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December 13, 2012

Is Google Becoming a Tyrant?

The new Penguin and Panda updates released this year by Google have created a divide in the world of online content. While some webmasters are raging and reeling against Google’s epic fail update, other folks have climbed atop a very high horse and viewed these updates as an opportunity to wag fingers and condemn anyone who has ever tried to include a self-serving link in a guest post.

In reference to the Panda update, Google’s Webmaster Blog stated: “The goal of many of our ranking changes is to help searchers find sites that provide a great user experience and fulfill their information needs. We also want the ‘good guys’ making great sites for users, not just algorithms, to see their effort rewarded. To that end we’ve launched Panda changes that successfully returned higher-quality sites in search results. And earlier this year we launched a page layout algorithm that reduces rankings for sites that don’t make much content available ‘above the fold.'”

It sounded like a good idea at the time…

It sounds very quality oriented and with an “everybody wins” mantra attached. But there is a very conspicuous level of subjectivity here that I think is a problem. Essentially, if Google thinks you’re “one of the good guys,” then you’re fine. If not, you’re “bad” and you must be punished by having your search ranking lowered. Are we letting Google have too much power?

To further complicate things, Google released its Penguin update shortly afterwards. After the update was released, many bloggers argued that Google had gone too far, and that while “spammy” sites were being weeded out, Penguin was indiscriminately ruling with an iron flipper and “clean” sites were being punished as well. Anyone working in fields such as online reputation management, or search engine optimization had to scramble to develop new strategies and techniques that the discerning algorithms wouldn’t mistake for “spam.”

Certainly we can all appreciate Google’s crusade to rid the Internet of low-quality, spammy content, but it seems as if Google is operating under a dangerous premise of over-applying penalties in order to catch all the rule breakers. Unfortunately, casting such a wide net also mistakenly punishes some clean sites too. I’m pretty sure that a willingness to punish the innocent is walking a fine line between strong enforcer and dictator.

The problem is that Google is disproportionately favoring people who have the luxury of creating user friendly websites with high quality content for free. Most people don’t want to litter their blogs with banner ads, or annoy their visitors with pop ups, but we have to, because we must make money off our websites. Contrary to popular belief, there are ways to buy links without being a sleazy spammer. And if you’re trying to drive traffic to your site, you should be able to do these things (within reason) when you’re just getting started.

According to Google’s Webmaster blog, the way to drive traffic to your site without getting punished is to “improve the usability of a site, help create great content, or make sites faster.” These are of course great things to do, but they also require having a big budget in order to pay top notch programmers that can deliver these things for you. Sorry, but a small business web page being run by one or two people isn’t going to always be able to comply with Google’s high standards.

Google Makes Its Own Rules

This will probably be interpreted as an extreme analogy, but if one were to compare Google to our legal system, it would fail miserably. Whatever happened to the Blackstone Principle that states, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.” This is supposed to be the guiding principle behind the application of penalties and punishments in the civilized world. I suppose Google felt it didn’t need to conform to such restrictive standards.

The consequences of being penalized by Google are often more extreme than many people realize. As a result of the Penguin update, many websites shut down entirely or were removed from Google’s index so users were not able to find them in a search. After penguin went through, many people went on Google’s Webmaster Blog and left a flurry of comments ranging from furious to heartbreaking. A SEO article about the Penguin update quotes one person’s fearful reaction.

“I am now scrambling to figure out how I am going to: pay my daughters tuition, pay my car payment, pay my health insurance, pay my car insurance, pay rent and all the utilities that go along with renting a house, not to mention putting food on the table. I followed your good webmasters guidelines and done nothing spammy at all about my businesses and websites and I get shut down and put out like that.”

Google Lacks Adequate Competition

Ideally, free market capitalism is supposed to create competition, which forces businesses to constantly optimize and please its users/customers. Aside from Bing, Google possesses no real competition, therefore they can literally write their own rules, and the public has no choice but to fall in line. Once a brand has transcended into a widely used verb, (like Facebook and Google) this is a good indication that the company has broken away from the system of checks and balances existent in a free market system.

With that being said, is Google a tyrant?

Jessica Ruane is a blogger and SEO focused copywriter based out of San Diego. She specializes in articles about SEO, writing tips, and social media marketing. Check out her company blog at to read more of her work.