I say it over and over. Stop projecting your own beliefs onto Google, and start listening. Google is practically shouting at you, telling you how to rank well.
Take the Buying Links session at SES as an example. Nyeah nyeah nyeah Google’s not fair and whah whah whah Google’s getting rich and pooh pooh pooh my spam doesn’t rank any more… and meanwhile Matt Cutts tells us not only what Google doesn’t like (observably purchased back links), but what Google rewards and wants to see more of (creative content). I suspect everyone was distracted by the side show to Matt’s right, and maybe not listening. When I attend a panel at these trade shows, I size up the speakers and listen accordingly. One throws around “facts” about search engines so casually I wonder why no one in the audience heckles her with “how do YOU know?” comments. Another starts off saying he has limited experience but has already made more mistakes than anyone he knows, and I wonder whether using that as an intro was just another “big mistake” he was making, or if I was making an even bigger mistake by staying to listen. The Buying Links session was especially colorful.
One panelist likened Google’s rules to the HOV lanes on the highway. He scoffed at those rules and said if they would just remove them, and let the cars drive in all lanes, there wouldn’t be traffic jams and everything would be better. I’m guessing this same short-sighted consumer still hasn’t heard of global warming, and still doesn’t understand that 50,000 people commuting in 50,000 cars is not a sustainable situation. He also said the $300 ticket was worth paying, because it was more costly for him to be late to his meeting. Well, I’m glad he’s willing to pay $300 per violaton, and I hope they raise it to $600. Obviously there is a market, and at least some of that HOV fine money suports the green energy buy backs and such which sponsor research into alternative fuels. But the judgement… look at the judgement. If I have to hear the other guy say “I didn’t prepare anything, because I knew the excellent people before me would cover almost everything….” I’m going to puke.
Anyway, back to Google. Google is telling us how to rank. We have to pay attention.
In the 1980s the telephone companies were extremely competitive, but they didn’t focus on stealing customers from each other. They focused on growth of the telco industry and development of the underlying infrastructure. They assigned business units to seek out and invest in anything that promoted increased use of the phone lines. I lived in New Jersey at the time (home of Thomas Edison, Bell Labs, AT&T, Verizon, “the telco state”), and I knew several of these business managers. They attended entrepreneur meetings, visited research labs, and participated in local community events to promote increased use of the phones. More calls, especially short calls, was the goal. More connections, more switching, and more lifestyle committment to the phone. Such growth would fuel development, as growth in usage and obvious lifestyle committment to the phone convinced investors of the value of investing, and convinced regulators of the value of permitting the phone companies to advance. Companies like ATT and Verizon arranged for investment into startups that promised to increase phone system usage. Pre-Internet, it seemed odd to meet “the Verizon business development guy” at an IEEE meeting on telemedicine, but it was certainly a smart business practice in hind sight.
Google is today’s telco. Matt Cutts communicated very clearly that Google wants to see more of the kind of content that drives adoption of the web. Google is a carrot and stick company, as we all know too well. The stick goes to paid links. The carrot goes to good content. For those who weren’t there, I’ll recap.
The session was about purchased back links, and why Google says they are bad. One of the complaining panelists asked why Google values links earned by a funny video but devalues links that are bought. Specifically, if a real estate guy posts a funny video on the politics of the search marketing industry, and earns a collection of backlinks, why do those back links count when they are off-topic and have nothing to do with real estate? That was a good question. And there was a good answer. Matt answered that the funny video was creative, was unique, and added something to the web, but the paid links did not. Did you hear that?
Google is talking. Are you listening?
Just as the telcos wanted to encourage adoption of the telephone, Google wants to encourage the growth of the web. The web for business, the web for fun, the web for progress. The web as lifestyle. More web, not less. Google doesn’t know what the future holds, but Google is pretty sure that future is more likely to sprout from creative expansion of that commerce-driving web than the institutionalization of link buying. If you understand that everyone today searches, and most searchers use Google, you can see that Google wants more people to adopt the web, right?
For the linear thinkers out there, I don’t mean to suggest you pay those Social Media consultants to make silly videos for your real estate site, and I doubt Matt did either. But if you could just move beyond the obvious “if links have value, I’ll get a million of them” mentality you may start to understand how Google thinks, and earn some Google carrots. If you’re an SEO and you get annoyed by Google’s answer, I have to wonder if maybe you’re in the wrong business.
If you’re an SEO, it’s not all about “make good content” and it’s not all about “buy more links”. If you’re an SEO, it’s all about help make search work to increase utilization of the web, and drive commerce via the web.
“There was a chiropractor in San Diego, who wanted to rank well…” goes one story. Listen to it. That chiropractor isn’t getting rewarded for the viral videos. That chiropractor is getting rewarded for adopting this new thing called the web, getting creative, and trying different ways to push chiropractic on the Internet beyond “get listed in as many directories as you can”. Does Google know where chiropractic will go if it creatively adopts the web? No. Do you? Neither does this new “web evangelist” chiropractor. But maybe his next appearance as a guest speaker at the Society for Chiropractics will generate a working group that addresses that issue, and spurs progress in that area. Carrot, meet web evangelist.
How many times have you heard a Googler say “mom and pop“? Listen.
I met a Googler at the Google Dance. She worked on Webmaster Central. She told me a story of a man who discovered, with her help and Google Webmaster console, that his #1 referral from Google was “rainbow sandals”. He had a shoe store, and, as she told me, he didn’t know that his highest ranking search query (according to Google) was “rainbow sandals”. That was, according to her, a “great opportunity” for him to increase his business by selling rainbow sandals. She was so enthusiastic I found myself holding on to the table, as if bracing myself against the wind of her enthusiasm. I swear my hair moved.
I didn’t have the heart to ask her why Google ignored his entire inventory of high-end name brand shoes for which he had probably fronted considerable funds and to which he is probably beholden to sales quotas. I didn’t have the heart to suggest that the profit on a $14 pair of Chinese white brand “rainbow sandals” that local drugstores routinely sold on sidewalk racks for $4 was not very exciting, nor defensible. But I didn’t need to. She was talking, and I was listening. She is Google. Google doesn’t see value in his shoe store ranking for ecco loafers. The consumer can easily find those anywhere. But rainbow sandals…. ahh, those elusive raindbow sandals. They are SOOOO hard to find!
Is Google “right” in it’s approach to the web? Is Google “just” in it’s delivery of the carrot and the stick? Is Google “fair” in the way it operates? None of that matters to the search marketer/SEO. If these attacks are funded as diversions to keep Google busy or otherwise threaten it’s dominance, I understand. But if you’re interested in ranking well in Google, this is all nonsense. You need to get to know Google, and listen to what Google says. You don’t need to agree, and please, stop whining.
Update 11/27/2007: Nicholas Carr just published “Understanding Google“, a commentary on Strategy & Business’ article “The Google Enigma“, which discusses the concept of Compliments in the context of Google and the Internet:
Because the sales of complementary products rise in tandem, a company has a strong strategic interest in reducing the cost and expanding the availability of the complements to its core product. It’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that a company would like all complements to be given away. If hot dogs became freebies, mustard sales would skyrocket. It’s this natural drive to reduce the cost of complements that, more than anything else, explains Google’s strategy. Nearly everything the company does, including building big data centers, buying optical fiber, promoting free Wi-Fi access, fighting copyright restrictions, supporting open source software, and giving away Web services and data, is aimed at reducing the cost and expanding the scope of Internet use. To borrow a well-worn phrase, Google wants information to be free — and that is why Google strikes fear into so many different kinds of companies.
It’s an interesting read, related to my post here, and not too deep, and it will go under “subscription only” after a while so best read it while it’s “free”.