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SEOs: Google is not your friend

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Search engine optimisation is an adversarial industry. With ‘adversarial’ I don’t mean that SEOs fight amongst themselves (though some certainly do), but that the business itself is one of conflict. Conflict between search engine optimisers on one side, and search engines on the other.

Many seasoned SEOs will already know this, but many younger and inexperienced search engine optimisers may not fully grasp this particular fact yet: Google is your enemy.

SEO is about making websites perform better in search engine results. At its core, SEO is an attempt at trying to do better than Google. An SEO is basically saying: “how Google has ranked these sites is not correct. Let me fix that.”

Google doesn’t appreciate that. In a perfect Google world, there would be no SEO. Websites would rank because Google – and Google alone – finds them most relevant.

Matt Cutts is the Google employee who most directly and visibly deals with the SEO industry. Through blog posts and comments, webmaster videos, conference appearances and interviews, Matt is spreading the Google gospel among the SEO crowd.

In case you didn’t know, Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s webspam team.

Let that sink in for a moment. The Google guy most involved with the SEO industry is responsible for dealing with spam in Google’s web search. That right there tells you all you need to know about how Google perceives SEOs. We’re spammers. We’re evildoers who pollute Google’s immaculate search results with our vile schemes and devious tactics. Google sees us as its enemy.

And in many ways we are. SEOs believe websites need to be optimised to show up for keywords that are relevant to it. Google thinks it is perfectly capable itself to determine which website should show up for which keyword. It’s a continuous struggle, a tit-for-tat that won’t end until search engines themselves cease to exist.

(The engineering discipline that concerns itself with fighting spam in search engines is called AIR – Adversarial Information Retrieval, which explains the adversarial nature of the SEO business.)

But, you say, what about all the help Google is giving to SEOs? Their documentation, their videos, their blog posts? They must like us, they’re actually helping SEOs!

No, they’re not. What Google is trying to do through their ‘support’ – be they Matt Cutts’ webmaster videos, the SEO Starter Guide, or anything else – is trying to make SEOs build spam-free websites.

Google has realised it can’t kill SEO, so it’s decided to try and convert the industry instead. Google is trying to ‘educate’ SEOs in the error of their ways and convert them to the Gospel of Google. Basically, Google wants SEOs to do the hard work for them – delivering websites that are easily crawlable and spam-free so that Google can more easily decide which is the most relevant result.

And it’s working. Whole swaths of the SEO industry listen to Cutts’ every word, strictly adhere to every Google guideline ever published, and try their very best never to offend Google. These SEOs are trying to be Google’s friend.

Hey, guess what? Google is not your friend. Google is your enemy. No matter how nice you try to be in your SEO practices, how strictly you adhere to the big G’s guidelines, Google will always see you as the enemy. To them you are vermin. You’re a blight on the purity of the world wide web. If Google had its way, SEOs would be eradicated from the internet.

So don’t for one second think that Google is your friend. It’s not. Google hates SEOs. No matter how affable Matt Cutts is – and he seems like a genuinely nice and smart guy – he is not your friend. His role within Google is to make you obsolete.

Real SEOs aren’t chummy with Google. Real SEOs aren’t invited to the Googleplex for coffee. Real SEOs don’t make cameos in Cutts’ webmaster videos. Google is too scared that somehow it’ll inadvertently reveal something which a real SEO could abuse.

Don’t let the friendly façade fool you. If you engage in SEO, Google really doesn’t like you. Don’t ever lose sight of that.

P.S. be sure to read this excellent piece by David Harry (@TheGypsy): SEOs are not Criminals

{ 7 comments… add one }

  • Jordan McClements January 21, 2011, 15:00

    I agree that Google is not your friend (at least not all the time).

    The same applies to PPC (though to a much lesser extent).

    Sorry – this is going off topic – but while we are Google bashing – I just want to say (again) that their customer service really, really sucks.

    Comparing Google AdWords Support to MS adCenter support is like comparing night and day.

  • Doc Sheldon January 21, 2011, 15:49

    Great post, Barry. Probably not a very popular notion, but for the most part, very true. Those that embrace the efforts to convert them probably would argue the truth of it, but it’s very much like the driver that cruises along at a pace exceeding the posted speed limit… the cop sees him as an enemy, until he conforms to the posted limit.

    Damn! Does this mean I should cancel out any of my upcoming cameos on Matt’s videos?

  • steveplunkett January 21, 2011, 16:01

    Barry,
    I understand your point of view…
    respect your knowledge….
    but disagree…

    I’d say for those of us just trying to serve our clients and Google at the same time. Google is our friend.

    How can it be both?

    Another perspective on SEO:
    let’s pretend one of my clients is one of 5 providers/manufacturers/distributors of the new “super widget” – (entities you can buy this “super widget from”)

    (yes using a number less than 10 does skew my example, but bear with me)

    the client owns several patents, copyrights, and trademarks related to the “super widget”. The owner’s nephew built the companies website prior to VC funding, prior to patent/copyright/trademark approval.. basically it’s a microsoft front page site that looks like a smashed bag
    of (insert your favorite disgusting thing).

    they show up in #1 in google but the site is horrible and the site ranks for the low hanging fruit of “company name super widget”

    but not for what the super widget does…

    website redesign.. keyword research.. client’s customer research study complete, google insights for keyword trends, analytics for current site traffic info.. compete.com pro for competitive info, etc…

    now we rank #1 for 50 or so variables for the “super widget”..
    bounce rate is around 12% avg. when url is measured WITH the keyword to obtain kw specific/page specific bounce rate.

    We using “SEO” have now supplied Google with more relevant results for what the searcher is looking for, based on time of site, bounce rate and other variables that show the searcher did find what they wanted, i.e. order, contact page inquiry, phone call to website tracked phone number.

    Google traffic goes up.. client income from website, specifically organic search referrals goes up..

    How is Google not a friend?

    a. 60 hours billable for SEO discovery research
    b. google data informed client (via seo) where to make improvements
    c. client revenue from website has increased 348%
    d. client agrees to ongoing search optimization, (more billable hours)
    e. client agrees to explore social media, app development and more digital advertising spend based on success of seo. (even more billable hours)

    now.. take Google out of the equation.. none of that happens…

    As an “ethical” professionally responsible SEO, we have provided client ROI.. we have also assisted Google to “provide the most uniquely relevant results for the searcher”, without abusing our knowledge to rank “super widget” for some high traffic, pills, porn, etc… that isn’t what the searcher wanted in the first place..

    some people don’t follow the rules.. to them Matt Cutts is the enemy..
    to me.. he is Google Minister of Propaganda for those people who don’t follow the rules in the first place.

    =)

  • John S. Britsios (aka Webnauts) January 21, 2011, 16:14

    Barry I never felt that Google is against me. So far I am thankful with the results of my work.

    To you point: “Google is trying to ‘educate’ SEOs in the error of their ways and convert them to the Gospel of Google ” I am afraid that I have to disagree. I believe that they are supporting SEOs. They educate the webmasters in a way that at the end of the day they have no other choice than hiring a professional SEO.

    SEOs who take the Google videos or publications as the Gospel of Search, they are in the wrong business. Sorry…

    If Google revealed everything nice and clear to the public, the SEOs would have been useless.

    I am not saying here that I am right and you are wrong. It is simply my opinion based on my own experience.

    I am not a friend or enemy of Google. I am a Google products user and a SEO professional making my leaving playing with their algorithm. And I honestly have a lot of fun.

    If Google want to be my enemy, I would honestly feel honored.

    Just my two cents.

  • anonymous January 26, 2011, 7:30

    Well Google is not your friend when you are doing PPC marketing campaigns. but it is your friend when you perform SEO of your website.

  • Prince Zermic June 12, 2011, 13:39

    Simply put, SEO is marketing through an understanding of how search algorithms work combined with knowledge of what human users might search for. The end goal is to create a site that contains words for which people will likely search when looking for information such as that contained on your site. SEO is an extremely powerful tool online – use SEO wisely!

  • Marcus May 15, 2012, 15:57

    Google is like that friend that is happy as long as you always play the game they want to play and if not, then they make up stories and say mean things about you behind your back.

    It’s pretty tough for small businesses out there at the moment who tend to be my usual client base. Many have often unwittingly bought dodgy links via their SEO’s and asking them to get think about blogging, to even help us blog for them is inconceivable for most.

    It will be interesting to see how penguin pans out in further updates. Will they ramp it up with new confidence in the results or will they scale it back? Will they give some leeway to smaller businesses who may have unwittingly got involved in dodgy links due to trying to make a tiny web marketing budget work (what you going to do with £100 a month?) or will they just crush small and big enough to know better alike?

    Most of our work is content driven, so we have not seen problems thankfully but what is next? They penalise for branded footer links now, what’s next on the shit list? Infographics?

    Fun times!

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