Some thoughts on the unholy Unruly Google mess

In case you missed it, this week’s storm in the SEO teacup is Google’s apparent connivance in a linkbuying campaign, and their subsequent decision to penalise one of their own pages (The full story is better told by Danny Sullivan over at Search Engine Land, and I don’t propose to rehash it all here – suffice to say that the blame game is in full swing).

The main thing that occurs to me is the godawful situation that Google have helped to create. It’s a trite enough observation – made a million times before – that it was Google who gave value to links by first making them a ranking factor, and second publicising the fact.

Their attempts to sandbag themselves against the backwash of that knowledge being in the public domain have opened up new legal/ethical/technical questions which daily furrow the brows of bloggers, marketers, website owners, SEOs and the occasional schlub who finds him or herself watching their traffic boom or die without ever understanding why it happened.

The innocent days where people would link to friends, business partners or things they just happened to like have been soured by the link economy. Now Google actively advises people to use the nofollow attribute on links so their almighty spider doesn’t mistake them for a link seller. In short: you are always under suspicion.

It’s another example of how site owners are just bobbing around helplessly in the commercial and technical sea that Google dominates.

By banning their own page, Google are just playing the PR game. That does nothing to hide the fact that as long as links count as a ranking metric then they will have value, and will be bought and sold accordingly. And it remains the case that if you want to rank for any serious (non-niche) keyword you have to have a big budget to either:

  1. Buy “natural” brand awareness/market share through advertising or viral
  2. Have the money and know-how to build a technically impregnable SEO empire
  3. Go out and buy links

And that is both Google’s fault, and Google’s problem.

Categories: SEO

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