Every listing site or review site has to start off from scratch at some point. Over the past 3 or 4 years it has got much harder to rank thin affiliate database sites, and now that is only going to get harder, with Matt Cutts asking for spam reports on empty review sites.
Of course if Amazon.com or TripAdvisor or Craigslist open new sections they can probably get away with using duplicate or thin content based on the strength of their brands. Branded networks can always throw out a new related niche site and have it be seen as being above board:
The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."
But new competitors are going to have a hard time building the budget and funding the brand exposure needed to rank because SEO is getting more complex, and if you don't have enough brand or enough AdWords spend you pretty-much are not going to get the exposure needed to get consumer reviews and rank organically, unless you license/steal/borrow/mix/re-mix content to build an opening "reviews" database. Some software tools, like Web Data Parser, make the process easier, but you still need to wrap everything in some time of value add (good design, mash ups, etc.). Or have great public relations. Or start your site off as an editorial only play, where you review what interests you, and then move the brand into the reviews space after you get some momentum and an organic traffic flow.
Matt Cutts explained how thin listing pages may be against their guidelines
Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don’t add much value for users coming from search engines.
Don’t create multiple pages, subdomains, or domains with substantially duplicate content.
Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches…
Search is growing more subjective, becoming more about competition and expanding the ad channel. Think like a black hat. You have to stay ahead of Google's internal products & services if you want to avoid the spam label.
The shopping search engines/price comparison sites spend enough on AdWords to be considered a value add user experience (they give AdWords a broad backfill baseline inventory which other merchants have to compete against), but if Google can evolve their Product Search into a revenue stream and encourage reviews then many shopping search engines will soon run out of steam.
A Microsoft engineer notes:
I believe that the locus of advertising will gradually shift towards the creation of valuable and compelling content. There is, however, a relative dearth of professionals or companies that can provide such content creation services. Perhaps advertising agencies might evolve in this direction, or perhaps this may an opportunity for forward-thinking individuals?
Eventually Google will need to become more of a content play if they want to keep growing revenues. This is why...
- projects like Knol, YouTube, SearchWiki, and even Panaramio are core to their strategy
- they sell map ad clicks that may charge the advertiser even if the click keeps you on Google.com
- they promote that using a Google Checkout badge increases AdWords CTR by 10%!!!
And if Google co-opts the media that makes it hard to give them serious negative press. Eric Schmidt thinks the press needs to be more tightly integrated into Google
I think the solution is tighter integration. In other words, we can do this without making an acquisition. The term I've been using is 'merge without merging.' The Web allows you to do that, where you can get the Web systems of both organizations fairly well integrated, and you don't have to do it on exclusive basis.
Google's growing depth gives it a huge network advantage. More advertisers = more relevant ads = higher monetization with better user experience & more user loyalty. Microsoft is trying to buy marketshare and will likely push search harder in Windows 7, but it might be too little too late.
Yahoo! screwed up their US advertiser terms of service AND gave up on their international contextual ad service, giving Google yet another competitive advantage.
After reading John Andrews write a great review of Affiliate Summit I got thinking about some of Google's potential moves...
- give consumers discounts for reviewing merchants and products to quickly build up a leading reviews database
- broaden the AdWords ad system to allow room for more CPA deals / lead gen inside the SERP
- offer free hosting and CMS for Google AdWords customers (& track inventory)
- offer credit cards, or perhaps their own “goog” currency system, pegged to a basket of currencies
- start buying out leading players in large verticals (Expedia - $2.5B, Bankrate - $600M, Monster.com - $1.2B, and/or WebMD - $1.2B) to strengthen their network advantage
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