I was reading Aaron Wall’s description of his Google experiences (“Google Lies“), and I thought wow, Aaron is becoming enlightened. You see, Aaron has been around SEO for a few years now but has always had this “here is how it works” perspective on SEO. “You do this, and that happens, because Google works this way“. The only problem is, that’s not how competition works.If Google is busy or distracted, you can get away with stuff. But if Google is paying attention, you can’t. Before you take that wrong, allow me to explain. When I say “get away with stuff” I don’t mean pull dirty SEO tricks. I mean make profit. Google doesn’t want you to make profit, except as it allows. So when you do something that makes profits beyond where Google wants to allow, you are at risk of being managed by Google. Aaron is learning this first hand. Before, Google was very busy and not very good at policing the profits earned on the web. Today, Google has far greater resources, less competition, and is very, very knowledgeable about what profit levels should be for various businesses on the web. If you don’t like that, too bad. It’s the nature of competition. Google is no different than any other aggressive, competitive organization. But it can be managed, and that is the goal of the modern-day SEO or web publisher.
A while ago something new showed up on the web. It was “free” and “good”. It was called Wikipedia. As I perused the wikipedia notes for editors back then, I came across a discussion about linking out. When is it proper to link out from a wikipedia article to a web page on the Internet? The answer was scary to me at the time. Wikipedia editors were told to look at the web page and consider if the information it held could be taken and rewritten as part of the wikipedia article. If it could, do that and don’t link out because that web page would have become redundant: it’s information would now be part of wikipedia. If it could not be so hijacked (my word), then yes, consider linking out to it.That early observation set my course for competing with wikipedia. I knew where they stood, and that they had a plan to disintermediate me as a web publisher. If they could, whenever possible, they would hijack my content, republish it on wikipedia, and leave me irrelevant. Nice, huh. No, not nice. Competitive. They may not have been after money at that time, but content. Traffic and mind share were even more important than money to them. Let’s just call it “profit” and leave the units undefined.Google has an agenda, and if you publish on the web then that agenda involves you. To make it easy to visualize, I like to use an analogy. Google is a casino, and you are a visitor.The casino sets the house rules in it’s own favor. The gaming odds are predetermined to guarantee a profit for the casino, no matter what happens. The game is rigged before you play. That is the only way a business like a casino can invest over a billion dollars in construction costs for a single hotel/casino. But the casino is up front about this. Las Vegas is about entertainment, not gambling, right? Your reward for gambling is not winning, but the excitement of playing, right? The free drinks. The pretty girls. Access to world class stage acts, performers, and shopping. The game is rigged to pull profits off the table and deliver them to the casino, and the system is built to make you feel good as you give them those profits. You hear it all the time from your friends upon returning from Las Vegas: “I lost a ton of money, but I had a great time“.
Google is the casino. Google gives us free stuff, and provides the entertaining environment – the web as Las Vegas. YouTube, Picassa, Google News.. they are the pirate ship, the fountain show, the fake Paris streets of Las Vegas. Ever notice how airfare to Las Vegas from nearby cities like Sacramento goes on sale for as low as $20? That’s like Blogger… subsidized transportation that brings in more players. Google is the casino taking it’s house cut and more whenever it can, and you are the player.
Now take that analogy a bit further and you start to see Aaron’s predicament. If Google is the casino, and we are the players, are SEOs the card counters of the Internet? Riddle me this: who has the most sophisticated real-time security systems in the entire world? No, it’s not Homeland Security. The most sophisticated security systems are owned by Las Vegas casinos. They watch everything on camera. They have photos of known card counters, and they investigate anything that looks remotely suspicious. Remind you of Google?
I said earlier that Google wants to control the profits you make on the web. Ever win in a casino? Even if you win purely by chance, you will be scrutinized. If you win against all odds, you may find yourself interrogated in a back room, against your will. It happens more often than anyone would like to admit. The casinos know the odds, and have set a trust threshold for accepting chance’s delivery on those odds. If you fit a profile (shifty eyes, ethnic background, whatever it is) you will be suspect. Do you have rights? Of course not. The casino is private property. They can deny anyone access, and ban anyone from returning. The interrogation is done before you can collect your winnings, so of course it’s not detention but rather “voluntary participation“.
Card Counting is the practice of paying close attention to which cards have already been played at the game table, so you can estimate the odds of future cards showing up. Since it is hard to remember every card played, card counters count face cards so they can estimate the odds of a face card coming next. The better you pay attention and remember what has already been played, the better you can predict whether or not a face card is coming next. If you count cards you have beter odds of winning, of course. Along with the Casino Gaming Commission, the casino has already set the game rules in its favor, aside from chance, to ensure it takes decent profits from every game played regardless. But a good card counter can trim those profits. A good card counter can even the odds, over ruling the built-in casino advantage.
Let me ask you this: is card counting illegal? Is it immoral? Unethical? Is it against the casino rules? Will they ban you from the casino if they suspect you are counting cards? Yes, they will ban you from playing in the casino if they suspect that you are paying as close attention as possible to the cards you see played, counting them as best as you can to improve your odds at the game. Does that seem fair? It’s like this: play, but if you pay too much attention, and play better than most people, you’re banned.
Google is the casino, and we can expect Google to continue to increase it’s proportion of the profits, increase the sophistication of it’s security systems, and continue to try to completely control the environment. Card counting is not illegal, so casinos shuffle as many as 8 decks together for a single game. They prohibit players from entering a game already underway, to make card counting less convenient. The only reason they can ban you for counting cards is because the casino is private property, and private property owners can discriminate against you as much as they like as long as it doesn’t violate civil rights (the Constitution doesn’t guarantee you rights to gamble in private casinos). But unlike the casinos who own their properties, Google doesn’t own the web. That’s a big difference. One could argue that the Las Vegas casinos “own” Las Vegas. Everyone knows Google has been spending heavily on lobbying for the past two years. Will Google own the web one day?
I think Aaron has learned he’s now considered a card counter, and unwelcome in GoogleVegas. I think we are all seeing Google introduce it’s own version of the 8 deck shuffle, the “no mid-shoe entry” rules, and the high-tech security systems. It is not likely to change direction, but all eyes need to be on who owns the web, and how that political game is played.