment in your site & you want too much money. As an edge case near the threshold of this copyright limit you know you have immunity if you join the borg, but lack it if you don't work with them.
Your leading competitor realizes that your blog publishes comments by default with editorial review (and that even later has lax review) and then they file DMCA reports against you. Or they could just grab chunks of content from Google's leaderboard of complainers and post them into your web forum, knowing that those companies will file a DMCA report against you.
A site has some content public & some behind a paywall. With a page partially indexed, how does Google respond to DMCA requests when the alleged infraction is behind a registration wall or paywall?
A competitor (inspired by Google no doubt) hires off shore "contractors" to copy your site & then file DMCA reports against you in bulk. How long until people start uploading their own content to file their own DMCAs against certain sites with user generated content?
Even if your site is 100% legal, a combination of ignorance & crowd-driven vigilante justice can still take you down.
Any site that offers interactive features & has user generated content is at risk of being labeled as spam unless they have tight editorial control over user generated content. And at the same time, Google can enter vertical after vertical with scrape & displace garbage knowing that they don't have those editorial costs due to their self-granted blanket immunity.
If you do not register your sites with Google & counter claims (even bogus ones) then you are seen as being a spammer. And if you register with Google then when they don't like something one site does they can hit other sites all at the same time. No point going to the host or registrar, go direct to Google & start building up negative karma.
Why did Google feel the need to grant themselves blanket immunity from the policy?
That question was largely missing among the fanboi blogs & journalists who were encouraged by Google's "transparency."
24 Karat Pyrite On Sale for Only $100 an Ounce
If YouTube is going to win big, then that's a great place to invest, right?
Google is also investing in select channels (like Machinima). It is quite hard to outperform Google in returns while investing into a platform that they control & thus have better data on than you ever could.
As YouTube's dominance increases (and it will now that competing platforms with a similar business model will be smeared as spam), you can count on them offering premium partners crappier revenue share deals in years to come. They will offer nice deals to Warner Bros. & such, but the independent smaller players will get cut out of the ecosystem in much the same way as they did in Google's organic search results.
Note that I don't claim YouTube is a bad host for your own content, but that I am skeptical in applying the VC model to it with a belief that you can out-invest Google on their own site; particularly when they own the dominant platform, control the non-public revenue share rates, invest in competing channels & can offer free promotion + higher rates to anyone they invest into in order to dominate the category.
And the issue isn't just video either. The same dynamic can apply to just about any other infrastructural layer. For instance, Google could buy out a torrent site (say like uTorrent) and have that site gain immediately immunity for being part of the borg, while other sites that compete now absorb both greater editorial filtering costs & greater risks that destroy their ROI.
As Google continues to lock down search, you can expect more smart publishers to hedge investments in search and YouTube with investments in proprietary non-search applications that Google can't take away.
The Devil is in the Details
"We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe. We will be watching this development closely — the devil is always in the details — and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves." - Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.
The concerned with Google pitching themselves as the preeminent authority on copyright is they have consistently played both sides of the fence.
Their image search offers thumbnails
they offer a "quick view" version of PDFs in the SERPs
their search results offer cached versions of pages
We saw it again when universal search was rolled out only *after* Google bought YouTube.
We saw once more when their hard stance on (against?) property rights for a decade quickly flipped like a switch after Android Marketplace & Google Play stunk up the joint from not making enough sales to be significant. Google needs a complete media catalog to become a default purchase hub & they can't get that until they display that they respect property rights.
And even while Google is rolling out this "copyright violators are spammers" algorithm (which they are exempt from) they still chug on with their ebook offering:
They posted several of my 41 books up as free downloads (some were missing a few pages at most a single chapter) It took several e-mails from me pointing out that they were infringing copyright before they took them down. During the time my books were free on Google my sales of e-books fell dramatically. " - K C Watkins
When Google started scanning books an internal document stated: “[we want web searchers interested in book content to come to Google not Amazon” ... or, as put another way, in that same document, “[e]verything else is secondary … but make money.”
Worstream recently put out an infographic where they suggested that 64.6% of search result clicks on highly commercial keywords are clicks on AdWords ads. Shortly before Google's quarterly announcement RKG put out their digital marketing report. In it they highlight how search ad CTR differs by device.
What causes a higher CTR on cell phones & tablets? A smaller search interface, which allows ads to dominate a larger portion of the screen real estate.
Screen Real Estate
Vertical iPhone = 1/3 of an organic listing above the fold.
Horizontal iPhone = all ads above the fold.
Vertical iPad is about 2/3 ads above the fold.
Horizontal iPad has about half of a single organic listing above the fold.
Google offers sitelinks when they think a search query is navigational in nature. In spite of that, for some brands they will still show 3 AdWords ads above the organic search results, in an attempt to force the brand to re-buy their own brand equity.
If you control what is above the fold (and can get away with serving nothing but ads above the fold) you can make a lot of money.
The rapid changes in the search industry over the last sixteen months have left many web publishers wondering whether they should pivot their business models or exist the industry entirely. This is a difficult question for business owners who have invested years of their lives and much of their wealth in firms which may no longer be viable contenders in the "new" search industry.
SWOT analysis is a technique which business owners can use to strategically analyze their businesses in relation to their competitors and the marketplace as a whole. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunites, Threats.
Strengths are attributes of the organization which provide an advantage in the marketplace.
Weaknesses are attributres of the organization which cause a disadvantage in the marketplace.
Opportunities are actions the organization could take to create an advantage in the marketplace.
Threats are events which could happen in the environment and cause the organization to be disadvantaged.
The first two areas, Strengths and Weaknesses, focus primarily on the internal attributes of the organization. The last two areas, Opportunities and Threats, focus primary on how the organization may be affected by external events.
Specifics for Web Publishers
Many firms in the same industry will share similar Strengths and Weaknesses. Even more so, most firms in any industry will be responding to similar Opportunities and Threats.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Take a look at your organization. If you feel that your organization has an attribute which makes it stronger than it's competitors, add that to your Strengths list. If you feel that your organization has an attribute that makes it weaker than it's competiors, add that item to your Weaknesses list.
Access to Funding
Examples of Strengths might include:
We have ready access to venture capital
We own a widely recognized brand name
We own a PageRank 8 domain
I have Matt Cutts on speed dial
Our technical team members are experts in our platforms, development tools, and applications
Our marketing team members can make linkbait about lug nuts go viral
We invented this niche and our competitors have no hope of ever catching up
Examples of Weaknesses might include:
Our working capital is limited to what's in my wallet
Our top domain is a hyphenated .us domain
We're hoping to gain PageRank at the next update
Matt Cutts blocked me on Twitter
Our technical team is outsourced to Pakistan
Our marketing team is outsourced to Bangladesh
I read a book about this niche and it seems very exciting
Opportunities and Threats
The same event might be an Opportunity or a Threat, depending upon how your organization can respond to it. Search is a zero-sum game. For every winner, there must be a loser.
Take a look at your organization. If you feel that your organization has the ability to benefit from a coming change in the business environment, add that to your Opportunities list. If you believe that your organization is at risk from a coming change, add that to your Threats list.
Our niche (travel, local, etc...) is being taken over by Google (unless you are Google)
Our niche is being persecuted (gambling, medication) or promoted (green energy, section 8 housing) by the government
Our niche is being regulated by the government, which benefits large companies and hurts small ones
Our niche is being increasingly dominated by the top brands (unless you are one of the top brands)
Our niche is growing (iPads) or shrinking (Blackberries)
Profitability in this niche is rising (medical training) or falling (almost everything else)
Some marketing tactics may be filtered or penalized (directory submissions, blog commenting, profile building)
Significant competitors are entering (or leaving) the niche
Examples of Opportunities might include:
Legislation could force consumers or businesses to buy our goods and services
Government regulation could force small competitors out of the market, and we're a large competitor
Google is increasingly ranking the top brands for all searches, and we're a top brand
Our niche is growing
Profitability in the niche is rising
Our marketing tactics are being increasingly rewarded by the search engines
Our niche has significant barriers to entry which prevent competitors from entering the market
Examples of Threats might include:
Legislation could make our business illegal in our country
Government regulation could force small competitors out of the market, and we're one of those small competitors
Google is increasingly ranking the top brands for all searches, and we're not a top brand
Our niche is shrinking
Profitability in the niche is falling -- unless you can operate on thinner margins than your competitors and take their market share when they fail
Our marketing tactics are being increasingly filtered or penalized by the search engines
One of our competitors just did an interview with Forbes bragging about the high profit margins in this niche
Responding to the Results of Your Analysis
After listing your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats you should have a pretty good idea where your business stands. From here, it's time to take advantage of this new knowledge.
The web publishing industry is currently undergoing a major contraction. Some organizations will choose to continue in this business, while others will choose to pivot into related business or to exit the industry entirely. AdSense publishers may decide to move into affiliate marketing or selling white label products. Web publishers may decide to halt development on their own projects and offer their services as SEO's to large enterprises. Entrepreneurs may simply close their companies and accept positions with larger firms.
If your niche is travel, which Google is slowly taking over and Wikimedia is considering a push into, you might consider moving to a different niche, pivoting your web publishing business into an SEO firm, or moving into the nascent eBook market. If your niche is 3D printers, you might seek funding to stake out early market share in a niche that may be about to cross the chasm from the early adopter stage of development.
If you have deep knowledge, experience, and connections in your niche, you might try to stick with it and be the last man standing after your weaker competitors have failed. If your knowledge is less niche focused and more related to publishing and marketing, you might sell SEO services or take a job with one of the huge multinational brands which Google is currently favoring in the SERPs.
If you have access to large amount of venture capital, you might take advantage of that to become one of the large brands which Google prefers to rank. With enough funding, anything can be ranked well in Google. I would caution, however, against entering a niche which is likely to be on Google's roadmap. Google, in being able to control the order of search results, has an unbeatable advantage in promoting their own properties (YouTube, Google+, etc...).
As margins in the industry are falling in our race to the bottom, you may even find a significant competitive advantage in having a lower cost structure than your competitors. Lower costs create larger amounts of retained earnings which can be used to fuel development and growth.
The two most important aspects of SWOT analysis are to be honest with yourself and to take action based upon your analysis. As Virgil wrote, fortune favors the bold. Be bold in your honesty and your actions and fortune will smile upon you.
When platforms are new they start off as being fairly open to win attention & maximize their growth rates. Over time as they push to monetize they shift gears & what was once true becomes misleading. Thus a lot people likely come off as sounding like quack jobs because they keep having to reinvent themselves & reassess their belief systems as the markets change.
Hello Mr. Cynic
If you write things that sound like rants & complaints a lot of people mistake it as thinking you are a crank full of gloom & nonsense. For what it is worth, in many ways I think the future of the web will still be bright, but just relatively less bright than it was in the recent past for smaller players.
The web is becoming more & more like the physical world (andis mergingwith it). For a long time search & online was largely a meritocracy, where the best person could easily win even if they came from the most humble beginnings.
In search of years gone by, large & complex organizations that were overly bloated and inefficient routinely had their asses handed to them by smaller & more efficient operations. Butthensizebecame a primary signal of relevancy & quality, and that all changed. As Larry Page & Sergey Brin warned, the relevancy algorithms inevitably follow the underlying business model of the search engine.
That is a big part of the disillusionment with Google. For many years they were a leveler which was concerned primarily with quality. That grew the importance of search & differentiated them from everyone else, but then they decided to be "the same" & so many who promoted them felt a bit betrayed.
If a person gives you something and then takes it away you likely view them worse than someone who simply never offered that in the first place. As a species we are biologically aligned with being adverse toward loss.
Vertical AND Horizontal Integration
I was chatting with a friend about the above trend & his responses were:
"you don't shoot the guy that didn't give you the job; you shoot the guy that gave you the job and then fired you"
"their public image as being a leveler becomes more grating too, given how much they no longer represent that"
"the biggest problem we have in search is that search engines don't view themselves as a medium. They want to be the cable operator + television show + in-show advertising + commercials...I'm not aware of another medium where it works that way"
Affiliate links should be clearly labeled as such. When they are not clearly labeled & go through tracking redirects they are sneaky redirects in Google's remote rater guidelines. On YouTube the affiliate links to Amazon & iTunes are not labeled as such & add an extra layer of tracking redirects to the sequence.
Let Me See Your Backlinks!
Yesterday someone sent me an email about their reinclusion request being denied because someone else scraped their eZineArticles article & syndicated it to another 3rd party site.
They didn't create that link and yet they are somehow supposed to get a spammer (maybe one from another continent!) to remove it. In many cases spammers won't respond to anything other than cash, but if you do offer cash to get the job done then that spammer might keep adding more and more links over time, turning their mark into an easy source of subscription revenues.
What is Wrong With This Picture?
The above scenario is ridiculous.
If you look at *any* site closely enough there will be something wrong with it.
Just by the virtue of existing & ranking you will pick up dozens to hundreds of spammy links you don't even want, due to SERP scraper sites that are trying to rank on longtail keyword queries.
About 5 years ago I had a page get filtered out because it gained about 500 scraper links in a month. No matter what I did that page would not rank until it was rewrote with a fresh page title. When you could change things & have the algorithms re-evaluate them automatically there was at least a decent opportunity to get around such issues.
Now that there is a manual review process holding you responsible for the actions of third party webmasters the market is a bit more grim.
But at least a bunch of link removal services are cropping up to profit from Google's errant logic. ;)
Engineers Ad Networks Love Quality Websites Big Brands
But if you are a low margin small business who has seen declining revenue AND have to jump through further hoops (rather than focusing on running your business) at some point it is easier to give up than to keep on fighting.
Eventually a lot of the displacement trends that are hitting the organic search market will hit the paid search market & Google will make many of the enterprise AdWords management tools obsolete via a combination of various free scripts & data obfuscation.
At that point in time some of the paid search folks will look like the guy to the right, but nobody will care, as those same people reminded us that this is just how business works. :D
Google appears to have a culture that condones shamelessly violating consumer privacy. How else can you explain a company that bypasses Apple's iPhone privacy settings in a reported attempt to strengthen advertising revenues?
It is hard to believe that Dave Packard or Andy Grove would ever tell a group of entrepreneurs that he did "every horrible thing in the book to just get revenues right away," or brag to trade publications that his company used behavioral psychologists to design "compulsion loops" into products to keep customers engaged. But Mark Pincus, the founder of Internet gaming giant Zynga, has done just that.
When corporate leaders pursue wealth in the winner-take-all Internet environment, companies dance on the edge of acceptable behavior. If they don't take it to the limit, a competitor will. That competitor will become the dominant supplier -- one monopoly will replace another. And when you engage in these activities you get a different set of Valley values: the values of customer exploitation.