As several high-profile news stories have search marketers asking how useful organic Google search results really are to their business, Search Engine Land’s experience provide’s a stark warning for those worried they might be over-reliant on Google.
It’s pretty much a nightmare scenario for any digital marketer or web master. You come into work and open up the Google Search Console as normal, only to be presented with a bright red alert message: your website has been hacked, and Google have removed it from their index.
This is exactly what happened to Search Marketing news publisher Search Engine Land last Friday. What’s worse: the ‘hack’ which led to the site being de-indexed was actually a mistake by Google, and it took them more than eight hours before Search Engine Land was listed in search results again. This begs the question: what would happen if you’re business suddenly didn’t show up on Google searches?
The message received by Search Engine Land on November 30th
While this is a fairly extreme example, we hear all the time of companies whose traffic drops significantly after a seemingly minor change to Google’s Search algorithm, and who often have no backup plan. As Google has become an integral part of many brand and agency marketing strategies, it is often forgotten that their organic search results are not only subject to rapid, radical changes overnight, but can also vary significantly between users.
A recent study by search rivals DuckDuckGo accused Google’s search personalisation of ‘creating filter bubbles’ in which users were presented information based on their history and preferences, rather than overall relevance. Although this is most pronounced for political searches, which often involve opinions, many marketers are worried that their SEO efforts could be going to waste in searches whose user preferences do not favour them.
For a media outlet like Search Engine Land, who have a high proportion of returning users visiting from a variety of sources like RSS feeds and social media, a full day with zero Google referrals was probably more of an inconvenience than a disaster, but for many online retailers relying on Google as a traffic source, it could be worth tens of thousands of pounds in lost revenue. Google search, both paid and organic is still an incredibly important tool for brands, but despite remaining dominant the company are beginning to lose market share to rivals like Bing. Continuing unease about stories like these is why many marketers are looking beyond Google for inbound traffic.