SEO: Google manipulates search results. A boost for small business?
September 21, 2006 • Glenn Murray
As more and more businesses strive for a top ten Google ranking, it’s becoming harder and harder to achieve. This is especially true for smaller businesses that simply don’t have the budget for a big link popularity campaign. But hope may be just around the corner. If a top ten ranking for your primary keywords has been eluding you, then read on!
Google manipulates the results
Google is trialing an ‘enhancement’ to the way it displays its results. Instead of showing the top ten results for the exact words you enter, in the trial Google suggests three related results that you might want to check out. Where does it display these suggestions? It shunts (or replaces) results 6, 7 and 8 !!!
In this article, I refer to these results as ‘intruders’.
To see some ‘intruder’ results in action, search for “piggy bank”. Results 6, 7 and 8 are actually ‘intruder’ results; they’re the top three results for the more specific, less popular search, “piggy bank lyrics”. Google assumes that people searching for “piggy bank” will probably be interested in results of a search for “piggy bank lyrics”.
On first impressions, it’s tempting to think that this makes it harder to get into the top ten (because now it’s really the top seven, and the last two results may be easily overlooked). But it may actually make it easier – especially for smaller businesses. Let me explain why…
The advantage for smaller businesses
It all comes down to who can rank in the top ten for the most popular searches – like “computers”, “cars”, “doctor”, “pets”, etc. For anyone in these industries, a top ten ranking for these keywords is the holy grail. Unfortunately, these sorts of searches are presently dominated by big corporations with hefty search budgets. Most smaller businesses don’t even try to compete. Instead of focusing on these hotly contested keywords, small businesses tend to focus on much more specific keyword phrases – like “computers boston”, “second hand cars ohio”, “female doctor new england”, “discount pets for children”, etc.
But Google’s trial may change that. Remember, it’s replacing results 6, 7 and 8 of a popular, broad search with results 1, 2 and 3 of a less popular, more specific search. If the trial becomes a standard feature, a search for “computers” might well include three ‘intruder’ results from a search such as “computers boston”. As discussed above, results 6, 7 and 8 are likely to belong to big companies, whereas results 1, 2 and 3 of the more specific search are more likely to belong to smaller businesses. Therefore, when the switch occurs, it’s out with the big and in with the small!
In principle the enhancement appears to work in favor of small businesses:
- Big business dominates popular / general search results
- Smaller businesses have a greater chance of dominating less popular / more specific search results
- General search results are replaced by specific search results
- Big businesses are shunted out of the top ten by smaller businesses
Now I hear what you’re saying: “Why wouldn’t the big companies simply start optimizing for the more specific searches?” Granted, this is a possibility; but for most big companies, it would be a monumental task. Big companies tend to service a large geographic region, and they typically offer numerous products and services. Even a hefty search budget would be stretched to the limit if it was required to bankroll optimization for every single product, every single service, and every single location. And this is what would be required to dominate all of the more specific results, thereby gaining back their number 6, 7 or 8 position. It’s far more likely that they’ll simply try harder for a position in the top 5 of the popular/general search. This approach would be less complex and probably more rewarding.
The fine print
Of course, where Google is involved, nothing is ever that simple. I’ve oversimplified things above to make the trial a little easier to understand. In reality, the situation is a bit more complex because of the way Google chooses which search the three ‘intruder’ results come from. Take the “piggy bank” search for example. Google assumes that most users who search for “piggy bank” will also be interested in results from a search for “piggy bank lyrics”. This assumption is based on the fact that thousands of other people are searching specifically for “piggy bank lyrics” – in fact, it’s one of the most popular searches containing the original term “piggy bank”. And that’s why it gets the nod.
In other words, the intruder results come from popular searches (less popular than the original, but still popular). This means you’d already have to rank highly in a very popular search before you’d become an intruder. So, in reality, the above “computer” example is a little simplistic; the intruder results for “computer” are more likely to be from a search for something like “computers ibm”. In reality, the top three results for “computer peripherals boston” are more likely to appear as intruders in a “computer peripherals” search.
The important thing to remember is that if this trial becomes a standard feature, it will be implemented on all searches. And the more specific the original search, the easier it would be to become an intruder in that search. In theory, it has great potential to help smaller businesses reach the next rung of the search engine ladder.
Here are some further examples if you’re interested:
- Search for “add url”
- Search for “on demand”