How Google Makes Millions Doing SEO

Social Signals!

Second Update – 7/19/2013, financial data from the newly released investment prospectus now included.

First Update – 6/17/2013 RetailMeNot announces plans to file IPO under symbol “SALE”.

Hey Google, you little trickster! You and your “organic” search results had me thinking they were completely objective.

Up until recently, I literally based every decision in my life on the first Google result. And this is why I was very hurt to learn that my friend Google is not always telling the truth.

Let’s paint a picture.

Say there is a website that makes a TON of money every month from organic search engine traffic. A site that literally dominates #1 spots for more keywords than any other site can even come close to in its industry.

On first glance we might just write this off to some killer SEO and domain authority, but after digging deeper there is more…

If you then found out that Google was a shareholder for this site and had financial interest in the rankings in which it maintained, would you start to get a little curious?

Well I did, and here is what I found.

The site I’m speaking of is a legend in the affiliate marketing game. Top CJ and Linkshare publisher for years running (and on many other networks too), the beast of all coupon sites, RetailMeNot.com.

Founded by Guy King and Bevan Clark from the Australia in 2006 (in a weekend), the site has become a piece of affiliate marketing history.

Then in June 2010 the site was acquired for 90 million dollars by WhaleShark Media.

Here is an article talking about the acquisition.

90 million…yum.

Take a second and think where that number came from. Surely in the range of a 3 times yearly revenue valuation. Meaning in 2009 RetailMeNot was averaging monthly revenues of around 3 million dollars per month.

Depending on who you are, that might seem like either a large or small number. That is not the point. The point is, the majority of their revenue is driven by organic search traffic.

Consider the expected growth for online shopping in 2009, lol. Now if you just get Google in your back pocket you’ve got yourself a damn fine acquisition. I wouldn’t doubt if today RetailMeNot is pulling in 20 million a month. Not too shabby huh?

Let’s look at the evidence and let the screen shots explain the rest.

Exhibit 1. A screenshot of Retailmenot’s footer showing ownership by Whaleshark Media

Exhibit 2. A screenshot of Whaleshark Media’s Investor page

Exhibit 3. A screenshot of Retailmenot’s pretty Alexa ranking (July 12, 2012).

Exhibit 4. #1 Google Ranking for “Amazon Coupon”

Exhibit 5. #1 Google Ranking for “Walmart Coupon”

Exhibit 6. #1 Google Ranking for “Best Buy Coupon Code”

Exhibit 7. #1 Google Ranking for “Target Coupon”

Starting to get the picture?

If so, then what is the conclusion here? The conclusion is treat Google for what they really are. Google is not your friend, Google has two friends, money and money.

Trust me, you can’t go around commenting on SEOMoz enough times about Whitehat SEO for Google to like you.

They are a global corporation that could give a shit about you or me. Well, until something has an impact on their stock price, then they might give a shit.

You’re getting free traffic, that is all, and they are the middle man RIGHT now. They don’t owe you shit. If Google shut down tomorrow, who do you think would have more money in their bank account?

The “White Hat SEOs” still waiting for the bus to come along or the “Black Hat SEOs” that exploit opportunities/holes in the algo and take the money while it’s on the table?

Google is not your wife or husband, you guys aren’t in a relationship, so quit acting like it you crybaby SEOs. Google is merely a REALLY good friend with benefits that might not be around forever, so start building some links and treating that dumbass search engine accordingly.

**Update 6-17-2013**

Whaleshark Media is now RetailMeNot Inc??

buy buy Whaleshark Media Screenshot

Weird, I guess they have been doing quite well since I originally wrote this post about one year ago.

Good for them, but here is a tip that may be good for you if you’re into this sort of thing.

RetailMeNot just announced they have filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering!!

And let’s add some data from Opensiteexplorer and SEMrush.

OpenSiteExplorer
Moz Score for RetailMeNot
DA: 86 PA: 89
Linking Roots: 6,194
Total Links: 88,228

Honestly not as many links as I thought they would have.

SEMRush
SEMRush for RetailMeNot
SEMrush rank: 38
SE Traffic: 14,911,277
SE Traffic price: $10,440,018
Ads Traffic: 200,687
Ads Traffic price: $158,210

Wow, that’s about a 66 to 1 ratio on the cost of their estimated search traffic to their ad traffic expense. According to SEMRush.com, RMN is getting approximately $10.5 million dollars in monthly search engine traffic…disgusting.

Now I’m not an investment advisor but as an SEO advisor I can say that RetailMeNot should be safe from any algo updates with Google literally in their back pocket. Marinate on that.

retailmenot investment prospectus**Update** J.P. Morgan sent me a present!!

The Offering…

Quantity: 9,090,908 Shares
Price: Projected at $21 per share
NASDAQ Symbol: SALE

“During 2010, 2011, and 2012, our paid retailers realized over $0.2 billion, $1.2 billion and $2.4 billion, respectively, in sales attributable to consumer traffic from digital coupons in our market place.”

RMN Traffic Chart

RMN Financial Chart

Second item listed under “Risks Affecting Us”

“We depend on search engines for traffic. Changes to search engine algorithms or practices could adversely affect our ability to generate unpaid traffic, leading to lower revenues and/or increased traffic acquisition costs.”

Thanks for reading everyone and please join me on my tinfoil hat crusade to uncover Google for the evil company they truly are with your Ts, RTs, MTs, Comments, Facebook likes, Facebook shares, and Pinterest pins. 7 out of 8 of the previous requests will do, thanks.

Comments

  1. Anon says

    I BET there is a lot more to discover about this…

    Read all of their terms of service and shit.

    They go on and on about all they care about is giving people the best results but if they are feeding their own pockets and manipulating the results…

    They are like the Gerry Sanduski of the internet and search engines.

    All this high and mighty “white hat” we care, we love our customers bullshit.

    But behind the scenes…

    Great post man!

  2. says

    This one big hunky dory post! Love it man…Just hope google (or some zealous employee) doesn’t see my comment and decide to “de-rank, ostracize, remove, ban, kick-out, my blog for my thoughts on this”.

  3. Ashley Jenner says

    Excellent post, I’ve never trusted Google even their Adwords policies don’t fly with some high spending sites!

    I do think the spam bots added the value here tho! :)

  4. says

    You are absolutely right. Google doesn’t care about anyone, and it’s no different from other big companies, all they see is money…

  5. says

    Good post and some good digging. I think the fact the Google is a free tool is often forgotten by SEOs, they seem to think they need to play fair. Google sets the rules, so can do what it likes ultimately.

    Although a little worried about the ‘pubic’ offering :)

  6. says

    Ok, playing devils advocate. Tell me why that site is less useful than the ones below it for those queries and convince me it doesn’t deserve to rank based on content alone.

    • says

      Hey Ryan, we needed a devils advocate to join this discussion so thanks! To be honest, on a SERP by SERP basis I don’t think any of the sites deserve the #1 position more then any others. Really they all just have big lists of affiliate links.

      So whos list of affiliate links deserves to be on top? Of course the one with Google ventures behind them is the logical choice :-)

      Really though, RetailMeNot is the largest online coupon community with tons of user submitted deals. From that standpoint, since they most likely have the highest number of current coupons compared to other sites, then they should rank #1.

      But where I get curious is when I’m hard pressed to find a single $$ making SERP they aren’t dominating. Sure I could chalk this up to their killer domain authority and everything else that makes RetailMeNot awesome but then I wouldn’t have controversial post topic ;-)

      We’d really have to dig deeper into some historical rank data among other things to definitively show favoritism towards RetailMeNot from Google. Any who, something smells fishy, and with the war currently going on between the web spam team and all these supposed “unscrupulous affiliates” it’s troubling to find out Google is connected to the top dog.

      • says

        a. examples are flawed.. many seo issues with comparisons.
        b. did you turn personalization off.. no… shows local.. a ranking determinant. remove any type of personalization and try again..
        c. don’t talk crap about white hat seo until you know what it is..
        d. go build links.. since 1993 never have.. build content. uniquely relevant content semantically aligned with the brand/entity causal relationship in Google. and no not article spamming.
        e. have you tried reporting items as spam?
        f. did you notice the number of stars? (did you examine proper schema for each website?) http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/richsnippets

        g. all your results are crap.. stop using auto query tools against Google..

        try using these

        Google strongly recommends that all webmasters regularly monitor site performance using Page Speed, YSlow, WebPagetest, or other tools. For more information, tools, and resources, see Let’s Make The Web Faster. In addition, the Site Performance tool in Webmaster Tools shows the speed of your website as experienced by users around the world.

        and doing same article.. would love to support your hypothesis on that one.. could probably solve the problem as well if you argument is valid.. scientifically.. it’s just not.. do some due diligence please. =)

        #whitecoatseo

        S. SSS – Rockfish..
        Steve – Sr. Search Scientist.

        • says

          Hey Steve, I was waiting for someone to point out that there is no actual data here. The truth is, I was just stirring the pot a bit. You know, some good Tweet bait. Get my name out there a bit. And hey, I learned this technique from all you self proclaimed “white hats” that spout of a bunch of shit on the regular without any actual data.

          With that said, your comment is quite annoying. I almost didn’t even want to take the time to reply but here it goes anyway.

          a. There was no SEO comparison. More a rant with a few screenshots thrown in.
          b. Personalization probably isn’t going to change anything with the SERPs I showed. You can check though.
          c. Do you tuck Matt Cutts in at night? Sing him a lullaby? Fetch his paper in the morning? Glad you guys are such good buds.
          d. Is this “content marketing” you speak of? You should also know that I’m a really big fan of quote fingers.
          e. At a loss for words with this question…
          f. What’s Schema? I hear whitehat SEOs saying that word all the time.
          g. How dare you quote from Webmaster guidelines on this blog. You should be ashamed of yourself. I’m about ranking sites and not giving a shit.

          P.S. I can’t believe you call yourself a scientist.

          #alsocantbelieveyoudrophashtagsinblogcomments

  7. says

    I have to agree about the IPO part being troubling. If it can be shown that a Google preference (of any kind) helped RetailMeNot before the IPO (or impacts stock price after), that’s likely to be securities fraud. Here in the US, that would mean at least a $1 fine for them, and maybe a scolding. Ouch.

    • says

      Hey John, it’s really is a pleasure to have you drop in man. You know I really hadn’t thought too much about the implications where the SEC is concerned. Either way they are walking a fine line being vested in an affiliate business that’s driven by ~70% organic traffic (from estimates).

      • says

        Think about this.

        Google is an investor in RMN. RMN achieves top #1 rankings by SEO tactics, for all those money terms, and gets valued by banks (based on revenues). Before Google can think like a businessman, RMN files an S-1 intent to go public.

        If Google did anything to “help” RMN rank, it has to now keep doing it through the IPO and for a while after. Illegal probably to have helped, but no one can tell since it’s secret algo.

        If G didn’t help, then RMN did good SEO and ranks accordingly… but could tank at any time. Why would it tank? Google changed the algo, Google penalized them or filtered or perhaps even “stopped helping”. But all of those things, since G holds in investment in a company that is selling to the public, could be seen as securities fraud. ESPECIALLY during the pre-IPO period.

        It sure looks like RMN has Google in a squeeze play. If you gave us favorite status, keep doing it while we cash out. If you didn’t better make sure we stay up there or it will look like you did something to manipulate the market.

        Of course if Google knows what RMN is doing, whatever it is, then that’s probably great for Google BUT they are at risk for a challenge on the securities fraud front. Perhaps all it takes is a competitor couponing site to loudly cry foul, or a bunch of negative SEO to attempt to move RMN (and succeed? fail?) to expose Google to scrutiny.

        Then there’s the flip side… if Google steps up and allows them to drop rankings pre-IPO, Google has killed its own investment (no big deal for the Google portfolio). They can then make a public statement that they are above manipulating markets. That would burn RMN big time… but benefit Google. And if RMN knows this, what is going on? An IPO that may get sunk by Google at any moment for the PR benefit, or a “hurry up and IPO cause we may just have a bit of a window to slip through here”?

        Honestly I don’t understand how they could allow themselves to get into this position… “they” being RMN as well as Google. But then Google is into many other industries as “Google Ventures” maybe it’s arms-length enough for them to simply be nasty greedy bastards knowing no one can stop them. And if RMN knows that, then it’s just “IPO TIME!” for them.

  8. says

    This is a great post. One thing I did notice is the results for the retailmenot.com have Star reviews, which could be influencing rankings in their favor. The other sites listed do not appear to have this. I don’t know if this is just reserved for the 1st page listing but I’ve seen reviews in other places, and in either case, could help boost rankings. It would be interested to see if this has influence.

  9. says

    I noticed this a year ago as well, and I was like what the hell! How could Google Ventures invest in a company so dependent on search rankings. But if we really are to believe that the Google ranking algorithm is not manually tailored to favor one site in one particular industry, then it must be something other than favoritism. It seems odd an like favoritism on the surface.

    I think it’s really fishy that G.Ventures invested in them in the first place, but as far as ranking, RetailMeNot basically deserves that spot because they are one of the earliest coupon sites with a strong user base AND by and large they didn’t engage in strong anchor text linkbuilding like two of their other large competitors, Tjoos and Coupon Mountain did. Those are two other extremely huge sites that got destroyed by Panda, as seen here: http://www.seoclarity.net/google-algorithm-update-part-2-impact-on-coupon-sites/

    As far as one example of a query that they don’t rank #1 for, try “tracfone promo codes”. That phrase gets 40,000+ exact match searches a month. They are #3 but not #1.

    Great and timely post!

  10. says

    Google was actually founded by two Australians not two people from the UK. Guy King and his co-founder Bevan Clark from Australia. But overall they are one of the strongest coupon sites so why should they not dominate the SERPs? The other sites you list are not as strong in regards to link profile and on page SEO just look at the mark up as an example. Google Ventures invests in many different companies.

    • says

      Hey James, thanks for pointing that out. Just fixed it.

      They should be dominating the SERPs, but their level of dominance and ties to Google Ventures make things a bit disconcerting.

      I’m going to have to disagree with you that the markup is an indicator of “stronger” on-page SEO. On-page SEO for a coupon site isn’t rocket science. They’re not managing a massive amount of content like a site like CNET. If we compared a site like CNET to one of their competitors, we could point out on-page advantages all day.

      But using SE friendly URLs, good metas, clean code, and what RetailMeNot leverages the most…internal linking, I’m just not seeing them win the on-page SEO of the year award. Don’t get me wrong, I think their site is amazing, I just don’t think meticulous on-page is as big factor with coupon rankings.

      I haven’t analyzed the competitor link profiles too much but it would seem that sites like coupons.com, coupons.answers.com, etc definitely didn’t get a memo prior to getting smacked with algo updates like RetailMeNot might have.

  11. says

    Haha – this seemed to surprise people, but I’ve known of the connection (as well as the massive traffic RetailMeNot.com holds) for years. It’s not shocking, Google invests in a lot of companies, but it’s certainly interesting.

  12. Irene says

    Hi Jacob, yes we may have different views about SEO and google but the main purpose is clear, to dominate the web.
    I have just started my Social Media Presence. And I can add more productivity with my new found tool. Its name is…been deleted son.

    • says

      That is some awesome comment spam. And if not, thanks for the idea Irene.

      You could spin a comment like this and blast it to all kinds of SEO blogs by somehow pulling the author name.

      {Hello|Hey|Hi} [author],

      {yes|sure} we may have different {views|viewpoints|ideas|opinions|insights|thoughts} about {seo|SEO|S.E.O.|{S|s}earch engine optimization} and {G|g}oogle but the main {point|purpose} {is|remains} clear, {dominate|crush|own|take over} the {web|{I|i}nternet|}.

      -> Insert shameless link drop here.

    • says

      Hey dude, glad you dropped in.

      165,818 keywords, dang, that’s a lot of affiliate links to put up.

      I’ve noticed coupons.com took a HUGE jump and are nipping at RMN’s heels.

      Beating them out for quite a few “brand coupon 2013″ keywords now.

      But considering the amount of traffic this post continues to send, shhhh, I’ll continue handing out tin foil hats ;-)

  13. Carla Ackley says

    Good screenshot breakdown. I had one of the original free stuff/coupon sites online back in 1995, and there is definitely a market for it and a lot of money in it now that the Internet is grown up and making $$$$$$. I had major corporations spoon feeding me offers on a daily basis, which was pretty cool. Good luck to you!

  14. Rigged to the core says

    Homeway also is ranking extremely well and usually #1 for most keywords.

    Google is their investors.

    • Scott Hinkley says

      Jacob,

      I found your Blog from Aaron Wall’s spot about PageRank ranking algorithm “The Future of PageRank: 13 Experts on the Dwindling Value of the Link ” last month about his comment “One can focus aggressively on brand building and raise funds from venture capitalists tied in with Google ventures, such that they become exempt from algorithmic and manual review issues. Give Google a taste of the revenues and your chances of success increases dramatically” really got my attention. We spent a ton of time to address and finally get manual penalty lifted, but its been hell of a uphill battle.

      It’s interesting to see how a Google search for “beach house rentals in California” as example, only shows homeawy – interestingly a G ventures company, vbro a G ventures company, gr8t rentals owned by a company backed by g ventures all on the first page (sorry for the bad spelling). Sites that focus mainly on Beach House rentals such as BeachHouse.com or any specialty that focuses mainly in beach house rentals do not show on page one.

      No doubt following Google’s guidelines on their latest algos, increasing fresh IRL content and of course G+ing is a given. When Google has a significant financial investment in a site, it doesn’t make any business sense to not provide proprietary insight to the sites where they have made investments – especially ahead of a new algo launch. It would be interesting to track page rankings of the sites owned by G ventures before and after their investment. As many people have said it’s not illegal – There however, should be more disclosure.

  15. Shaun says

    The thing is, does it really matter and can we do anything about it? No. Are Google doing any wrong? No. If Google decided to only show results for websites which benefited them, would they be doing wrong? No. All because they owe us nothing, they themselves are a business.

    Google does all this stuff because they can. You know what’s really required, a level playing field where 5-6 search engines are fighting for a share of the market. This is the bullshit that happens when you have one company who practically dominates their niche, and a humongous niche at that.

    I hope to God one day we have multiple search engines all as big as one another. It can happen, and it’s only one kids smart idea away from happening, and boom we have change, something to really stir the pot, something to rattle the hornets nest a little.

    Up until that day comes, I have no option but to play by Google’s rules seeing as they drive me 60%-70% of my traffic and pay me handsomely. Trust me, I hate to have one company have that much say in my businesses though, if they decided to de-index me tomorrow I would suffer, and as a business I don’t like that one single bit.

  16. Himanshu Jain says

    Google has ventured with RetailMeNot So Google put it on Top position so Google can earn from RetailMeNot.

    I never expect it from you Google.

  17. Jack says

    Ok, time to bump this topic up, especially with the recent news of RMN. What are your thoughts on the loss in search traffic and stock prices Jacob?

    • says

      Well, I did read a post from Ccarter where he put out this idea, RMN takes hit, G buys lots of stock, G puts RMN’s ranks back, G make more monies. I dunno, a bit tin foil hattish but I could be sold on it. I think overall they make shit tons of money but that doens’t always translate into profits unfortunately when you have a corporate cluster fuck like I’m assuming this one is. but let’s not forget who is their good friend, google who controls like 75%+ of their entire fucking business.

      Maybe panda clipped them by accident and it’s getting reversed as we speak. From what I’m seeing goodsearch was a big big winner from the update and they have a shit ton of content on each coupon page, coincidence? I think not.

      But from a user standpoint does that garbage filler content coupon sites throw up to rank really have value? Do you really want to read a company history or some bogus reviews when you’re looking for a coupon? Hell no.

      We’re just cramming 400+ words of nonsense to make G happy. So maybe they will reevaluate RMN very shortly, that’s given it’s a panda slap and nothing manual, which if it was manual would likely be another manipulation.

      Google: See we think our rules are so important we get ourselves in trouble for them?!

      SEOs: Yup we should blindly follow…

      Conclusion, and this is definitely not my area of expertise but I will make a prediction anyway, over the next 2 years I think this stock will go up, at least double the IPO price.

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