There’s a special (unethical) breed of SEO who just loves to blame Google for every mistake they make. These are the shady $100 a month practitioners who, when questioned, say “ah, Google changed its algorithm”.
That’s roughly the line that Moneysupermarket strung out today. “Fewer people logged on to the price comparison site between May and June”, they claim, “after the internet giant made changes to its search engine”. Shares fell almost 2% as a result of this announcement, and the company has vowed to work on regaining its prominent placing for the term “insurance”.
Now, I’m not contesting their claim that fewer people logged on to their website. That’s entirely possible. It’s possible that it’s not true, though.
This chart, kindly provided by my SEO software of choice, the brilliant Sistrix, shows the number of keywords (of significant enough volume) that moneysupermarket.com could be found for in Google UK.
The “A” marker is Google’s major Penguin update. This neatly tallies with a near 40% increase in keywords found in the top 100. While I’ve seen an increase in keywords in the past coinciding with a drop in traffic, it’s unusual. Highly unusual.
So what’s going on? Why blame Google for a drop when everything’s pointing upwards?
OK, Maybe the Money Keywords Have Dropped?
Moneysupermarket claim that they’ve dropped for the search term “insurance” (and they’re currently fourth behind Confused.com, Wikipedia and Aviva). However, when you search for specific types of insurance – the search terms that are more likely to convert into business – Moneysupermarket has plenty of well-placed keywords that should be bringing business.
However, it’s the biggies – “car insurance” has dropped from number 1 to number 4. For “home insurance”, the drop is down to number 5.
So ultimately, traffic is probably up – but money traffic appears to be down. But only slightly.
So is This a Penguin Thing?
A Penguin penalty is algorithmic, so you’d never actually know if you’ve been Penguined for real. There is a possibility, in fact, that Moneysupermarket has been sailing a little too close to the wind. When you analyse the amount of “keyword anchor text” links (e.g. linking to the site using the words ‘car insurance’), then you start to see the work of an SEO.
And when Google sees the work of an SEO, it gets angry.
Exact-match anchor text is an age-old tactic that used to work really, really well. However, it leaves a footprint. It doesn’t look natural to search engines. For instance, if someone really wants to link to your car insurance page, they’d say:
Car insurance from Moneysupermarket.com
… and not
Car insurance from Moneysupermarket.com
Going through the list of the most commonly used anchor texts for links pointing to Moneysupermarket.com, you start to see a pattern:
Moneysupermarket have been trying to manipulate Google. But everyone else has been doing the same thing, and if Google really wanted to punish Moneysupermarket, they’d have hit them with a +10 or +50 penalty, putting them even further down the rankings. This is no punishment.
What I’ve seen across clients is that Google is looking very closely at links that contain exact-match anchor text, and it’s evaluating those percentages. Upticks and downturns in rankings could coincide with a slight tweak in what percentage Google considers “natural”. 29,318 links that contain the word “car insurance” sure isn’t natural, even if they’re coming from The Telegraph and the FT (which some of them are).
It’s Google’s Fault, But Not as You Know it
Have you tried looking for car insurance recently? Maybe, like me, you go direct to the site whose advert you hate the least. Or maybe, you’ve googled it and you’ve discovered this:
Google have inserted themselves above everyone else. They’ve even added a nice little feature (that no one else can use) which allows people to enter their car registration and start a quote directly.
How nice is that! Can we try it? No.
Of course, it’s Google’s search engine, not anyone else’s. We’re all relying on Google’s goodwill to send us traffic.
However, Google’s running out of goodwill. Google has long since realised that unless people are clicking on paid adverts, they’re not making any money. Their future revolves around affiliate marketing, and taking a commission on any sales made through insurance, hotels, flights… you name it, Google will be the middle man, and Google will be top of the rankings for everything. Not because their algorithms say they’re the best, or the most popular, or the most relevant. Because they want to. Because they can.
Who Said Life Was Fair?
And this brings us back to Moneysupermarket’s keywords. Yes, they might have more keywords in the top 100. And yes, they may have slipped back a little on their money terms, but their problem isn’t Google Penguin, and their problem isn’t necessarily the way Google index.
Their problem is Google eating up their business model and cutting them out of the picture by doing what they do. It’s a good job they didn’t mention this in their press release, because that share price might just have fallen a lot further.