Google Controls the Fate of Small Publishers

Google holds the fate of tens of thousands — probably hundreds of thousands — of Internet publishing businesses in its hands. 

Being kicked out of Google’s search index for some infraction, real or suspected, can mean the difference between thriving, and struggling to stay alive.  The bigger and more dominant Google becomes, the more that Internet publishers are dependent on Google — and the more this is an issue.

Robin Good wrote this week about this very problem.  His Internet publishing business, Master New Media, was dropped from the Google search engine results.  Traffic — and associated advertising income — immediately plummeted. 

He writes compellingly about what it feels like as a business owner:

I have also already alerted most of my staff in a meeting yesterday, about how bad the situation is. Most of them have reacted with strong signals of support and desire to contribute even without being paid. “We have married your cause Robin,” one said, “and we will not let you down now that you need us most.“. That was an injection of love, thank you.

But evidently not everyone can be a martyr in this situation, and others, like me, will need to find a way to be able to pay their bills. So while I was greatly lifted by the positive moral support received I felt great respect for those who may need to take on other roads to compensate for this unexpected situation.

Being unexpectedly dumped by Google is an issue that hits small businesses particularly hard. That’s because the vast majority of Internet-only publishers are small businesses.

In the United States alone there are 20,733 Internet-only publishing businesses, according to the most recently available U.S. Census figures. 

Not only are most of them small businesses, they are very small.  Over 90% of Internet  publishing businesses — 18,858 of them — are single person businesses.   Another 1,452 have fewer than 10 employees.

Here’s the chart showing the breakdown of companies by employee size:

Majority of Internet Publishers are Small Businesses

And these statistics don’t count other types of Internet businesses.  E-commerce businesses, for instance, would be hit equally hard.

I don’t have statistics for the entire world, but of course Internet publishers operate worldwide.  Robin Good’s Master New Media, located in Italy, is one of them.

Small advertising-supported publishers don’t have the financial cushion to ride out the situation if it drags on. They can’t make up for the loss of revenue from other sources in the same way that large corporations do. They don’t have the same brand name recognition to draw in direct traffic, either.

The worst part is that publishers have no way to contact anyone at Google to figure out what, if anything, they may have done wrong to trigger being dropped from search results.  It would be a large and welcome gesture for Google to provide some kind of expedited appeal process for these situations. 


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

9 Reactions
  1. Hi John, You make a great point about shady practices. No way am I condoning practices designed to trick or draw traffic in underhanded ways. I absolutely do not want to give that impression.

    But what about smaller publishers who don’t know if they are doing something wrong? It should be easier to figure out what is right and what is wrong. I’d like to see an appeal process if it turns out something was wrong and you didn’t realize it. That’s all I’m saying.

    As for Matt Cutts blog, I am a fan and read it and value it. But — and this is a big but — his blog has a disclaimer stating that it’s his personal publication and that he’s expressing his personal opinions, not speaking officially for Google.


  2. Google Does communicate with webmasters about potential problems via the Google Webmaster Tools. In addition, their Webmaster Guidelines are fairly clear. Robin Good even mentions in the full article that they were doing something contrary to those guidelines. The fact that Google just took notice of those problems isn’t really something they should be complaining about. They should be happy they were able to get away with the shady practices for so long. Not knowing isn’t an excuse either. If a search engine (or anything) is that important to your business, then it deserves to be looked at and understood. I think Google does a decent job communicating – you just need to look.

    Check out Matt Cutts blog – He’s part of Google’s anti-spam team, and has many great posts about how Google works.

  3. Hi Steve,

    I used NAICS code 51611 for the stats. I believe for 2007 there is a different NAICs code but I used the one relative to the 2004 and 2005 data, which is the only data I had to go on.

    The 51611 code is for “Internet-only” publishers.

    Publishers with both a print and online publication would fall under a different code. Also, there is a separate code for e-commerce sites that make their money not so much from advertising but from online sales.

    I suspect the numbers will be much greater in the future, since the blogging explosion really took off in the 2005 time range. That exploded online micropublications. So it will be interesting to see the numbers once data collected in later years starts being available.


  4. I recently heard a similar story related to eBay. The seller was dropped with no warning and didn’t know why. They were able to track someone down at eBay and get reinstated, but they were down for a couple of weeks.

    The data on small publishers is quite interesting – and bigger than I would have guessed. I wonder how many are blogs versus non-blogs? I wonder if this distinction (blogs verusus non-blogs) matters anymore, or even exists?

  5. I think the more frequent issue is being on page 54 of the search results, rather than being dropped from the index entirely. Google also keeps a secondary index of sites that are still in the minors or have been sent back to the minors, but still tracks them and will promote them when the situation merits. Though Google has no equal, small businesses reliant on the Internet must diversify. A page 1 ranking on MSN will bring a lot more traffic than a page 54 ranking on Google. Also, strategically authored and placed search ads are still a great ROI.

  6. “But what about smaller publishers who don’t know if they are doing something wrong? It should be easier to figure out what is right and what is wrong. I’d like to see an appeal process if it turns out something was wrong and you didn’t realize it. . . .”

    I agree with you, Anita. Even though something may have been done that ran contrary to Google’s guidelines here, the option for appeal after correction should exist. Or possibly a warning prior to removal to correct that which is incorrect and keep everyone in compliance?

  7. Agree with Chris, A warning prior to remove is not only the right thing to do but the professional way of doing business.

  8. Even though Google webmaster tools are helpful there is still a lot of insight that has to be cleaned from elsewhere to understand it.

    For instance one of my sites all of a sudden had majority of pages show up in supplimental index (read dead zone). I did some seraching on the internet and found duplicate content could be the cause. It seems like google had tighten it enforcement because site did not have issue before. That solution was to add a robots.txt document to exclude indexing of feeds and archives. After less than a week pages where back in main index.

    Not always obvious what is the cause but this solution worked for me so I assume duplicate content was the reason for supplimental hell.

    But that really shock the nervous system. I warning first would be a welcome change in approach.