John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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Google vs. Innovation

Okay, so I understand search is politics and I have long been an advocate of the “Google is not your friend” philosophy of life, but as a professional search marketer I have not been this disgusted with the search industry in many years.

I was reviewing my DiamondsDirect.com post and noticing that Google had (manually?) corrected all of the embarassing bits I noted in that post, while avoiding acknowledging their censorship of the web via profiling (parked pages, innovative methods etc). In the past I have vocally encouraged Google’s support for creativity and the expansion of the web. But for many years I have also noted that Google’s business model leads it towards biased censorship and anti-competitive practices. It looks like we are seeing plenty of that now.

While looking at DiamondsDirect I realized it was owned by not just a domain parker but Digimedia, an innovator. And I followed a link to the new Ever project, which I also consider quite innovative. If you haven’t heard about the Ever project, it’s a new approach to user-generated content behind the ever.com domain. You can be whatever.ever.com such as bravest.seo.ever.com. Yes, that’s Squidoo on the back end. Innovation? You betcha. Spammer? Hardly, especially since Google isn’t indexing it. But innovation challenges everyone, of course that should include Google. Some great questions come to the forefront as projects like Ever.com get banned by Google. What happened to organizing the world’s information? What percentage of fresh web content will Google index? How can Google sucessfully censor the web under the guise of quality assurance?

It’s so easy to label something spam and move on. But I have news for you. Search Google for “the ever project” and you won’t find it. You’ll find a few blog mentions, and at #5 you find this SEOMoz page. Look at that page – it’s a landing page pitching the SEOMoz Premium Content membership program. Unique content? Relevant content? Worthy of Google inclusion and ranking?? Hardly… this is the content that outranks even the Ever.com FAQ page for relevance for searched on the Ever.com project (emphasis added):

Building Links with the Ever Project: ClarityChris wrote 3 days, 23 hours ago Do you recommend building keyword-rich pages on the new Ever Project off Squidoo? Are there any downsides? Thanks. Answer This question was answered (51 words) by the following members of the SEOmoz staff: rebecca If you would like to view the responses to this question or ask your own, you’ll need to sign up as a Premium Member. Premium Members can ask the SEOmoz staff questions and also have unrestricted access to our SEO knowledge base.

That’s search spam. So now that I have highlighted it, will Google remove it? Of course SEOMoz can say “we didn’t intend it to be indexed; Google decided that” and they can even now say “we’ll noindex that to improve the quality of the web” but seriously folks, are we all so stupid? Google is saying Ever.com is spam, Squidoo is spam, shopping portals with innovative user interfaces are spam, and promotional landing pages that fail to deliver on the search promise of “what is the ever project” are worthy?

Argue all you like about whether page content at the ever project/squidoo is relevant and search worthy, but you have to face the truth that the project itself is indeed search worthy for queries about the project itself. It’s user generated content – like so much else on the web. Organize it. But ban entire domains? That’s clearly censorship, and anti-competitive.

Innovation is not spam. We need innovation. We need AJAX and we need innovative user interfaces for shopping. But misleading landing pages are spam. Is this really so hard? As I noted recently I expect TheNewAntiCompetitiveGoogle to start throwing that spammer label around a lot more as they try and cover up their anti-competitive practices. But seriously folks, are we blind? Are we so stupid Google can put this past us? The more I see of this the more I hate Google, and I really, really want to love Google.

Every time you go to google.com and search, you are handing your perspective to a middleman with a vested interest in managing your access to information. Under the guise of Quality Scores, Spam Prevention, and Search Quality, Google is obviously censoring the web we see. Where will it become unreasonable? Unethical? Illegal? Where does Google draw the line, and is that acceptable to us?

Side note: Sebastian is a very smart guy. He pays attention, and works hard. He innovates. But take a look at how distracted Sebastian is by Google‘s anti-competitive behavior? He’s right on the money about Google’s consideration of affiliate links and content, but because he’s correct he cannot reach a conclusion suitable for recommendation. In trying to understand Google’s business practices, I’m now leaning towards the word slimy. Hard to believe that has happened.

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8 Responses to “Google vs. Innovation”

  1. SisterSledge Says:

    Okay John, now you’ve done it…this is the first time I’ve truly wished I could Sphinn something more than once.

  2. Stuart Says:

    You’re not on your own in those beliefs – look outside the immediate focus of search and think about the ways that Google deals with other businesses and then compare it with their self-righteous mantra and you’ll see that the tag you gave them has probably been applicable for some years now.

    And then look around you and wonder why so many people obviously understand what’s going on and yet are prepared to accept it and those who are the mouthpieces of Google.

  3. Matt Cutts Says:

    Hey John, earlier this year it looks like ever.com was parked, e.g.
    http://web.archive.org/web/*/http://www.ever.com
    http://web.archive.org/web/20070128172316/www.ever.com/

    If you search for ever.com on MSN or Ask, they don’t return the site either. Yahoo does return ever.com, but it also returns lots of parked domains: yeah.com for the search [yeah.com], okra.com for [okra.com], and seatac.com for [seatac.com], so it’s most likely that Yahoo doesn’t detect some parked domains. Heck, okra.com goes straight to yeah.com as far as I can tell.

    So why assume the worst about Google when 3 out of 4 engines don’t return ever.com, and the 4th engine returns quite a few parked domains?

    John replies: Thanks for the comment, Matt.

    If a user searches ever.com, why would Google not return ever.com as the most relevant answer? I suppose that is the hardest thing for me to understand. Even if Google doesn’t like ever.com for some reason, the user has specifically asked for it, no? I can stretch to accept that Google would not return slapmyasswithacomputervirus.com out of concern for user safety, perhaps. While you suggest that Yahoo! returns ever.com for the search ever.com because Yahoo! “doesn’t detect some parked domains”, could it be that Yahoo! returns ever.com for searches of ever.com simply because that is what the user wanted? That is the most relevant result?

    It seems to me that Google has a quandary regarding direct traffic (queries where the user enters only a valid URL). If you accept it in the search query field, but don’t present the canonical domain as the most relevant result, aren’t you taking an editorial position? At that point, isn’t massaging of the SERPs potentially censorship? When Google inserts the Google Toolbar onto the browser page in a way that circumvents the location bar (by prominance, perhaps) it hijacks the direct traffic stream. Again, under that scenario, messing with the SERP is akin to censorship, no?

    Most every domain out there has an “about” page or a “FAQ” which is relevant for searches “about” their site. I simply don’t understand why Google would block those and/or not serve them up for direct queries, where they (obviously?) represent a highly relevant result.

    Please keep in mind I have to refer to these examples (e.g. Digimedia, ever.com in this case ) and not the specific sites I am most concerned with, because of Google’s track record on SEO and Google’s low level of transparency with respect to de-listing/demoting sites. I totally respect your desire to address specifics to help out, and I’ve tried to keep my questions here on-track so we can still make progress without naming specific sites.

  4. Matt Cutts Says:

    John, let’s take one example that I mentioned earlier: seatac.com. If a user types in seatac.com, what are they looking for? Are they looking for a parked domain? Or are they looking for Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA)? I contend that most users are looking for the airport. Yahoo returns a Digimedia parked domain at #1 for [seatac.com]. Google returns the official airport home page at #1 for [seatac.com]. Personally, I like our approach better.

    I agree that if a user searches for example.com, they often want example.com to be returned. But I have also seen how much most users dislike most parked pages. I think the instance above is a good example of why Google’s policies are pretty reasonable, but each search engine will have different philosophies about how to handle url queries and parked domains.

    If you want to send me 1-2 counter examples (I think you’ve got my email address), I’d be open to arguments that Google could pursue different/better policies on url queries and parked domains.

  5. john andrews Says:

    Very interesting, Matt. Google imparts intent, yes, but as an Engineer I wonder if the slippery slope of editorializing might be avoided via the “general solution”. In other words, as long as you choose to “judge” in cases such as described, you create opportunity for problems the market cannot correct (and thus, PR problems for Google). Markets can correct for obviously mismatched domain names.

    In the seatac.com example, I agree that domain should be for seatac airport. You chose a case of no ambiguity – there is nothing publishable for seatac.com more relevant than seatac’s airport. But there could be… Seatac is a city. Were Seatac.com a city directory, how would you decide what was most relevant? Presumably you would let the market decide between http://www.portseattle.org/seatac/ and seatac.com, based on actual use (in a perfect world)? From what I see seatac.com has very targeted links on it now for airport parking and travel etc. Aside from no link to the Port of Seattle, not too shabby a user experience?

    As Google steps in an makes these judgements as to whether or not seatac.com is relevant for a search of “seatac.com”, Google takes on responsibility. Google also insulates the Port of Seattle (in this case) from the market forces they are supposed to manage — if seatac.com is so perfectly relevant for them, why didn’t or don’t they use it? Is Google inhibiting market liquidity in the domain space by editorializing like this? And if Google didn’t do this, how long before we would achieve steady state with perfect-match domains resolving to perfect content?

    To be fair, I agree that if Google always ranked poorly-done parked pages, they would never go away nor improve. Surely you have click data I don’t have to support market-driven relevance?

  6. Matt Cutts Says:

    All I know is that users usually don’t like parked domains, and lots of them type in things like seatac.com and then complain if they don’t get the airport. :)

  7. Jamie Says:

    @ MAtt – you say users don’t usually like parked domains, yet the CTR on many parked pages is MILES better than a typical adwords listing. In fact, Google reps are telling agencies that they should not pull the parked pages from their basked of sites in the content network because the parked sites convert so well. So I’m having trouble squaring that with your stance on parked pages…

  8. Dan Says:

    Hi,

    A lot of ‘parking pages’ these days are not a bad experience for most Internet searches.

    Now this is a BAD Internet search experience for someone looking for ‘ever’ or ever.com
    http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=ever&btnG=Google Search

    When I look at almost any Google results page…all I see is a bad PPC landing page with ads and 1 or 2 ‘Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia’ results in the top 1-4 spots of the ‘actual’ part of Google thats suppose to be a Internet search engine.

    If I want results from Wikipedia…I would just go there.

    Google search has become nothing more than… one big AD aggregator…which to me… has nothing at all to do with Internet search.

    Google has been so busy trying to become ‘MSapplegoo’… that internet search is not evolving at all.

    Because everyone has the additude… ‘thats just the way it is’.

    IMHO

    As with anything…only time will tell.

    Peace!
    Dan