Long ago and far away, there was a world where there was no Web. Back in those early years (such as the 1960′s through the mid-1990s), there were certain basic concepts that guided the world of marketing. One of the facts of life during those times was that each market space tended to support somewhere between three and five major brands, and no more.
The major brands were the ones competing for general merchandise or services on a national or global scale. Regardless of where you went, they were there. There were other companies in these market spaces, too, but they operated in a niche fashion. They constrained their efforts to a local market, or a specific subset of the products in a given market space. They also could do quite well, but they were inherently smaller, and they were not in a position to cover the broad market the same way the big brands did.
The Great Disruption
Then came the Web. Suddenly, leadership was defined by understanding the universe of terms that a user might type into a search engine, implementing keyword-rich pages on your website, and using a link-building strategy. Dozens, or scores of businesses could compete on very generic terms nationwide (pick your country!) or even globally.
In some cases, this actually helped make these players huge brands. But more often than not, there were tons of companies that were no-name brands, competing in their market in a broad horizontal fashion — not like that post-caveman era/pre-Web marketplace at all.
This disruption is coming to an end.
The reasons for this reversion are quite clear. To see what is happening, we need to understand how the products of the search engines work.
A Little Frog Story
I am going to illustrate my point with a sequence of screen shots that tell of a user’s hypothetical search experience. Imagine that a user searches on [frogs]. They click on the first result, and they get a page that looks like this:
However, the user does not get what they want from that page. So they go back to the search results and click on result #2, which brings them to this page:
Still not finding what they want in the second result, they go back to the SERPs and click on the 3rd result:
If you look at these three pages closely you will see that they are not duplicate content, and they are most likely written by different people. But the problem is, they have the same four basic pieces of information, which we can summarize as: frogs are green, they live in water, they jump, and toads are a sub-species of frogs. In other words, there is NO difference in the actual information provided. Imagine what this does for the person who is trying to find out what frogs eat!
Why This Story Matters
It’s simple. Content-identical results like these are bad for the search engines’s product. The search engine’s customer is unsatisfied — they did not get the information they wanted, and they are frustrated.
More importantly, the search engines know this, and they are working on methods to eliminate this type of “sameness” from their search results.
This is something I discussed with Matt Cutts over a year ago, and here is what he said when I showed him this frog story:
Those other sites are not bringing additional value. While they’re not duplicates, they bring nothing new to the table. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what these people have done, but they should not expect this type of content to rank.
The bolding is mine, but the key point I want to get across is that success as a publisher does not simply mean “don’t spam” or “don’t use duplicate content” — in fact, it means much more. If you are publishing websites and ranking in search engines is a key part of your business strategy, than be prepared to answer the following question:
How will showing your webpages in their results improve the search engine’s product?
In more traditional terms, how will your webpages provide users with materially different value than the other websites covering the same market space?
If you don’t know the answer, then it might be that you won’t be showing up high in those results any time soon.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.