If anyone doubted the willingness and capability of Google to flex its muscles, the news this week that Raven Tools is being forced to drop its rank checking service should act as a stark warning. But what is really going on here? What is it that Google has been doing, why, and what does it all mean for the future?
Raven Tools is a suite of SEO tools and services relied upon by SEO professionals and online marketers, allowing them to monitor PPC campaigns and website rank tracking easily, accurately and effectively. Until now.
Because just recently Google has been sweeping aside many of the big names in SEO, shutting down their access to Google data with almost no warning, and very little alternative. Raven Tools is far from being the first company to experience Google’s ruthlessness, and it certainly won’t be the last either.
So What’s The Issue Here?
Fundamentally it relates to the way in which businesses obtain data from or through Google. There are basically two methods – using Google’s authorised API, or simply scraping the data by carrying out automated searches and queries, and then extracting the data from them.
Many companies, Raven Tools included, have scraped data from Google for many years, but this is no longer something which Google is allowing, which is why many of these services either have already been closed down, or are likely to be closed down in the near future.
To be honest, nobody really knows. There are three theories, one or all of which may be right, or indeed they may be all completely wrong. But here are the three possible reasons why Google is taking this action now:
All those automated queries and searches carried out why tools such as Raven Tools places huge demands on Google’s servers, which in turn racks up the cost quite considerably. A fairly significant number of the searches carried out each month are automated ones, allowing businesses to store, analyse and distribute data to its customers.
Now, Google isn’t exactly short a bob or two, and it’s fairly unlikely that they have had a quick check of their bank account and realised that they’re eating into their overdraft. But cost is always going to be a factor for any business which is looking to make a profit, and whilst it’s easy to see Google as a service provider, it is also a business and may well be taking this action to increase profit or decrease cost.
The problem with Google data scraping is that the results are far from accurate. Ever since Google started to introduce more personalised search results the way in which data scraping is carried out caused weaknesses and flaws to creep in.
Where you are in the world geographically will affect your search results, your own search history and even means of accessing Google’s search facilities all affect the results you see. The search results you see for a particular keyword search may well be very different from the results someone else sees, even if they happen to be your next door neighbour.
This means that scraping data will always include a degree of risk of inaccuracy, and it is probable that in the near future this inaccuracy will worsen. Google is therefore keen to make sure that data businesses obtain is more accurate, and of course this can only be done through its own API.
Is Google really anti-SEO? Probably not, since it does spend a good deal of time every month publishing blog posts and videos which offer help and advice to the SEO and marketing industry on how to maximise the effectiveness of your site, and how to increase your rank.
But having said all that it is clear looking at Google’s actions over the past three or four years that it is very much committed to improving the quality of the sites being offered up by its search engine algorithms, and that it is aiming to deliver results which are more likely to appeal to real people, rather than algorithms.
Much of its advice relating to SEO indicates that online marketers and publishers should be thinking more about their readers and end users than about Google’s current algorithmic plans or implementations.
If Google is keen to move people away from statistics, data analysis and algorithms and more towards high quality, original content that’s engaging and which appeals to real people, then knocking out people’s access to the raw data is a fairly effective step towards achieving that goal.
As I said, these are only theories, and no one knows for certain why Google has taken this step, and what its long term goals are with implementing this hard line.
So What Is The Future For Providers Such As Raven Tools?
Well, from January 2nd 2013 Raven Tools will no longer be providing access to their Google rankings tools, and their SERP Tracker tool will be completely shut down. Other major providers are having to look carefully and decide whether to run the risk of continuing to provide data scraped from Google, or go through their approved API in full compliance with their terms.
Not only is data scraping risky in terms of the probable increase in unreliability, but of course we all know only too well that you do not want to get on the wrong side of Google.
Some service providers have already decided to move across from Google to Bing, and the number of SEO tool providers now pulling data in from Bing is rising. Whether we’ll see Bing either capitalise on this as an opportunity, or come down as hard as Google has and reduce the automated access to queries is something we will simply have to wait and see.
But in terms of what the future has in store, especially with 2012 coming to a close, a year which has seen monumental changes in the world of online marketing, it seems clear that 2013 looks set to be another year in which we all dance to Google’s ever changing tune.
If I was to offer a single message out of these recent events it would be this – don’t become so reliant on one thing that you don’t spend enough time creating a fall back plan. I’ve said this before, but within a different context.
In the past I have advocated the need to think much more widely than just Google when it comes to SEO and online marketing. There was a day before Google, and there may well come a day after it too. Google is still king, that’s not disputed, but the statistics do reveal a significant increase in traffic going through other search engines, and it’s important not to create all of your content and online marketing so tightly focussed on meeting Google’s requirements that you forget to think about marketing to other search engines, through other media channels, and of course, to real live human beings.
Just as I don’t believe you should excessively focus your online marketing through Google’s lens, I don’t think it’s helpful to exclusively focus on Google in terms of statistics, or on Raven Tools for analysis of your statistics.
In fact when it comes right down to it, you can end up spending more time analysing your statistics than creating good, fresh content that reaches the real people with real wallets full of real money that might really like what you’re offering!
So The Message For 2013?
Focus on your customers, not just on your statistics. Think more broadly than one search engine, one provider of data analysis or one method of online marketing. That doesn’t mean spread yourself so thin you can’t really invest enough time to generate quality – just don’t forget that the world wide web is a big place. Bigger even than Google.