Who Really Owns Internet Content?

Content, content, content. As a search marketing professional, is there anything more to discuss? We’ve spent years working on tags and sitemaps, poring over search tools and analytics. And now it really all boils down to content: content development, distribution, networking to expand the distribution, mapping and integrating, and so on.

But while we’ve spent years becoming sophisticated content producers, we’ve been beaten to the punch by Google. Google appears to own the entire Internet’s content. Now the company has dramatically changed the way that content is displayed, as part of the Knowledge Graph (KG) effort.

From a user standpoint, there’s no doubt that the search experience is improving. There are fewer improperly engineered results, and it takes fewer clicks to find what you need. Searchers are presented with answers, not links.

However, what’s better for users has come at the expense of content producers and search marketers. Why is that? 



Let’s explore five examples and focus on their impact on search users and marketers:

1)     Image search. Google has indexed all of the images on the Internet. Say you’re looking for a photo of blue shoes. You never have to leave Google’s results page. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? There’s little reason to click through to the source of the image and visit the site where the content originated. The result for marketers: Images are no longer a real source of search traffic.

2)     The Knowledge Graph card. Want to learn more about the Red Sox? You’ll probably find everything you need right in the Knowledge Graph Card: the team’s stadium, who manages them, their division, even a full player roster. Pre-Knowledge Graph, you’d likely land on and be left to find that information on your own. The result for marketers: While it might be easier for search users to quickly find information, the path to move from awareness to interest or from interest to engagement/purchase has become more difficult. The Red Sox are a business, whose management would like people to purchase tickets or a T-shirt from their website. That connection might never happen now, or may take longer to materialize.

3)     The Wikipedia Effect. Google KG relies very heavily on Wikipedia and Freebase to provide information and answers for search terms. Those two sources have become the stewards of truth, with the community supplying information and fact-checking. The result for marketers: we’re no longer in direct control of the most crucial elements of our business: the information that defines us, and how that info is displayed most prominently in search results.

4)     Distinguishing between organic and paid. Organic search results, pushed lower and lower by paid search, now appear ever farther down the page. Interestingly enough, the Knowledge Graph is often at the top of the main results page, unless the topic drives a lot of paid search activity, in which case this information still remains above the KG. Search users have a lot of options before they ever get to organic results. The result for marketers: We get it, Google’s a business, but all of the other businesses providing the content that makes Google valuable get pushed further down the page. If you’re relying solely on organic search, you may want to diversify.

5)     Citing sources. Google doesn’t always show the source of the content. Pre-KG, Oxford's content on golf was at the top of the results page with a link to its website. Today, its content is still at the top of page, but it’s lacking any association with the site. The result for marketers: You do the hard work producing content that Google finds to be the authority, yet get none of the credit (or traffic). It’s easy to see how marketers would tire of generating unique content, just to have Google display it as its own, essentially stealing all of the traffic that Google historically would have provided.

So what now? Is SEO truly dead? I think not, in large part due to Google’s constant effort to make search better. There’s more traffic today than ever before. Consider that local search has become a huge source of qualified traffic and organic search remains the best source of prospects and customers.

Remember that customers can’t make a purchase from you on the results page -- well, not yet anyway.  Keep in mind that the search world is changing rapidly, and a traffic source today might not be  one tomorrow!

1 comment about "Who Really Owns Internet Content?".
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  1. Dan Euritt from Ocean Street Video, November 10, 2014 at 6:24 p.m.

    Great column, with some valid points about Google taking over content like they owned it. However, they have also created opportunities. The Youtube search engine, for example, if you have video content.

    I'm not sure how much I miss image search traffic, because it has always been difficult to monetize.

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