Monopoly Games

No, I’m not talking about Wine Opoly, Chocolate Opoly, or even my little town of Bend, Oregon’s version…Bend Opoly.

I’m talking about the games Google, Facebook, and Amazon play with businesses and their revenue streams…and what your business can do to protect your sales from the impact of changes these monopolies make in their systems.
Monopoly
Photo courtesy Chillilogic on Flickr

Google

Certainly Google has a monopoly on search, handling 92% of searches worldwide as of March 2022. And that means if Google makes an algorithm change that’s not in your favor, there can be a huge impact in organic search traffic to your site. But what businesses should be more afraid of is Google’s drive to get a bigger share of the clicks in the search results going to their own sites. And it’s not just SERP features like featured snippets and People Also Ask (PAA) that are taking the clicks away, although that’s definitely an issue–in 2020, a Moz study by Dr. Pete Meyers found that the #1 organic result, on average, started at 616 pixels down the page.

But it gets worse…in many verticals, Google is becoming the retailer. Search for flights or hotels, and Google’s own entities are up top, ready to sell that to the searcher instead of having them buy from one of the companies in the organic results.

Businesses shouldn’t expect this to get better. Google continues to reshape the search results page to put more things up top that they paid on. There’s no incentive for them to do otherwise.

Should you just give up on your SEO and organic traffic? Of course not. But there are things you ought to be doing to make your business more resilient to Google’s changes.

Build your brand

Wil Reynolds of SEER kicked this off a number of years ago at a MozCon conference in Seattle. He yelled at all of us to quit playing link games and other trickery and start doing what he called RCS – Real Company…um, Stuff. I say (a) we all pretty much deserved that then, and (b) it’s even more relevant and helpful advice for marketers today.



If people are searching for your KIND of product or service, you’re at the mercy of Google’s search results pages. If you’ve convinced them your brand, product, or service the cat’s meow, then no matter where you are on the page, they’re going to look for you and find you.

And it doesn’t have to be all about convincing people your product or service is better, or cheaper. A past business partner of mine had a saying: people do business with people they like. If what you offer is roughly comparable in quality, features, price, etc., then think about getting the customer by being more likable. Be a better corporate citizen. Spend your dollars on sponsoring charity events. Help people out where other people can see it.

I take my truck to the far end of town for oil and fluid changes, simply because Kevin, owner of Pro Lube, has stepped up over and over when people ask for help on the Bend Pay it Forward group on Facebook. There’s lots of places closer, but I’d rather support that kind of person.

Take advantage of that high-on-the-page Google-owned real estate where you can: you can get your products in some of those spots for free via Google Merchant Center.

And last but not least–be friendly and funny! Jennifer Graham, a realtor here in Bend, is a master at this on Facebook–posting hilarious photos of houses and asking for captions.

And that brings us to…

Facebook

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook when it comes to marketing. On the one hand, the targeting you can do is pretty cool. On the other hand, the targeting accuracy is pretty bad (see this study from a week ago).

And lately, they’ve gone a bit overboard with their automated ad reviews. Today, I had an ad rejected because it their system thought it was offering housing and hadn’t been classified as such in the ad system. It was for a SaaS product that manages email and text messages for realtors. SIGH.

Bad Facebook!

Earlier this week, Facebook rejected a promoted post from my Rotary club, asking for donations for a disaster relief fund for Ukraine. Apparently it violated their policies because it was too political. FFS, Facebook.

To top it off, Facebook’s ad management UI is excruciatingly slow and notoriously buggy. In the screenshot above, the Get chat support link doesn’t actually do anything.

How do you make Facebook actually work for your business? For starters, see Build your brand above. Think about using promoted posts to make people like you, rather than trying to sell something directly. Grammarly does this brilliantly with cartoons about Oxford comma mistakes. Canvas Factory does this well too, with funny photos–mostly of pets. And, these are examples of the kinds of posts that get re-shared a ton. That’s never going to happen with your self-promotional Facebook posts about your product or service.

And pay attention to where your customers are–if your customers are in their teens and early 20’s, they’re NOT on Facebook. You need to be on Instagram and TikTok.

Amazon

Amazon has done a brilliant job of monopolizing the selling of consumer goods: partly because they built a brand that’s trusted, partly because of Amazon Prime free shipping, and partly because the integration of Amazon sellers, with their own “stores” within Amazon, means that you can comparison shop across many sellers for the same item–which tends to make prices very competitive.

So much so that for consumer products, 74% of people today start their search not on Google, but directly on Amazon. I know I do.

Point: Amazon.

Many retailers are finding that they have to be on Amazon as well as have their own website–simply because that’s where so many customers want to buy. Amazon’s fees cut into your margin, and for many businesses with tight margins to start with, it’s unworkable.

The one big weakness Amazon seems to have is in their site search–it’s 10-15 years behind Google in terms of delivering relevant results. If you’re searching for something very specific, like a particular car part, it’s almost impossible–you’re better off doing the search in Google (and add “site:amazon.com” if you really want to buy it on Amazon). If you search for “2017 Toyota Tundra wiper arm”, there are 109 results. Only three of them are actually for wiper ARMS (most of the rest are for wiper blade refills), and one of those three is for a Cadillac. SIGH.

Wiper arms or blades?

Google’s results for that same term turns up nothing but wiper arms, and all for my truck.

Point: Google.

If you’re an e-commerce product company, then what you need to do is make sure Google can correctly identify your 2017 Toyota Tundra wiper arm page. Get your page titles right. Include part numbers in the page. Get your schema.org/Product markup right. Max Prin at Merkle made a great schema generator tool–use it!

And that brings me to…

Reviews

Around 95% of people read online reviews before making a purchase. Unfortunately for Amazon, the word is getting out that as much as 42% of their reviews are fake. And it’s not much better with Google.

How do you combat that? First off, you absolutely should be tuning your product pages for [product name] + “reviews”, and incorporating reviews (and schema markup that includes the reviews and aggregate rating info) in the page content itself.

But, if you’ve built your own review platform, that’s not exactly trustworthy in the consumer’s eyes, is it?

Third-party review platforms, with brand names people recognize, can help. Having your reviews managed by a company like Shopper Approved, TrustPilot, GatherUp, or BirdEye, is a plus. If the reviews showing on your site are “out of reach” in terms of manipulation by the business owner, they’re going to be more believable than if it looks like you just hand-picked (or made up!) the best ones and hard-coded them into your page. (Full disclosure: Shopper Approved is a client of mine.)

Summary

Google’s, Amazon’s, and Facebook’s monopolies aren’t likely to end soon. Waiting for an antitrust case to succeed isn’t a viable business plan. Whining about their evil monopolies won’t boost sales.

Do RCS. Be likable, funny, and a good corporate citizen. Be a company people want to work with.

Leverage social media not just to sell your product, but to let people see your personality and the good that you do.

Make sure that if people are looking for reviews on your product or your company, you have pages that are tuned for “reviews”, with “reviews” in the page title, and review data in the schema markup.