Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Dark Side Of Google

By Christine Stander
The way that search marketers dream up conspiracy theories you'd think that we're all paranoid with nothing better to do.

Is there a true reason for concern? I think not, but reading other peoples paranoia is always entertaining. We all know search engines are "out to get webmasters". They have nothing better to do than to think of new ways that will infringe on websites rankings or play hide and seek with site PageRank.
Google is at the forefront of the theorists' attention. And it's not very hard to see why.

It's Tough Being At The Top

Google's market share is certainly growing. It handled 60 percent of Internet search queries in November 2005, up from 47 percent a year earlier, according to ComScore Networks. Google's chief officers have expressed that they are committed to growing the company itself in a sustainable way.

Quoting CFO George Reyes: "Google would be spending more on research and development, and will invest heavily in its computing infrastructure."

Google's motto "do no evil" has been analyzed and debated so many times. Forum posts and articles are always met with "Google does this" or "Google does that", the fact of the matter is that none of us know "what Google's intentions are, except Google themselves of course...but it's still nice to enter the guessing game to see exactly "how close, or far off" you are from the materialization.

Enter the Conspiracies

Everyone has their opinion on the matter - which makes for entertaining reading at least.

Jagger Update

The conspiracy: Google is out to destroy all the organic listings so that everyone will move over to PPC.

The real deal: Google updates their algorithm from time to time to help make search results more relevant. Each update usually receives a name by the SEO community - somewhat like naming hurricanes. The most recent update was called "Jagger". Many scraper directory sites and sites that bought those links were removed from the update.

If you had made use of any shädy techniques it is most likely that your site was caught in Jagger. It was quite a harsh update if you had not employed solid SEO techniques. So needless to say there are a lot of angry webmasters out there. A good example is the German BMW site ( which was recently removed for making use of sp@m techniques. Just goes to show SEO is SEO no matter what the language.

Google Adsense

The conspiracy:

Google Adsense sites get priority in rankings so that Google can make more monëy. And also Google is trying to take dominance and force webmasters to use Adsense rather than outbound links (link building).

The real deal: If this were true, regardless of how hard Google was to "try", they couldn't force a greater number of people to Adwords through preventing the achievement of a favorable ranking.

Besides, when Adwords first was released, several SEO's tested this theory buy purchasing paid listings over varied lengths in time. The results? There was absolutely no correlation between purchasing an Adwords account and your organic search ranking.

IP Recording / Privacy Infringement

The conspiracy: Search engines log IP addresses. The data collected can be used against you.

The real deal:
There have been many theories that Google logs searchers' IP addresses etc., to track their search behaviour, but the situation has gotten much biggër than that. With all the hype stemming from the Department of Justice requesting logs from the Big Shots of search to see what searches were conducted, the talk has shifted to legal implications should the court find in favour of government.

Every bit of network traffïc you use is marked with your IP address; it can be used to link all of those disparate transactions together.

Filtering Results

The conspiracy: If Google can filter the results for China, what stops them from filtering the rest of world?

The real deal: Well this is still very much a hot topic at the moment and I have not really made up my mind on this one quite yet. I can only refer to the Google "Human Rights Caucus Briefing" in their Blog.
Excerpt from blog: "In deciding how best to approach the Chinese - or any - market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interests of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions. Our strategy for doing business in China seeks to achieve that balance through improved disclosure, targeting of services, and local investment."

And "In order to operate as a website in China, Google is required to remove some sensitive information from our search results. These restrictions are imposed by Chinese laws, regulatïons, and policies. However, when we remove content from, we disclose that fact to our users."

This is nothing new; in fact Google has altered their search results to comply with local laws in France, Germany, and the United States previously. Also, is it not better to have censored information than none at all? At least this way Google has a starting point from which to fight the censorship.

Do No Evil
According to Larry Page: "Google's goal is to provide a much higher level of service to all those who seek information, whether they're at a desk in Boston, driving through Bonn, or strolling in Bangkok."

The Google philosophy:
1. Focus on the user and all else will follow
2. It's best to do one thing really, really well
3. Fast is better than slow
4. Democracy on the web works
5. You don't need to be at your desk to need an answer
6. You can make monëy without doing evil
7. There is always more information out there
8. The need for information crosses all borders
9. You can be serious without a suit
10. Great just isn't good enough

Excerpt from site: Full-disclosure update: When we first wrote these "10 things" four years ago, we included the phrase "Google does not do horoscopes, financial advice or chat." Over time we've expanded our view of the range of services we can offer -- web search, for instance, isn't the only way for people to access or use information - and products that then seemed unlikely are nöw key aspects of our portfolio. This doesn't mean we've changed our core mission; just that the farther we travel toward achieving it, the more those blurry objects on the horizon come into sharper focus (to be replaced, of course, by more blurry objects).

Some psychologists say that the closer one becomes to a person (or something) the harder it is to see the good stuff. Has Google become so intertwined in our daily lives that we no longer recognize the good stuff that it has brought us?

Let me remind you of a few:

1. Relevant Search Results: A source to find information faster. Every update gets rid of the "clutter".

2. Gmail: As far as frëe web based email goes, this must be the most user-friendly with the largest amount of storage space to boot. You can also tie in any other email accounts you may hold and use Google's interface as the "one stop shop" so to speak.

3. Gtalk: Google's frëe IM and Voice Chat service. Nöw also tying in with your Gmail interface. This means that it's accessible from wherever you have internet - you don't need to have the program installed on the machine that you're working from.

4. Leader of other SE: There is no doubt that Google is at the forefront of "great new ideas" for search engines. Google leads and the rest follow. One example is Gmail - more storage space for frëe. Yahoo! was soon to follow with a similarly sized email account for Yahoo! Mail users at no cost. MSN, however, charges for an increased mailbox.

5. Google Earth: Geographic information at your fingertips. Get driving directions and location information for just about anywhere on the globe, and because they use satellite imagery intertwined with maps you get a pretty good idea of what any place looks like.

6. Google Video: A selection of homemade clips, TV shows, movies and viral clips *freely available on the net. (*some TV shows and movies need to be purchased of course)

7. Google Alerts: Need to know when someone has mentioned you, your company or any topic of interest to you on their website? With Google Alerts you are notified *as it happens. (*as Google spiders that site)

These are only but a few things that Google has brought into our lives so to speak.

So ask yourself again - is there really any concern for their progress, or are we benefiting from it at the end of the day?

Forget About It

It's a typical situation where a good company gets too big and people start getting a little uncomfortable about its dominance in society.

So I say forget about all the clutter and focus on the good stuff of which 2006 will bring many new innovations and a whole bunch of new conspiracy theories no doubt.

About The AuthorChristine Stander is a professional search engine optimization and online marketing strategist with experience in many facets of search marketing, user behaviour analysis and brand management. For more information please refer to:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Google Big Daddy SearchQuake

Running ranking reports for clients is a standard part of an SEO's job. This week I created a position report for a client - one for which we'd made significant gains in ranking for their targeted search phrase - and proudly sent off the report to them before a scheduled conference call to discuss our progress and status.

The client sent an email upon receiving the report saying "There is something wrong with your report - we rank higher than this report claims." I went back to Google and typed in the search phrases to find rankings exactly where the report showed them the previous day.
I explained to that client that Google has (at last count) nine data centers which serve up search results and that they were getting results from a data center in the Eastern US which showed differing results from results shown to us here in California.

"Take a look at this link where Google datacenter IP addrresses are listed in detail."

"Here is an overview of a coming update to all Google datacenters expected in February or March of 2006."

"So you ARE ranking better from your area of the country and that particular data center which returns results to you. Things usually update to match in all data centers, but sometimes you may do better in one data center than in others. If you search from each individual IP address in that list discussed in the forum linked above, you'll see different rankings and may find datacenters where you rank at the bottom of page two of results."

You might also search from that new "Big Daddy" data center referenced in that article above, which discusses upcoming Google ranking algorithm changes due soon.

Where I'm seeing you ranked at #17 (bottom of page two.)

It's a measure of where you might expect to be when Google moves to that new algorithm for all data centers in February or March. (Of course we continue to work to achieve better results before then.)

This upcoming change in algorithm and the interestingly named server "Big Daddy" were
publicly posted on Matt Cutts blog for beta testing by SEO's (and other Google Watchers) who read him regularly. (For those who don't know, Cutts is a software engineer at Google & shares SEO tips on his blog)

Of course this news was a bit much for the client to digest in one chunk and he had little time to read the articles I referenced in my note above, but it was enough to assure him that I knew what I was talking about and explain the differences in my report and his own keyword searches at his end of the country. It's a bit odd to try to explain to a client "there are different Googles." Few know or understand this.

Another issue cropped up later in the day when I was doing further research for a different client and found, while we were speaking on the phone, that his results differed from my own on specific query operator searches. We were using the "" query operator and the "allinurl:pick-your-own-URL" query operator to limit search results and got vastly different numbers of results and rankings for the same searches.

The first stunning thing in this example was that we are less than 25 miles apart in Southern California. The second shocker was that I tried simply hitting the "Search" button a second time after getting the first results page and things changed again! All of this happening in a single day makes me believe that some percolating of results is going on as Google eases into an algorithm change.

Perhaps this is not all that unusual, but in seven years of this work, I've not seen the volatility noted in January of 2006. Are we about to have a major SearchQuake? Is Google about to split the earth and spew volcanic new results? Stand by for the BigDaddy SearchQuake sometime this month or next.

About The AuthorMike Banks Valentine blogs on Search Engine developments from and can be contacted for SEO work at: He operates a free web content distribution site at:

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Google Conspiracy Theory

By Mark Daoust

In December, I published an article on the effect of purchasing links for pagerank. Much to my surprise, I got quite a bit of feedback – most of which was negative. The feedback echoed a sentiment that I have seen from more than one person involved in the SEO industry. It is a sentiment that seems to think that Google is happily manipulating the entire SEO and webmaster community for their own profitable gain. The whole idea seemed like a conspiracy.

I generally do not like conspiracies.

What Was Said

The article on purchasing links for page rank was supposed to look simply at whether link buying was a good practice for website owners. The conclusion I reached and tried to prove was that any website owner who wanted to take a long-term approach to SEO should avoid buying links. The primary reason behind this conclusion is Google and Yahoo's adamant stance against purchasing links for search engine gain. Although several website owners are currently purchasing links and seeing a positive effect, this does not mean that Google is not actively trying to detect those who purchase links to devalue those purchased links. Website owners who may be successful nöw with this strategy may find themselves with a not so successful ranking if Google detects that their ranking is the result of purchased links.

The responses I received against Google were numerous. However, the idea that Google was trying to make SEO more difficult by discouraging link exchanges and link purchasing for website owners in order to force more people into their Adsense program was a theme that ran throughout all the responses.

So is this true? Is Google looking to undermine the honest efforts of honest webmasters who are just looking for a decent ranking in the world's most popular search engine? Did the Googleplex devise a grand and sinister plan to force the wallets of small business owners?

If Google Is Against Link Buying, Then Why Do They Sell Links Through Adwords?

Jim Tarabocchia of Just Binoculars was quick to point out that Google would be hypocritical to encourage website owners to not purchase text links. After all, as Jim put it, "if this is the case, why does Google sell Adwords"?

This is a good point.

It is obvious that Google believes in the power of link advertising – it represents the largest share of Google's revenue. If Google were indeed against text link advertising, there would be only one conclusion that we could draw: Google does not like text link advertising because they want to be the only ones to sell text links. Therefore, Google is using the power of their network and the desire that every website owner has to get a top ranking in Google to get more people to buy Adwords, and force any text-link competition out of business.

The problem with this conclusion is that Google is not penalizing websites for text link advertising if it is done in a certain manner. I will concede that Google probably does want to gain as much market share as possible in the text link advertising industry, but so does every other text link ad network. This does not mean with any certainty that Google is changing their SEO requirements to eliminate the text link advertising industry.

In fact, one could even argue that Google has protected the industry. The introduction of the "nofollow" tag found its birth in a need to curb blog comment sp@m. Whenever a link has this attribute added on, Google and a few other search engines will not pass on any pagerank to the site being linked to. This has served as a way for website owners to sell text links as advertisements without being mistaken as participating in a program to artificially raise a website's ranking in the search engine.

Google is not against text link advertising – they are against purchasing text links for the purpose of manipulating your search engine rankings. It is these purchased links that they are trying to detect and that their engineers have warned webmasters about.

The Argument Against Google: You Have No Choice But Adwords

Jim continued with his points in a follow up email:

"In my opinion, Google does not want this done because sites that begin to rank well no longer need to purchase text links through adwords or adsense. This means less revenue for Google. Let's face it, in order to receive traffïc through the engines you need to rank well, if you don't then your only other option is to purchase your position through adwords or adsense. And in my opinion if you are buying adwords then it is EXACTLY the same thing if you were to buy text links from someone else to get your PR to boost up and achieve better results in the engines."

Jim responded directly to my defense of Google. As I stated in the previous section, Google is not against purchasing text links for advertising purposes, they are only against purchasing links for the purpose of getting a top ranking. Jim makes the point that buying links for pagerank to get a top ranking is essentially the same thing as buying a top ranking through Adwords.

The problem is that it is not the same thing. The first problem with this idea is that it equates natural rankings as being equal in value to paid listings. Paid listings have shown time and time again that they are not nearly as effective as an organic ranking. Users are much more likely to trust a website if they find it through an organic listing.

Yet Jim is not alone in his point. Many website owners believe that Google wants to keep sites from ranking well in order to turn them to Adwords. Bruce from A1 Web Design had this to say:

"How on earth does a new website online get ranked? Mmmmm... PPC and Adsense! Nöw there's a good topic... Google frowns upon links but has created its own linking affïliate scheme!"

The idea that Google wants every website owner to participate in Adwords is not a new idea, and it probably is not far from the truth. After all, I don't know any business that would turn down an offer to sell their product to every person in their industry. But the idea that Google is somehow trying to force website owners into purchasing an Adwords campaign puts Google into a sinister light.

Google Cannot Prevent Websites From Ranking Well

There is only a limited number of websites that will achieve a top ranking for any keyword. In fact, we know exactly how many websites will receive a top ranking. On the first page, there will be 10 ranked websites, on the second page their will also be 10 websites, etc. The fact is, for any given keyword, regardless of how many people are competing for that keyword, there are a fixed number of top rankings available.

Both Tim and Bruce implied that Google wants to keep websites out of the top 10 to force them to Adwords. The problem with this is that Google cannot keep websites out of the top 10. They always must rank at least 10 websites in the top 10, as well as 10 more websites in the top 20, and so on. It does not matter if Google discounts link exchanges or purchased links, or if they turn traditional SEO practices on its head, they still are forced to rank a certain fixed number of websites well for any given keyword. Regardless of how hard they try, they cannot force a greater number of people to Adwords through preventing the achievement of a favorable ranking.

The theory that Google's organic listings and paid listings are linked in some way is not a new theory. In this scenario, we can see that it is an impossibility for Google to turn more people to paid listings by making organic listings more difficult to attain. Regardless of how difficult they make the ranking criteria, we will always have a fixed number of websites that rank well.

Does Google Reward Adsense Users With Favorable Rankings?

Another conspiracy theory that seems to have a lot of believers is that Google somehow rewards its Adsense advertisers or even publishers with more favorable rankings. That is, if you spend a regular amount of monëy on paid listings, Google will then treat you more favorably in their natural search results. The theory would make Pavlov's dog drool.

Once again, however, we have a problem. This time we simply fail to see any empirical evidence to support this theory. When Adwords first was released, several SEO's tested this theory buy purchasing paid listings over varied lengths in time. The results? There was absolutely no correlation between purchasing an Adwords account and your organic search ranking.

Back to What Was Said

So in the article that spawned this mini-debate, I came to the conclusion that purchasing links for the purpose of attaining a better organic listing in the search engines was not a good idea. The reason it was not a good idea is that the search engines do not like purchased links. The criticism of this article seemed to want to establish a link between Adwords and Google's organic listings – that somehow Google was trying to encourage more users to use Adwords rather than aspiring after an organic listing.

But we do not see any evidence that Adwords and Google's organic listings are linked in any way. In fact, it is fairly well known that Google has separated their Adwords department entirely from their organic search listing department in an effort to keep the two from influencing each other.

So if Google is not going after link purchasers for their own personal financial gain, why are they so much against link purchasing and even some forms of link exchanges? This is the question that I tried to answer in the last article. Evidently I did not answer it as well as I could have, but you may want to go back and read it.

If I were to summarize the article, however, I would simply say that Google discourages purchasing links for the purpose of getting a higher pagerank as well as exchanging links only for the purposes of pagerank because it is usually done as an attempt to manipulate their rankings.

So What Should You Do

So if purchasing text links for pagerank is not a good idea, and since it seems as if Google is nöw trying to devalue links that are a part of a planned link exchange program, what should website owners do? What is the plan to get a top ranking?

You should still try to get inbound links to your website. You can even do so through link exchanges, although you should try to do so as naturally as possible. What does this mean? It means only linking to sites that are of value to your visitors, and being willing to link to a website without a link in return. It means getting rid of that enormous directory on your website that leads to tens or hundreds of websites that are really only there for the sake of getting a higher pagerank. It means that you should also engage in activities outside of direct SEO that could garner you frëe links. Press releases and news stories as well as writing exclusive articles are all powerful ways to get frëe links without having to do anything in return.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with Google's approach to link exchanges, if for no other reason than for the sake of your users, you should always approach link exchanges as a way to offer more value to your users. What you will find when you take this approach is that your traffïc will increase more than any link exchange program can bring, and your search engine rankings will increase as well.

About The Author
Mark Daoust is the owner of Site Reference. If you want to reference this article, please reference it at its original published location.