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Who’s Watching Google?

Last week Aaron Wall of published his analysis of a significant change in the Google search engine. In late January, a marketer in the SEOBook private forum had observed changes in the Google search results, seemingly favoring larger brands over heavily optimized smaller brands. A minor discussion ensued, since this action appeared to reward big businesses for reasons other than the quality-based scores Google usually cites as its “reasons” for ranking some sites above others.

Aaron investigated more thoroughly and put together his findings in a well communicated blog post. Clearly, Aaron demonstrated, Google had made a significant change, either based on a new set of factors unknown to optimizers, or based on corporate directive at Google. Since Google’s CEO had previously promised such changes, it is quite likely that Aaron’s research reveals Google’s operational efforts to deliver on that promise, effective January 18, 2009.
We all know Google dislikes such exposure.

Aaron used a tool from which had been set up to query Google on a set of searches of interest,  researching trends. Since Google is a public service, with significant (if not overwhelming) impact on the global Internet economy, such research is essential (for us) even if uncomfortable for Google. According to the RankPulse web site, the tool:

The RankPulse Index (RPI) provides an overall glimpse into the daily fluctuations of Google results. The value of the index on any given day represents the number of positions websites moved within the top ten for a particular keyword among the 1000 keywords that we track.

Yesterday, Google published a statement that the data interface for checking on Google as RankPulse had, was to be closed down, and reiterated that Google’s Terms of Use prohibited automated checking of Google’s search results for any reason. Google also forbids the “permanent” storing of any Google search results, for any reason:

each search performed with the API must be the direct result of a user action. Automated searching is strictly prohibited, as is permanently storing any search results.

This is not the first time Google has threatened to shut off its API, nor is it the first time Google expressly forbids automated access. But it does appear to be a case of the world catching up with Google, accurately revealing Google’s operational activities despite Google’s efforts to forbid such scrutiny. Changes made around January 18th were noted in a professional search forum within days, and outlined in detail by Aaron Wall a month later. The RankPulse tool expedited the research, but was not essential. It was, however, key to our ability to analyze and disseminate information about Google’s operations in a timely fashion. You might say that Google’s API,via custom third-party innovations like, enabled us to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” (which is Google’s corporate mission statement, by the way).

It sure seems contradictory for Google, a company based on the collection and storage of others’ web page content, to forbid others from doing the same. It is also quite egregious for Google to expect to operate secretly, with no accountability (such as might be obtained through archiving of Google results), when Google exerts so much influence over Internet commerce.

Every time I see governments of the world grant leeway to Google because of some “greater good” that comes from enabled search, I feel more confident that we are moving forward in our efforts to build a better world. But when I see Google take actions to shut down innovations that don’t directly benefit Google’s corporate agenda, at the expense of our wider global economy and the free dissemination of information, I cringe. Clearly we need to support search. But perhaps we are all supporting the wrong search engine?


  1. Love the zinger at the end John. What do you make of Matt Cutts’ video that the changes reflect trust, authority, PR, linkability etc.?

    Wednesday, March 4, 2009 at 9:52 pm | Permalink
  2. spondishy wrote:

    Governments tend to have a too heavy hand or no hand at all approach. Don’t you think the position of power that google now holds is much greater than the long forgotten browser wars?

    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 2:22 am | Permalink
  3. hyip wrote:

    Google is far from perfect, and no one should hand Google the keys to the Kingdom.

    Thursday, March 5, 2009 at 8:51 am | Permalink
  4. bryan siegel wrote:

    Hence why the Microsoft Yahoo deal sounded so good to me. For too long, as an SEO I’ve been putting too much work/effort into Google. I want something else to optimize for (Yahoo and live don’t bring in allot of business for my clients). It’s competition that keeps larger companies innovating. It troubles me that a big brand gets all of the love, just because they are a larger brand.

    Saturday, March 7, 2009 at 3:29 pm | Permalink
  5. Geld lenen wrote:

    It shouldn’t make a difference if a site is branded or not. This makes it even harder for smaller brands to get on top with good content only.

    Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 7:20 am | Permalink