Rand Fishkin: nowadays, Google is every web site’s competitor

Reading time : 5 minutes

Last week, talking about SEO community’s reactions to the Wall Street Journal against Google attack, we reported Rand Fishkin’s position as well, highlithing how important his intervention defending Big G was, given the fact that Sparktoro and Moz’ founder has never been particularly easy with the company in the past. Here comes a new confirmation, with his intervention at the “Google in 2020: From Everyone’s Search Engine to Everyone’s Competitor” with which Fishkin opened the SMX East event in New York.

Google is every web site’s new competitor

From the blog pages of his (new) company, Fishkin explains the reasoning behind his intervention (over 80 slides we can also read inside the page): Google is abandoning its role of search engine to come closer to an answer to engine and, with increasingly clear tendency, direct competitor of a huge number of sites and business fields.

More and more tools, features and resources to catch users

From this perspective, web marketers’ road seems clear and pre-tracked: the biggest traffic source on the web – paid or free – is becoming a “fenced garden“, only interested in keeping people within its properties, as well as directly compete with the very realities that helped it become a monopolistic and influential power. We saw that recently happen with Google Shopping, but even with the examples of  SERP without links and direct answer box.

How to diversify traffic sources according to Rand Fishkin

According to Fishkin, “if you are a marketer or a company that relies on Google you still have plenty opportunities, in the majority of fields at least – I am sorry for Expedia, Yelp, TripAdvisor and anyone ever tries to compete against YouTube”. However, in order to keep up one needs to plan the right way to diversify his traffic sources, make the branded demand grow outside the research and to gain value from zero click researches .

New estimates on the organic traffic erosion

Right on this last side we have new data promptly confirming the erosion of those clicks coming from Google’s result pages: over half mobile Google researches and almost the 35% from desktop concluded without the user visiting more contents, as Jumpshot‘s analysis reveales. Moreover, according to Fishkin the tendency keeps on being an organic drop in the context of a research increasing ending on Ads or no clicks at all.

Quota di mercato dei motori di ricerca

7.5 percent of researches leads to Google’s properties

More specifically, only on September 2019 “the 7.5% of all researches led to a click on an Alphabet’s property“, a.k.a the holding that controls Google and its other connected companies. Hence, nowadays “Google already is the main recipient of the Google Research itself, because any other site comes even closer to that 7.5%”, the investigation highlights. Just think, as we were saying in a previous article on the SEO optimization of images, that the second largest and most used search engine is Google Images!

Google challenges every site and field

But that is not the only thing to stress, because Google is competing in so many other fields through direct answers and “raids” on vertical niches, such as weather, travels, venues and reviews, that allow the user to obtain the required info without ever click on the sites that originally published these kind of contents.

Backed up from the results of Google Hotels, Flights, Jobs Search, of the “local pack” and the other rich results displayed on the min page, Fishkin claims that “the tendency is very pervasive” and nibbles traffic and business away “from Skyscanner and Kayak in Travels, from Eater and Yelp on local results, from US News and FiveThirtyEight on college rankings, from Wunderground and Weather.com for weather forecasts, from MetaCritic and PC Game”. Basically, every single site but the Alphabet’s ones are losing when it comes to “media and pop culture” topic researches.

How to withstand Google?

What can the sites do to keep on competing? During his intervention, the SEO expert offers some practical indication: first step is “to find out how to make our brand what users want”, a.k.a branding the research. Going on with the example on forecasts, “I do not only want the traffic for the weather keyword anymore, but I want researches for my brand, for Weather Underground, Weather.com and Weather Channel”.

Esempio di query monopolizzata da Google

Focus on branded researches and reinforce the brand

Moreover, one should find the way to benefit from zero click researches, trying to rank among featured snippets with targeted contents so to gain users’ trust and familiarity towards the brand, that can help visibility. Even the purchase of Ads can be thought of as strategy, as well as useful can be those old offline advertising campaigns, such as “billboards, radio and tv ads”, that could influence search behaviour.

Is then important to correctly implement our brand related knowledge panel, certifying its ownership and possibly asking for modifications if needed, because this feature can help to positively affect brand perception. Basically, according to Rand Fishkin we should think about our SEO oriented branding awareness and how to manage our reputation in order to optimize our branded researches’ results.

Strategies to keep on competing

At this point the classic prisoner’s dilemma arises, that for web sites takes the following form: “I optimize contents for zero click researches, in order to provide these answers I mark my results the way Google wants them, but on the other hand I am putting myself through an organic traffic loss from researches”.

Dilemma SEO: ottimizzare o no per rich snippet?

The solution to the SEO prisoner’s dilemma

The suggested system to escape this doubt divides the problem in two categories: a path to follow for any kind of contents that could emerge as rich results (picture above) and another specific one for search results sourcing from structured data (picture below).

Sites on first predicament should ask themselves two questions: “will I experience any benefit from this query even though it has no traffic?”, closely followed by “will my team or client give credit to rankings that bring no traffic?”. If the answer to both questions is yes, we should invest on what Fishkin calls On-Serp SEO, a.k.a the optimization of rich results and other features supplied by Google; if not, we should (still) focus our efforts on traffic-generating keywords.

For structured data, questions are “will i gain or lose value adding structured data that Google could use in a direct answer box?”, and then again “would i prefer to acquire an answer box or leave it to a competitor to focus on other keywords?”. If the answers are two yes, we will be going to work on the structured data adding, if not we better immediately move our strategy towards other opportunities.

Soluzioni per chi opera con dati strutturati

Creating a brand demand to guard against Google

In the end, every site must try and protect itself from the competition Google will surely spark in every field , but Fishkin eventually leaves us with a message of hope saying that “we still have many opportunities to build our brand and be successfull”. It is quite clear that relying on search engines in order to reach clients inextricably make all brands dependant to the way such engines provide results: anyway, combining SEO efforts with a strategy creating brand demand we could succeed in preserve us from these changes and keep up with our competition.