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August 30, 2007

Does Google Hate Search Engine Optimization?

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Jill Whalen updated an article she wrote that she wrote on search engine optimization a few years ago and included it in her latest HighRankings newsletter. The article is called The Art of SEO. Overall, it’s a great read and I agree with a lot of what Jill is professing, but there was one statement that Jill makes that tripped me up and threw some clouds into an otherwise totally sunny SoCal day.

In the article, Jill concludes that Google doesn’t like search engine optimization and that Matt and his crew are actually on the hunt for sites with the "telltale signs of SEO" in order to "downgrade" or "zap" them out of the index.

Let me ask you, do you think Google hates search engine optimization and is just tolerating us SEO-types?

I’d really like to think not. I’d like to think that Google (and Yahoo and Microsoft and Ask) think of SEOs as having the same goals in mind that they do. Everyone wants to highlight quality, authoritative sites. They want to reward sites that are benefiting users and help make the search results more relevant. What in that is worthy of being hated?

I’m used to hearing people like Jason Calacanis go into tirades about how all SEOs do is muddy up the results for the average searcher. That we somehow make the results less relevant by applying all that magic and fancy stuff to Web sites in order to trick the engines into ranking them higher. But that’s not what we do.

This quote from Jill caught me off guard.

"If you think that having your keyword phrases "in all the right places for SEO" is a good thing, think again! You’re essentially telling Google, "Hey look…my site has been SEO’d!" To which they reply, "Thanks so much for letting us know… ZAP … see ya later!" Doesn’t matter if your site is the most relevant (in your mind) to the search query. Doesn’t matter that you’ve placed your keyword phrases strategically throughout the site. That’s actually the thing that may become your downfall."

Jill has far more experience and knowledge in SEO than I do, but I just don’t see how that could be true. If search engine optimization is about creating better sites, sites that are able to effectively communicate what they’re about, then why would Google be against that? Surely, they’re against spamming and keyword stuffing and trying to make a pig look like an eagle, but that’s not what search engine optimization is.

I also feel like if Google hated SEO, we’d know it. Google isn’t just tolerating SEOs; they’re going out of their way to help them and give them access to more information. We’ll always want more information and more data and more transparency, but if you look at what they’ve given us over the years, it’s pretty impressive.

We have great Webmaster tools; we have people like Matt Cutts blogging and dispelling rumors and answering questions; we have official Google blogs to help educate users and webmasters; there are APIs, written guidelines, representatives showing up at search conferences, etc. I don’t think this is a company trying to placate us or appear accepting when they’re not. If Matt Cutts didn’t care about SEOs, he wouldn’t have showed up to the Are Paid Links Evil session and taken the lashing that he did. And you can be damn sure that he went back to Google and shared what he learned with the powers that be there. If Google hates optimization then they’re doing a lousy job of showing it. If they’re downgrading sites that have been optimized, then they’re missing each and every one of our clients. I don’t think Google is that dumb.

Google doesn’t hate search engine optimization. SEOs are making them money. It’s not just organic campaigns search marketers are running, they’re also running paid search campaigns. Campaigns that utilize programs like AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, adCenter and the like.

Or maybe I’m wrong and Google does hate SEO. After all, they seem to hate just about everything else.

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25 responses to “Does Google Hate Search Engine Optimization?”

  1. Joe Dolson writes:

    This seems to be one place where the type of SEO you’re doing may come into play: aggressive black-hat techniques, verging on or spilling into search engine spamming — yes, I’m sure that Google hates that.

    On the other hand, other forms of SEO like making sure that the website actually describes their product, doesn’t prevent search engines from accessing their content, etc. are certainly going to fall more into the category of exactly what Google wants to see.

    The gray scale of SEO hats is clearly related to the “how much Google loves you” scale (at least according to their stated motivations.)

    If, on the other hand, you take the “Google likes what makes them a profit” perspective…well, MFA sites all the way!

  2. Bob Weber writes:

    It makes sense, from a financial perspective, that Google would hate SEO. If your site doesn’t rank, you have to buy advertising, Google makes money.

    I really hope they are more benevolent than that, but it does make you wonder… If they are so intent on getting the best results how do you explain, your pet peeve, wikipedia, or my latest irritation, craigslist? If Google wants to display the most relevant results, why have wikipedia show up in the results at all? We all know where wikipedia is. Same thing with craigslist.

  3. Gerry Grant | SOMReort.com writes:

    The search engines and the public owe a great of gratitude to the SEO experts of the world. I wrote about this while at the 2007 Search Engine Strategies Conference in San Jose.

    Quote from SOMReport.com:

    Without search engine optimization, which is really an offshoot of library science, search engines would be unable to produce nearly as relevant and useful results as they do today. By training all those who have gone to these conferences and making that information available to so many more online Danny Sullivan has done more toward organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful than any single individual today. He has also made many of them independently wealthy.

    Another question about Google:

    Does Google change the search results in the fall just before the holiday season to force more people into paid search so Google can make more money.

  4. pat writes:

    I do not know about the “hate” part but there is now (and has been) the reality that SEO factors DO identify you as a type, and that as a large scale way to rank sites, such indicators DO play a part in the algorithm.

  5. David Temple writes:

    If Google hated SEO and “downgraded” sites that appeared to have used SEO techniques then I sure don’t see it. There is however imho such a thing as “over optimization” and perhaps Google takes that into account.

  6. Jill writes:

    Hi Lisa,
    I’m glad you *sorta* liked the article. When you take the one paragraph about Google hating SEOs out of context the way you did, it certainly makes it sound like I was saying that any page that was SEO’d would get banned.
    I certainly hope that others will read the entire article and not just one paragraph, as the rest explains what I meant. In summary for those who have only read the one paragraph out of context, SEO can most certainly be done on your pages (obviously as it’s how I make my living). You simply have to do it in an artful way so that you don’t make it stick out like a sore thumb. The rest of the article explains how to do this.
    As to whether Google hates us or not, the original article I wrote in 2004 actually went into more details on that aspect. At the time, a Google rep at had recently stated that there’s no way to SEO a site! (It was reported on by Andy Beal.) The original article with more details is here: http://www.highrankings.com/issue105.htm#seo
    Lest anyone think that SEOs have any better of a reputation today than they did in 2004, they’d be kidding themselves.
    Lisa, I believe you were in the “Reputation of SEOs” session at SES last week, so you know what I’m talking about. If the media and the general public think SEOs are scum — and it certainly appears that they do think this — then Google, who has to fight off the bad SEOs every minute of the day, must think it in triplicate.
    I am confident that Matt and the gang don’t have a problem with those of us who make sites better for their users and the search engines, but unfortunately, there’s a very small percentage of companies who call themselves SEOs who actually do this. That’s one reason why it’s always been my mission to spread the word on how to do SEO the *right* way.
    The more people that learn the art of SEO along with the science of it, the better for SEOs (their reputation will be enhanced), the better for Google (their results will be better and they won’t have as much of a battle on their hands) and the better for the user (they will find what they need more easily).

  7. Matt Cutts writes:

    “I also feel like if Google hated SEO, we’d know it. Google isn’t just tolerating SEOs; they’re going out of their way to help them and give them access to more information. We’ll always want more information and more data and more transparency, but if you look at what they’ve given us over the years, it’s pretty impressive.”

    What you said. :) Google definitely doesn’t hate SEO. Sure, there are some bad SEOs out there that do bad things–sometimes even illegal things. See e.g. http://justinsomnia.org/2007/08/search-engine-marketeers-are-the-new-script-kiddies/
    Stuff like that ends up giving SEO a black-eye with lots of people. And you only need to watch the Scoble video to see that SEO has an image problem with some non-SEO folks.

    But Googlers know that there are a ton of great SEOs out there that help clients improve their sites and make the web more crawlable. And the more that we can do to help and encourage those SEOs, the better that is for the web and the search industry.

    So the short answer is that Google doesn’t hate SEO or SEOs

  8. Melt du Plooy writes:

    I agree that there is no reason for Google to hate SEO or SEO’s. As you’ve mentioned, they are providing so much help by giving the Google Webmaster Tools, Matt’s blog and so on.
    Like with any Search Engine, if you forget the rules, then you’ll be removed or banned, but probably never hated, not really :)

  9. Peter Young writes:

    Agree with you Bruce, actually wrote a blog post on this earlier this month which came to similar conclusions.

    http://www.e-gain.co.uk/blog/does-google-really-hate-seos/2007/08/08/

  10. Nate writes:

    If I have a site that sells high-quality handcrafted neon chartreuse widgets, what’s wrong with “optimizing” that site to rank better for neon chartreuse widgets? It’s a relevant result, right? Of course it is. SEO only becomes ugly when you try to manipulate the results in favor of a site that is NOT relevant for a user’s query. Period.

  11. boris writes:

    Google hating SEO that’s an interesting thought… Especially when you own an SEO consulting service. However, if Google doesn’t like SEO why does my site and many others rank so well… And why even index them at all! Where I come from thoughts like that are considered “Pipe Dreams.” Oh, well like much as SEO… Everyone see things a little different.

  12. Jeffrey Smith writes:

    As an active “SEO Type”,I can only offer a slightly biased and subjective opinion to your question “Does Google Hate SEO?”, I think, Absolutely not.
    As long as programmers are at the helm of the algorithm determining the boundaries of what is acceptable and what borders ethical and unethical search engine etiquette, relevance will ultimately win vs. the percentage of those who would exploit a flaw in the system for rankings or monetary purposes alone.
    Wikipedia is a prime example of following the rules or relevance, strong inbound links and characteristics which would otherwise represent a massive website optimization project. Yet their content management system was structured on the very basis that most SEO’s use to attain rankings.
    Content, links and more links (as far as Google optimization is concerned). I think that the real question is, what is the moral responsibility they have as a company to keep the SERPS functioning like a well oiled machine, instead of worrying about spammers and scrapper sites, or sites with less than favorable content inundating their index.

  13. John Carcutt writes:

    Thanks for this article Lisa (not Bruce). I had read that an reacted much the same way you did.

    Jill, thank you for the clarification. To many of folks are focusing all their efforts on the tactical side of SEO and should take a step back and look at the wider view. Sometimes the big picture is the prettier one.

  14. Jason likky writes:

    I do not know about the “hate” part but there is now (and has been) the reality that SEO factors DO identify you as a type, and that as a large scale way to rank sites, such indicators DO play a part in the algorithm.

  15. Oyun writes:

    Thanks very nice..

  16. davidc writes:

    Jill’s comment differs much from the point of view on the actual article excerpt…

  17. oz writes:

    Especially when you own an SEO consulting service. However, if Google doesn’t like SEO why does my site and many others rank so well

  18. Chris R writes:

    It is getting more and more difficult to try and outsmart Google (which is essentially what we are doing). Their goal is to offer the most informative content to it’s viewers.

    We need to focus on content and building relationships. Just like in the real world.

  19. DannyS writes:

    Glad i found this article on the web, with all the focus on local search and personal preferences in google, one could say that SEO as we used to know it is extinct…nice contribution by Matt Cutts, always nice to get info directly from the source!

  20. Fast Up Front writes:

    Well said Melt du Plooy- I don’t think I would necessarily say that Google “hates” SEO. The bottom line is that many sites are ranking very well.

  21. CharlieM writes:

    Google’s not g-d, their not perfect. There will always be someone smarter that allows people to get over on them. That’s why they don’t like SEO. It’s a stab at their pride.

  22. Engrape Financier writes:

    Google does not hate Search Engine Optimization, what google hates is overdoing it. If you can manage to maintain linkbuilding on a consistent rate, everything would be fine. If google hates SEO, Then google would be banning sites every now and then.

  23. Medyum writes:

    Google does not hate Search Engine Optimization, what google hates is overdoing it. If you can manage to maintain linkbuilding on a consistent rate, everything would be fine. If google hates SEO, Then google would be banning sites every now and then.

  24. James writes:

    slow and steady wins the race. Google does not hate SEO in its purest form. What they hate is people that use unetical tactics to try and outrank their competitors

  25. Jason writes:

    google does not hate any seo if you don’t do evil.



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