2012: The Year Google Waged War On Small Business

2012 will forever be ingrained in the minds of internet marketers as the year that Google went all-out sinister on small business.

With the year 2012 coming to a close, there’s a lot more recovery going on than Hurricane Sandy clean-up, and there’s a hell of a lot more ‘doom and gloom’ reaching far beyond the Mayan Apocalypse. It was the year of Google fascism for many, where small businesses were persecuted relentlessly by the two wolves in sheep’s clothing known as Panda and Penguin. Nearly a year later, small business webmasters are still picking up the pieces; many of which are doing so in vain, the rest, with a stubborn optimistic fervor.

SEO: Google Throws Out the Baby With the Bath Water

The days of comfort and predictability are gone. Your SEO aptitude has been thrown out the window. Some say that SEO altogether is now a farce. Follow Google’s guidelines to SEO, and you’re supposed to see results. Supposed to.

Over-optimize, and suffer the consequences. What is over-optimization? That’s for Google to know, and for you to find out. How do you fix it? Undo some of the work you’ve done? Just try doing that…and you’ll either see no difference, or accidentally damage your site even more so. It depends on how much of a gambler you are.

Before, exact-match domains were considered a bonus in the ranking algorithm. Now, they seem more like a curse. So, you’re selling Blue Widgets and you had the audacity to achieve a decent rank with your BlueWidgets.com site? Let’s stick you on page 5, and rank Target, Walmart and BestBuy at the top of page 1. After all, you’re just a cheater.

Now, you can get penalized for the poor quality of your backlinks. I suppose, that is Google’s discreet admittance that negative SEO does exist. With this mentality, it is theoretically possible to destroy your competitors (provided that they are not Fortune 500′s) by pointing backlinks to them from bad neighborhood sites. Google has a new tool allowing you to discredit your own backlinks — yet another monumental responsibility that Google bears on the back of already struggling, suffering small business webmasters.

Damned If You Do, And If You Don’t

Got penalized? Have you lost your page 1 ranking, and do you now appear on page 10? This was the most fear-inducing issue of 2012. The resolve: check your Google Webmaster account for any possible site warnings, but see that there aren’t any. Add more unique content. Go back and edit your backlinks so that they’re not all the same keyword. De-SEO parts of your site. Wait a month or two — see your site sink even lower. Slip further into panic, fear and dementia. Go back and undo those changes you made, but add even more content, better navigation, or even a better website design. Wait a month or two — see nothing happen. Slip further into panic, fear and dementia. Rinse & repeat.

What are my competitors doing that I’m not? Step 1: visit Open Site Explorer. Step 2: type my competitor’s URLs from the current top 3 organic spots in Google search. Step 3: Notice how a vast majority of their PR2+ backlinks are paid links from Text Link Ads. Maybe I should buy links. No, wait — Google might go as far as de-indexing you entirely for doing that. “But, my competitors are doing it, and are in positions 1-3 because of it!” (Slip further into panic, fear and dementia).

Can’t afford to spend at least $250/day on AdWords? Screw you. Can’t afford to pay to compete with the likes of Walmart, Best Buy, Buy.com, Amazon.com and Overstock on the now ‘pay-only’ Google Shopping SERP results? Screw you. Oh, and I see you’ve had some top organic SERPs — we’ll just take those and give them directly to Amazon and eBay. I mean, all you’re doing is shilling links to those sites, anyway! Might as well just push people right to the source. Right? Slip further into panic, fear and dementia.

This is the attitude that is killing the affiliate marketing realm. It gets worse, though.

Small Businesses & New Websites Get the Shaft

Started a new business? Got a new site? Boy, are you in for it: nothing on earth is harder than starting a new website in 2012. In the olden days, your site would get that “initial boost” in SERPs when it was first launched. Remember those days? Now, you start at rock bottom. You get no help. You can have the best, most descriptive and helpful site on Earth, and you’ll still be buried. It’s up to you to do the following: 1) pay for G$$gle AdWord$, 2) pay for Google Shopping, 3) pay a significant amount of money for a monumental social networking campaign – hoping it will nudge your search results in some way, or 4) gamble and buy paid links like all of the world’s major corporations are doing, using a service like Text Link Ads, which blatantly steamrolls over Google’s TOS yet never gets penalized (they have a minimum $100/month requirement, if you’re interested).

Just a few years ago, we would have given the advice: “Well, let’s just make the small business site be hyper-local. Mention our town, ZIP code and put the mailing address on the Contact Us page. We’ll rank locally and go from there.” Good luck with that. It’s not even that simple anymore. Now, local-geared SERPs are dominated by the deep-pocketed business directories like Manta, SuperPages, YellowPages.com, HotFrog, DexKnows and others whose ‘free’ listing is now close to worthless, followed by franchise businesses whose corporate headquarters are pumping thousands of dollars per day into their national brick-and-mortars’ individual online campaigns.

Google aims to provide helpful results. I fail to see how the first 10 organics being competing business directories is helping anyone in any way. At least we still have Google Places (those map results that appear in SERPs), but I’d imagine it’s only a matter of time until that becomes a pay service, too.

When you launch a business, you need for it to appear in search ‘yesterday.’ However, you now have to settle with “maybe it will start ranking in 6-12 months,” giving up on ‘online’ and focusing all of your attention offline because it is the more logical and manageable (yet, far less profitable and visible) route.

Hope For A Forsaken Industry

So, how far does this go? How much worse does it get? Is Google intending to sculpt the internet into a place where the world’s largest companies will eventually be the only entrants in search? Google, how do you suggest a small business gets recognized online when they have $0 for advertising, are working out of their basement and are relying on word-of-mouth and local networking?

For years, the biggest problem is that Google is essentially a monopoly in the search world. The margin between Google and Bing users is now so thin that it’s a miracle Bing doesn’t simply wane away from their crumbling search empire like Yahoo did a few years back. The reason why is because people have become complacent in using Google all the time, not giving any other search engines a chance, or showing any signs of being open to doing so.

Google is one thing, first and foremost: a profit generating corporation with a very demanding board of directors and shareholders. The vast majority of Google’s wealth — about 97% of it, to be exact — comes from Google AdWords revenue. Every year, the board and shareholders demand higher profits. Higher profits come from more ‘pay-only’ Google services. Why are you being forsaken in search? Technically speaking, because you are worthless to Google, and big ballers like Walmart are what keeps those annual profits up.

Google having true monopoly status is bad for business, bad for the economy (small businesses make up over 99% of all businesses in the US, alone), and most importantly, bad for you. Let’s face it, we care most about ourselves. It’s ok to be selfish, because this is our business and our income buys our groceries and pays for our taxes. When that income is stolen away and given to some big brand corporation just because they have ‘industry pull’ and an advertising budget in one month that equals our entire annual income, we tend to get angry. It adds insult to injury when you had previously enjoyed great profits by beating those bigger companies at their own game by being more SEO-savvy and a better content provider, unlike them (and unlike how they still continue to be).

Let’s not forget one major thing: Google has gotten so powerful, that it literally has puppet master strings on the economy itself. I bet that back in the late 1990s, we would have never known that one single company has the power to simply cut a string that would cause a series of businesses go out of business overnight. Scary, huh?

Onward to 2013

2012 was a miserable year for affiliates and middle-class at-home entrepreneurs. Google’s erratic moves caused severe damage to webmasters. It also caused many small businesses to go under – especially SEO specialists. In 2012, I even remember reading stories about how a small business owner actually committed suicide after losing long-held Google ranks to Panda/Penguin and after the company essentially went under.

Let’s hope 2013 is the year Google gets a competitor. Yahoo has a new CEO. Bing is fighting hard against Google’s search plutocracy. Facebook stated that it is about to enter the search market. These are three things I am optimistic for.

More and more, I hear laypeople complain about how Google search gives “misleading” results, and I’ve yet to hear anyone NOT mention their degree of “ad blindness” to “those ads on the top and side of search results.” I have a lot of hope that there will be new platforms pulling searchers away from Google toward less biased options. It’s just a matter of time.

In the meantime, like most internet marketers, I have plenty of New Years resolutions to fulfill in the form of site re-designs, and I never give up hope on any of them.