SME Pals is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
How Google hurts small business online

Why Google is Bad for the (Small Business) Economy

Think of the Internet economy as a farmer’s field full of little green plants. Each plant represents a business, and the stuff that makes them grow is traffic (just like rain makes real plants grow).

Now, imagine that in between the rain clouds and our fledgling plants, there is a huge funnel that collects the rain and pours it over the field. Let’s call this funnel Google.

Google’s job is to make sure that all the sprouts get a fair share of water (provided they are of good quality), and that any weeds that are harmful to the ecosystem aren’t watered. All day long Google funnels rain onto various different plants in order to help them grow.

That picture is a fairly good analogy of how the Internet ecosystem operates - with Google acting as the arbiter of what is worthy and unworthy. And, by and large, they do a good job. If they didn’t people would start switching to a different search engine.

Why Google doesn't always work

There’s a problem with our otherwise idyllic system. In fact, there are several problems:

  1. The system isn’t perfect, and Google is constantly pouring water on weeds disguised as crops, or not pouring water on crops because it thinks they’re weeds
  2. Google has no accountability. If it decides to tinker with its search algorithms to improve its results, it may wipe out entire niche industries without so much as a notification, comment, or warning
  3. Google has a strong financial incentive to funnel traffic away (to paying customers)

Taking these three points together, it's easy to show how far Google has strayed from its mantra, “Don’t be evil”. We can start with the most obvious example...

Do as they say, not as they do

Take a look at a short quote from the webmaster guidelines (taken from the Webmaster Central Blog) prescribed by Google in order to ensure a good browsing experience for readers:

… we’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.

So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience. Such sites may not rank as highly going forward.

Sounds reasonable, right? After all, none of us want to have to fight our way through a sea of ads just to find the content we’re looking for. But wait; have you seen what a typical search result looks like these days?

Take a look at the following search result, bearing in mind their guidelines for a good browsing experience:

Google search results showing top-heavy ads

Clearly Google is above the law in this case because any website that attempted to crowd their own content with above-the-fold ads like this would be penalized and lose their organic search traffic.

It’s a case of,

Everyone is equal. But some are more equal than others.

How bad is Google really?

Ok well, it is Google so we can forgive them for not wanting to stick to their own rules, can’t we? Although, what happens when they start favoring other big sites in the same way?

In a previous article I talked about Yahoo's curated content (read: copy and republish content with permission). Showing how they do a bad job of making those articles relevant to the reader but still outrank the original content in search results.

Losing traffic to Google – who freely uses anyone’s content in their search results in order to generate ad revenue, and losing it to preferred, big brand domains, would still allow enough leg room for most decent companies to subsist, if not thrive, online.

But, there’s one final aspect to Google’s modus operandi that delivers a real knockout punch for small sites – uncertainty.

Google perpetuates an unstable online environment

At any time, day or night, they can flip a switch and change the rules. They don’t have to notify anyone, they don’t have to warn anyone, and they don’t have to explain their actions, or help anyone recover as a result of the changes.

A good point in case, is the recent round of Hummingbird updates (August 20th – September 4th) that have attracted plenty of attention from webmasters who have seen devastating losses to their organic search traffic – some in the order of 95%.

Imagine your company losing 95% of its revenue overnight with no explanation, and no indication of if or when it will return.

It’s impossible to operate successfully under these conditions.

The Google one-two: Instability & lack of transparency

Google refuses to provide any meaningful information to help webmasters recover because they say that it helps spammers ‘game the system’. This is a strategy akin to cutting off your army’s supply lines in order to prevent those supplies falling into enemy hands.

Now, many people would simply state that you can’t build anything that relies on the Internet – or more specifically on organic search traffic. But why not? Why can’t we demand a stable online environment, where everyone plays by the same rules?

Are we all content to let one organization maintain a monopoly that can harm thousands of fledgling enterprises at the flick of a switch, without answering to anyone?

So what's the solution?

Even if they had no direct financial interest in delivering the search results, I would still argue that there has to be some sort of accountability and transparency.

I'm not saying they don't have a right to tinker with their algorithms and improve their search. But, there must be a mechanism in place to help genuine companies survive.

At the very least there should be some transparency so that people might understand what they need to do to ensure they meet with the very guidelines Google exempts itself from (in the process of making money off the content provided by the organizations it has the power to penalize).

For now, Google gets away with this debilitating lack of transparency because no-one can do without the vast amounts of organic search traffic they control.

Yes, I accept there are monumental challenges, but they also earn the big bucks to handle those challenges. It should at least be accountable in some small way to the publishers that produce the content it uses to make profits.

It should also be accountable because there is currently no mechanism to tell if Google is introducing bias into its search results to boost its own revenue – I’m not saying it does this, but there’s no way to tell.

Perhaps it is time for all online SMBs to unite into a "Webmasters' Union" that ensures fair and equitable treatment from Google.

What are your thoughts on Google and how it affects small businesses and the Internet economy?

Our favourite blogs for entrepreneurs. Pic by jakeandlindsay

Despite spending most of my time working on my own startups, I find myself drawn to reading about what other people are up to, or making use of - whether it

Design and print your own business cards

Did you know that business card design can directly impact the success of your organisation?

Grow your business (Fill empty seats). Pic by Andrew

The SBA (Small Business Administration) is a United States government department tasked with supporting and nurtur

A list of high paying work from home jobs

Ever wondered just how much you can earn in a career working from home? The answer is millions of dollars - if you've got what it takes.

A cash flow statement usually includes money flowing in and out of a company, but this article is full of ideas and tips to get more money flowing in.

Because cash is king for all entrepreneurs, SME/SMBs, and home based ventures, it is crucial that you can generate as much revenue as possible, as early as possible.

This article will look at a very simple sales forecast and provide plenty of great sales strategies, ideas and advice for you to incorporate into your own plans.

Tips and advice on ways to save money for small business

Save money with smart spending habits that will lower costs and ultimately lead to bigger profits and higher earnings for your small business.

Small Business Accounting Software Reviews. Pic by Matthew Hine

Bookkeeping, taxes, accounting, and a host of other financial and administrative tasks are vital to keep your small business running smoothly and profitably

Unusual work from home business ideas

Selling online is getting easier and easier every day, from a technical point of view, because the technology to handle online transactions (like online

Successful online business without Google traffic

Organic search traffic from Google is so valuable that many businesses come to rely on it as their primary source of income.

And while it may seem that the sun will never set on high converting organic traffic from the search giant, you might want to think about what would happen to your enterprise if the flow dried up.

I've experienced both the frustration and despair of losing Google traffic to an unknown and unexplained penalty (only large, important businesses get the information they need to recover in a matter of days or weeks), but have also seen how other companies have thrived without Google entirely.

How to prevent spammers hijacking your servers

There's nothing worse than finding out your business website has been hacked and is being used to send out bulk emails, spam visitors, or spread malicious software.

If it hasn't happened to you, don't fall into the trap of thinking that this scenario is something that happens to other people. Spam hacks are absolutely rampant.

Fortunately, the business model of spammers requires them, more often than not, to automate their hacks to seek out vulnerable Web servers and sites, because they have to do things on a huge scale to turn a profit.

Get the latest online work from home jobs

Find a great work from home job (with good pay) and benefit from a better quality of life with the freedom of flexible hours and the ability to work

Tips on how to use technology to improve your business

Having access to a great tool like Google Trends means that it is easy to keep an eye on how important brands and

Back to Top