Google the Answer Engine

One of the topics that emerged from Pubcon was “Should SEO’s Focus on Where Google is Heading”, and I’m going to agree with Aaron that focusing on short term algorithmic holes isn’t a smart thing for most people (churn and burn folks–you keep on keeping on). I agree that most publishers should focus on where Google is going. However, the one thing I think publishers need to be aware of and be wary of is Google’s transition to becoming an answer engine.

this represents a clear and present danger to every web publisher…

When I refer to Google trying to become an answer engine, what exactly do I mean? I mean that Google will provide the answer right on the SERP itself if possible and, more frequently, from a Google-owned or Google-maintained property. What exactly do I mean by that? I would be willing to bet that at least one Googler is hunched over a monitor somewhere trying to figure out how to convert voice searches into standardized results. Get out your best Jean Luc Picard impersonation, grab your android phone, and say “COMPUTER … Show me airline prices from Los Angeles to Las Vegas on March 15th.” Now imagine that Google, using its recently acquired ITA travel data, could show you the 5 cheapest flights without needing to send you to the airline, travelocity, or any of the other intermediaries.  Good for Google, good for the user … but scary if you are a publisher.

Google has been moving in this direction for years with queries like [what is george washington’s birthday]

There’s no need for the person performing that query to visit any website because Google became the answer machine.  Earlier this year, they began making inroads in commercial searches for things like [mortgage rates]

Google’s latest incursion into becoming the answer machine came from its local results when they began stealing … err aggregating … reviews from other sites and mixing them with their own on place pages.

IMHO this represents a clear and present danger to every web publisher. For a while, Google will be content to let publishers keep serving the information that Google hasn’t figured out how to gather efficiently/profitably, even if that means referring users to low quality, demand media style pages from About.com and eHow.com. However there’s no doubt in my mind that once Google thinks they can do better, they will scrape your data and throw you under the bus without a second thought … cause it’s all about the users, right?

The one exception that may leave you a leg to stand on is if you are a brand and are building some sense of brand loyalty. If users type in [<brand name> + <keyword phrase>] Google will show less “Google answers”. For example [george washington’s birthday wikipedia] or [bank of america mortgage rates] contain none of the Google properties. Of course, it would seem to me that this is a massive conflict of interest as far as Google is concerned, but I’m not a legislator, so what do I know.

The days of being a pure affiliate and building sites without any thought to branding are coming to a close. They will never disappear completely, but there will be less of them. The purely keyword-based traffic without a hint of branding is going to become more competitive and, in some cases, you will be competing with Google itself or with Google owned properties like Boutiques.com. Heed these warnings Caesar and fear the Ides of March …
photo credit: Michal Osmenda

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