I am not an SEO (search engine optimizer). I am not an SEM (search engine marketer). I don’t have very much technical skill or deep understanding when it comes to coding and meta tags, or keywords and anchor text. I write based on what I know and try my best to pick up tips on that which I don’t know from the experts’ blogs. And, what I can’t figure out on my own in a reasonable amount of time, I hire someone with more skill to do for me. What I do know is business, and it’s that knowledge and perspective that makes me laugh at some of the decisions made and actions taken by Google in recent months.
Over the past several months, Google has made several updates to its search algorithm for rating websites in its search feature and the way it ranks sites using its Page Rank system. There have also been waves of people who have had their AdSense accounts banned for reasons that remain unknown to them. Sites have been de-indexed by Google during this time in part of their belt-tightening process to reduce manipulation of search rankings. The way sites are set up in terms of showing advertisements have taken a more prominent place in Google’s overall ranking system. All of these things are deemed to be good for the consumer.
But, who is Google to decide how the internet is run and how businesses operate within this space? What makes the Big G. the be-all end-all when it comes to how sites are built, optimized, marketed, and monetized? Yes, it is a huge company, and its innovations have changed the way people operate within cyberspace, but I for one don’t view it as the all-encompassing technological deity that people make it out to be. I actually take issue with several of Google’s initiatives and changes.
Google’s stance on purchasing links
I find it just a little hypocritical that Google takes money for advertising links, yet it punishes websites that do the same exact thing. Perhaps it is because the way Google sets up AdWords in the form of an auction, where you bid for your placement, they don’t consider it to be an outright sale. To me, it’s simply semantics. They are taking money in exchange for the opportunity for the advertiser’s ads to be shown ahead of others based on how much they are willing to pay. Straight sale or auction format, it is still selling links.
From a strict business aspect, if Google was true to their claims of wanting to provide users with the most relevant search results possible, then they defeat that purpose just by placing “sponsored links” at the top of the search results, and making them seem like part of the search results. That in and of itself detracts from the “relevant results” if they are only being placed up there due to payment from the advertiser. And, yes, Google does give the option to customize this feature, but it shouldn’t come to that if the purpose is the search itself. If they wanted to display for-pay links, they can relegate them to the sidebar which does not inhibit the users view of the search results, which is the reason they did the search in the first place.
This also goes against their own demand for websites to offer more content above the fold. Part of the changes implemented in their ratings system is to penalize sites that are advertisement-heavy at the top of their pages. The point is to provide more content in the initial view of a page rather than pushing ads when visitors first land on a page. This is exactly how their own search results pages appear, which runs contrary to their own guidelines.
I don’t necessarily have a problem with selling/buying links in general, but I do have a problem with all of the sites that game the system while providing little to no value. Punishing those sites is a good idea, as long as there is consistency and accuracy in flagging the bad as opposed to the good, quality sites. In this modern age, however, websites are the new newspapers and magazines. Since old media sold advertisements in the form of both textual and pictorial ads, why is it such a big deal that websites do it as well. After all, if websites are the next evolution of media, shouldn’t advertising be allowed on them as well? As such, isn’t the owner of the piece of internet real estate where the ads will show up entitled to be paid for that space just as magazines, newspapers, radio, and television are?
Google’s de-indexing of blog networks
Businesses build strategic alliances to strengthen their positions in their respective fields and gain advantages over their competitors.
Teammates in NASCAR and cycling work in tandem to win, even though those particular ones are individual sports.
Medical professionals band together to form care groups so they can negotiate better rates from the insurance companies.
So what is the big deal if a group of websites band together to collaborate and broaden the collective reach beyond that which was possible as individual sites? It is simply good business to align yourself with others that can provide benefits such as introduction to a new audiences, credibility enhancement, and transference of experience in the name of helping others. In essence, most sites are businesses and businesses from networks help each other out. Networks such as BNI International are designed to do just that, get professionals in different industries together to help one another and refer potential clients back and forth among them. At the most basic level, that’s what a real blog network does. It allows bloggers to join, share information and resources, and introduce their readership to new and interesting writing.
Now, I can understand the removal of those networks which do nothing of any value, or charge users to join in exchange for trashy links. I can even understand the desire to rid the internet of black-hat techniques for SEO. The problem occurs when they are all lumped into the same category, regardless of the value they provide. Like anything, without having the ability to view each one as a separate and distinct entity, this is just a poor system.
Banning of AdSense accounts
The whole idea behind Google shrouding the reasons for banishment in secrecy, using the excuse of protecting the privacy of the AdWords customers is complete and total crap. If you get denied credit, you are legally required to be sent an explanation notice revealing the specific reason for the denial (ie: too many recent inquiries, not enough history, poor history, credit utilization ratio too high). But, I guess we now live in an age where the government and the credit industry are more customer-friendly than the almighty Big G, and its stranglehold on the internet, and by extension, almost all of us.
Besides, if someone is angry enough to sabotage a site by triggering false click-throughs, why should that be the responsibility of the site owner. They have no control over who can access their site or click-through links once there. All you have to do is read the sports section to hear about how Steve Blake of the Los Angeles Lakers received death threats after missing one shot in a single playoff basketball game via social media. Or how the wife of Jonathan Lucroy, a catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers, received threats after he was injured because she moved a suitcase which ended up falling and breaking his hand requiring surgery. These are only two isolated examples of how people can be vengeful and aggressive behind the anonymity of the internet, so is it really that hard to imagine someone doing something like purposefully clicking on ads in order to get a site banned just because they didn’t like what that person said, or they have differing views on a topic?
Additionally, how can Google justify closing then banning these accounts with the very first infraction? There are no warnings and no suggestions for changing how the site owners use the system. People get lighter punishments for breaking laws than what Google does in treating these comparably inconsequential situations.
If people continue to get banned from using AdSense to monetize their sites, that would be bad business. The advertisers need the publishers to display their ads just as much as the publishers need to display those ads to make money. If you continue to eliminate heavily trafficked sites, real sites–not like the crappy tabloid sites where people go to read bullshit stories and leave half-assed comments–then the AdWords customers will end up suffering because of it. From a pure business standpoint, it is stupid to disillusion and piss off your customer base.
The business landscape online is not much different than it is offline in terms of principles and strategies. I understand that the folks at Google are trying to make the internet more intuitive, and are trying to improve it on a global scale, but sometimes it seems like their actions go against basic business principles, not to mention flat-out applying rules to others that it does not follow itself. Good intentions aside, there are lots of issues that Google needs to address in the way it is approaching those objectives. I’m not going to sit here pretending to have all of the answers, because I don’t, but I do know that punishing basic business techniques, having double standards, and being secretive about causes behind actions is not going to be good for business. No company stays on top forever, and it’s only a matter of time before Google has to start looking over its shoulder when the new “next big thing” comes along and threatens the dominance it currently enjoys.