In January, a post on the official Google blog addressed the issue of low-quality “spammy” sites in the Google search results. This is a bit of a two-sided issue, at least for anyone likely to read this post. On the one hand, there’s the problem of low-quality, affiliate-link laden, crappy websites showing up in the top spots for many search terms in Google.
On the other hand, us online marketers are often the people who own such sites and make money from them…
Slap: The Second Coming
It’s not too long ago that Google deindexed thousands of “MFA” (made for AdSense) websites and closed AdSense accounts of webmasters who were essentially spamming the search results with extremely low-quality sites, targeted at very specific, long-tail keywords. This might have cleaned up the search results to a certain extent, but it didn’t entirely solve the problem, of course. As indicated by the “search engine spam” blog post mentioned earlier, that first slap was only the beginning.
By now, the second slap has already happened (or is, perhaps, still happening) and once again there are many stories of de-indexed sites and decreased rankings circulating IM forums and blogs.
No one knows exactly what happened, although Dan’s post about the micro-site business model and Ben’s post on how not to make money online provide some useful insights. From talking to many fellow marketers about this and from asking my newsletter subscribers about it, I learned that this most recent slap seems to have affected far fewer sites than one might initially think, looking at all the buzz around the topic. It’s clear that whatever Google did, it didn’t affect thin, low-quality affiliate sites in general. Too many of those remain un-affected. For the record: I also have a few remarkably thin, low-quality and non-unique sites in my portfolio and none of them have suffered a slap.
My suspicion is that AdSense sites were the main target and the reason for that is simple: Google has lots of data on AdSense sites. In fact, any changes made to remove crappy sites from the SERP are most likely to affect sites linked up to AdSense, Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, before any other sites, simply because Google has the inside scoop on sites using their services. My second suspicion is a point that Ben also brought up in his post: having too many sites in your AdSense account puts them all at risk. It’s pretty reasonable to assume that one webmaster is unlikely to own 200 websites and fill all of them with quality, unique, relevant content, after all.
Niche Marketing is Dead (and all that…)
So, is this the end of AdSense sites? Is it the end of niche marketing or affiliate marketing all together? Of course not, despite the panic that tends to spread whenever Google makes any significant change.
Google’s main objective (apart from making bucketloads of cash) is to show the most relevant, useful results possible to it’s users. For example, for many search terms for physical products and product names, Google shows shopping results:
This doesn’t make owners of affiliate marketing sites for physical products particularly happy, but it is a great way for Google to serve it’s users better and connect them more directly to what they are looking to find.
Building small sites targeting long-tail keywords still works. Building all manner of spammy backlinks to these sites also still works for getting them ranked in the top spots. Basically, everything you already know about niche marketing still works. But, I believe that building thin sites is a short-term strategy, no matter how you look at it.
The Long-Term View
The long-term strategy is to build sites that provide the best, most relevant result for the keywords you are targeting.
This may mean that you have to go a bit further than grabbing some generic PLR and using it to fill five pages on a micro-site, as little more than a vessel containing your affiliate links. But it also means more earnings potential per site.
And let’s take an even-longer-term view: Building micro-sites and SEO’ing them is a low-leverage activity. It’s grunt work. It’s a fantastic way to get started, in my opinion. It’s a priceless way of learning some of the fundamentals of online marketing and of generating a good bit of income. In fact, it’s a great way to break away from a 9-to-5 existence and become financially independent (disclaimer: you’ll probably be working longer hours than at a day job to achieve this, but that’s not the point).
However, it’s not something you want to keep doing indefinitely. Sooner or later, you’ll be looking for ways to grow your business further. This could mean hiring some people to do the site building and SEO for you. Or it could mean building out bigger and better sites and services online and using your SEO and marketing experience to get them noticed.
What if you created a website that become a central hub of activity in your niche, because it provides real, unique value and doesn’t just act as a bridge-page to get the visitor to a product via your affiliate link? What if you offered a service that people in your niche just can’t live without? Do you think that will ever get slapped by Google? And if it did, how much of a difference would it make?
Understand that I’m still talking about niche marketing here. You don’t have to try and create the next facebook or the next zappos. If you can provide something real and unique to even the tiniest of niche-markets, that could be enough to build a very profitable business on. You know how they say that 1000 true fans are all you need to have a successful business? From my experience, I’d say that, if anything, that number is too high.
How are your niche-sites faring, since the latest Google slap? And what’s your long-term view for your online business? Let me know in the comments!