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January 19, 2011

Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank

Most of the time when I have a bit of a rant in the newsletter or elsewhere it’s because I’ve seen or heard things that bug me or are just plain wrong. Writing about it gets it off my chest and that’s usually the end of it. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case with the Dear Google rant I had back in Sept.

It’s not out of my system in the least.

In fact, the feelings I had in that “letter” are growing stronger every day. Most often I notice it when I analyze why certain pages show up highly in Google. It enrages me when I see many pages in the top 10 results that appear to have gotten there through anchor text comment spam. So I think to myself, “Write about it, you’ll feel better.” Then I remember that I already did write about it and I still don’t feel better.

So I tweet snarky comments to Matt Cutts, as well as leave them on Sphinn, but it only makes me feel worse for being mean to Matt, who is a nice guy.

Then I remember what I wrote many years ago in issue 038 of the High Rankings Advisor:

“If Google goes public in 2003…we will see it start to suck by 2004. By ‘suck,’ I mean ‘become like all the other engines.'”

I was wrong, in that it took a whole lot longer than one year to really start sucking, but suck it does.

We did see this coming.

Interestingly enough, the sucky results were foreshadowed toward the end of 2003 with what was dubbed the “Florida Google Update” and the one soon after in January 2004 dubbed “Austin” by WebmasterWorld (we called it “Gladys” at the High Rankings Forum).

Those major algorithm changes by Google created chaos in the search marketing world because Google stopped showing many perfectly good websites for certain search queries, substituting them for what seemed to be much lower-quality sites such as online directory pages. (Causing an unfortunate boom in the crappy directory market.)

What struck me the most about the new search results at the time was that they were heavily biased toward informational pages, rather than commercial ones. Searches for products would yield product review pages or directories of sites that sold those products, but rarely company websites where one could purchase the products directly.

Why go all informational?

Because Google doesn’t make money off of their organic search results.

My theory was that if Google could make the main search results “just relevant enough,” but not quite provide what the searcher was looking for, the searcher would be more likely to click the sponsored results (ads) that are highly relevant and have exactly what the searcher wants. The searcher is happy, and Google makes money.

Still, back in 2003–2004, the new “informational” type results were not what the average searcher was used to, forcing Google to ratchet down the algorithm to provide more of a mix of informational and commercial sites. But I always felt that we had been given a glimpse of Google’s future algorithm.

Which brings us back to today’s sucky Google results.

It was done gradually over many years, but Google now provides organic search results that often look relevant on the surface, but either lead to made-for-AdSense content pages or somewhat sketchy companies who are great at article spinning and comment spamming.

Matt Cutts even admitted at a recent conference that Google web spam resources had been moved away from his team.

While I doubt Matt himself was happy about this, those whose bright idea it was are likely laughing all the way to the bank.

But have they gone too far?

Since their poor results are being talked about with more fervor outside of the search marketing industry, it’s possible that they have indeed crossed the line. Numerous mainstream publications and highly regarded bloggers have taken notice and written about the putrid results. While Google is used to negative press, the current wave of stories hits them at their core — or at least what most people believe to be their core — their search results.

Even though today Google is technically just an advertising platform that happens to offer Internet search, they built their reputation on providing superior results. Because fixing what’s broken in the current algorithm can’t be very difficult for the brilliant minds that work at Google (Hint: ignore all anchor text links in blog comments, for one thing), we can only assume that they don’t want to fix them — at least not yet.

Most likely the fixes will only be forthcoming if and when they start to lose searchers and/or people stop clicking on the ads. Which doesn’t seem to be happening. According to a Media Post article this week on U.S. paid search budgets (which was quoting from the “Efficient Frontier Q4 2010 U.S. Digital Marketing Performance Report”), paid clicks on Google rose 8% year-on-year.

What’s an SEO to do?

None of this bodes very well for SEOs. (Which also suits Google just fine.) It seems that as an SEO, your choice is to help ruin the Internet by performing spammy SEO for your clients — or to heavily invest in Google AdWords — which of course plays right into Google’s hands. [sigh]

I can’t bring myself to do anything spammy, so the best I can do is keep preaching best SEO practices, with the caveat that the spammers are likely to win at the moment. But that’s obviously not a great business model!

So… anyone in need of a highly jaded, formerly naïve person who knows exactly how search engines *should* work? 😉


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995.
Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

16 Responses to “Google Sucks All the Way to the Bank

    avatar ranjitha says:

    really awesome blog!The information in the blog is really informative and we are glad to read the topic that is really impressive about the google. Thanku for this beautiful blog.

    avatar Steven Lockey says:

    We’ve never had any problems getting sales sites to rank, its just a matter of content. Most sales site just have crappy product content and expect to rank well.

    They don’t.

    Yes Google doesn’t work off how cheap your products are or anything like that, it works off information content which helped for searches in general. It may have hurt shopping searches a bit but this is unlikely to be anything to do with deliberately encouraging spam or deliberately hurting shopping sites.

    If you are having trouble getting your shopping sites to rank it may be time to look at how you are doing the SEO instead of blaming Google.

    avatar Jane Jones says:

    Is there a little irony about having a rant at sites using comment spam when in the middle of the emailed version of this rant you are selling backlinks from PR9 sites?

    I have google adwords Campaign and I know it take lot of money from us each month, As family run small Minibus operator in London we can’t afford. I paid money for Lot of SEO company to do the SEO, But they charge and do not work. So I decided to my self and it is work better and the way I want.

    avatar Brian says:

    Your rant is absolutely correct. However you and everyone else has a choice. You do not have to use Google. You said and I quote: the searcher would be more likely to click the sponsored results (ads) that are highly relevant and have exactly what the searcher wants. The searcher is happy, and Google makes money.” Sounds like everyone in the relevant contract is happy. As long as Google pleases the public there will be a limitless amount of advertisers. Don’t like it don’t use it. The general public does not see your rants and probably never will or will not even give it a second thought to them. I doubt ticking off web site owners and optimizers is ever going to hurt Google’s bottom line. Your problem with Google is complex enough that all you are doing is spreading the Google name further. Any publicity is good publicity. Sounds like a waste of really good energy.

    avatar Jill Whalen says:

    @Jane Jones I am not associated with sitepronews nor what they put into their newsletter for ads.

    They have simply asked me if they can republish my articles which I run in my High Rankings Advisor newsletter and I let them.

    You may want to subscribe there as I don’t have those types of ads. Actually, thank you for bringing this to my attention as I’m not sure I want my articles associated with that sort of spam.

    avatar Jim Jones says:

    @Jane – hypocrisy is every where. That site not only spams it’s notorious for not delivering results.

    avatar Jan says:

    What an interesting and informative article. Thanks Jill. I think most people who work full time on the internet have at some time in their career, dabbled in MFA sites to one degree or another of success; and not all of them are trash by any means.

    Often people are looking for information before they buy and if the site has done its job, it should inform and then leave people with the option to buy from the source or continue looking.

    avatar Mel says:

    So, there is ‘good’ advertising and ‘bad’ advertising and ads should not contradict the content in which they are embedded? Which world do you live in guys? This happens every day – on TV, the radio, print magazines, newspapers, etc. In this particular case, the advertiser has bought ads in every major webmaster publication on the Web. And yes, Google sells to these type of advertisers as well – just do a search on “buy pr9 backlinks”.

    Advertising is at best an embellishment of the facts, and at worst crap. Since when do ads need to support the content they are embedded in?

    And for the record, articles are opinion pieces – not gospel. Publishers like to publish thought-provoking articles. Jill’s article is interesting and food for thought, but the fact that we published it doesn’t mean that we support her view or her conclusions – and it certainly doesn’t mean that we will let her content, or any author’s, dictate ad placement – anymore than we would allow an advertiser to dictate the content we publish.

    This article along with a number of other pieces that have been published recently, regarding Google’s search results are lamentations – a slow awakening by the Google faithful to the fact that Google is more interested in making a buck than in living up to their “Do No Evil” mantra. This may be a revelation to Google “believers” but is not exactly earth-shattering news to the realists of the world.

    Running a business is about money. This is true of every business on the planet. If you’re looking for unbiased honesty and selflessness, visit your local church not your favorite search engine.

    And, for those of you who care – embedding ads that run counter to the content of an article is not
    hypocrisy – it’s irony. If you can think outside the box, you’ll know why.

    avatar Jill Whalen says:

    Not to mention that the buying of PR9 links is the stuff that actually works with Google’s current algo 😀

    avatar Krs says:

    Hi Jill

    I would want to start by agreeing with you! Good Post

    So Like John Lennon let’s imagine then shall we?

    I think that if Google provided the most “relevant” result in the search each time. Then we could all agree that having a bit of advertising in sidebars might be understandable.

    Relevant being that they actually earned the top spot through their dedicated work.

    If you can just by the champion spot (Top middle of the Pyramid) then the system is just corrupted.

    It does not do its work anymore.

    I still believe Google is a good basic Algorithm but like you say, there should be people there smart enough to see that.

    Thanks!

    avatar Valerie says:

    Hello Jill,

    I enjoyed reading your article and of course Google are in business to make a profit; and of course SEO was born as a way to get around that, to a certain extent, which is great – and I might add, necessary – for those whose businesses are not yet big enough to afford Google AdWords.

    My main “rant” about Google has more to do with their statistics. When you do keyword research, there appears to be no way to check the accuracy of the search volume; when you look at their bar graph for the amount of competition a particular keyword has it can tell you there is low competition, then when you do a specific (“”) search you find that there are 1,200,350 competing pages! I have found a lot of anomolies when trying to do keyword research and all of the keyword research tools that I know of base their data on Google’s figures. Is there another way to check all of this?

    I keep getting the feeling that Google have just got so big it is impossible for them to properly and relevantly function.

    avatar hypnodude says:

    Let me ask you a simple question: if Google was just a search engine how would Google rate Google services? Or said better how would it rank if Google services were XYZ services? All from a pagerank of 8 up?

    Anyway your article is good, and true. Expanding it a little you could have mentioned how many years were needed to know Adsense share for publishers and their overall openness about how much publishers get paid for showing ads. Or about the relevance of ads. The chance to be thrown out of Adsense in a snap without warnings, the fact that they collect every information on net-surfers and store and sell them around….
    What we should all keep in mind is that until the net remains free there will always be the chance for a better service to come out. That’s what Google did to Yahoo some years ago. Google will soon be thrown down its throne by something better and more ethic.
    Thanks for such a good article. :)

    avatar hypnodude says:

    I forgot to say that probably using Adwords is the best practice to rank high on Google search results. Seo tip? :)

    Google is great search engine, but very hard to bring the website to the first page then bing or yahoo.
    I manage to bring my website on Google, Yahoo and Bing for the keyword of Luxury Minibus, Luxury Minibus Hire, Luxury Minibus hire London, Minibus Transfers and many other keywords. Now I am trying the keyword of Minibus hire London. That’s why I have the Tittle Minibus hire London and I beleive this will help.

    avatar bushmaori says:

    i really hate goggle it sucks hard and i hope facebook becomes the offical site aey?

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