For the Sake of Future Online Entrepreneurs

For the Sake of Future Online Entrepreneurs

The online marketplace is exciting and full of opportunity. Indeed some of the fastest-growing companies are online.

I myself am a beneficiary of this fantastic ecosystem. Several years ago I created and ran a financial information firm called KTS, which was subsequently floated on London's AIM market. After eight years serving as CEO however, I began to look for the next challenge and decided to focus on the prospect of creating a new online enterprise, investing in its presence on the Web and reaping any fairly-deserved rewards with time.

However whilst the internet is a dynamic breeding ground for innovation and entrepreneurship, new businesses face a number of hurdles, not least raising capital, generating ideas and arguably one of the greater challenges in today's knowledge economy, drawing in online traffic.

This need leads to a high dependency on search engines, in particular Google which controls above 90% of all searches across the UK and indeed all of Europe. As the dominant search engine, Google really is the "gatekeeper" of the Net - with the power to determine the success or the demise of any website.

In my case, just a few months after launching One News Page, we woke up one morning to find that the site had lost a huge amount of traffic, jeopardising our business. It had been effectively de-indexed, hiding it from potential visitors' eyes.

Whilst search engine penalties have been created to make "bad" or "spam" websites effectively vanish from the Web, a penalty had been applied to our site, although we had always abided by published guidelines for website owners. Our attempts to get any answers from Google failed - and it took nine months until the unexplained penalty was suddenly lifted. During that period it felt like our presence on the Web, which we had worked so hard for, had been eliminated.

Once our site re-appeared, we promptly came across another hurdle which still plays to our disadvantage to this day and to other small businesses looking to make their mark.

'Universal search', a mechanism used by search engines to give preferential treatment to their own offerings, negatively impacts competing news portals such as ours, so even in organic search results for example, it is Google News that gets the exposure on the all-important first results page.

This is a real concern. In fact just last week BEUC, The European Consumers' Organisation, published a letter it sent to the EU's antitrust commissioner, Joaquín Almunia which stated that "Google, may have abused its position in the search market to direct users to its own services and secondly to reduce the visibility of competing websites and services". The organisation's Director General Monique Goyens in fact noted that BEUC is "seriously concerned that if these allegations are substantiated by the Commission's analysis and investigation, consumers have suffered harm from Google's dominance by being provided with partial results of their search queries and thus being deprived of the possibility to make informed choices."

For me, the issue of Google realising the responsibility that comes with being such an important part of the online infrastructure and behaving more fairly and transparently has become a matter close to my heart. In light of these concerns, we established and now run a campaign called "Have I been penalized..?", which aims to change the existing status quo and raise awareness of the issues surrounding Search Penalties.

If anything, future generations of online entrepreneurs deserve a fairer deal.


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