I Don’t Like Conflict (But Google Doesn’t Think SEOs are Criminals)
SMX Advanced was a whole week ago but that doesn’t mean we’re done with the controversy. Today, the SEO community is buzzing about how Matt Cutts sat up on that stage and, in Lisa Barone’s words, “openly stated that Google profiles SEOs like common criminals.” I’ll be honest, that sentence shocked me to the core — Matt Cutts stated anything openly? It must have been a pod person.
Photo by Tetsumo via Creative Commons
Clearly we need to get to the bottom of this. Our fearless leader, Bruce Clay, was also in the audience that day, making like the livebloggers and getting awesome notes. I asked Bruce what happened to cause this shocking statement. Why on earth would Matt stop being vague long enough to call a room full of SEO professionals criminal?
What did Matt say exactly?
Well, first off, that’s not what Matt said. (You already knew that was coming.) It’s actually what Michael Gray asked. Matt’s reply was:
The closer you get to money and the closer you get to people who are doing it deliberately for links — and there’s a certain segment of people who are doing whatever they can just to get those links — that’s a higher risk endeavor in our opinion.
You know, even though what Matt said was rather mild and nothing we haven’t heard before, there’s a couple good lessons here for SEOs to remember.
On Twitter, when this all started, I casually stated that I could sum this whole thing up in one sentence. (I still could. Brevity is the soul of wit, but not of blog posts.)
Here’s my one-sentence blog post:
Yes, SEOs are held to a higher standard than mom and pop shops; SEOs are professionals.
See, sometimes people get really good at something and then they start selling that something and making a lot of money doing it. Other people might learn to do the same thing but it isn’t their job and they don’t want it to be.
For example, Lois Lane is an ace reporter for the Daily Planet. Sometimes when she’s on a story, she’ll take pictures to go with it. But everyone knows that Lois isn’t a photographer — that’s Jimmy Olsen. If Lois takes a bad picture for the paper, oh well, that’s not really her job, even though it’s related to her story. If Jimmy takes a bad picture, people are going to judge that more harshly.
SEOs and webmasters are pretty much the same. SEOs are Jimmy Olsen, sent out there to get the shot, make it awesome, and win that Pulitzer for photography. Webmasters are Lois Lane; they’re just supposed to get some kind of picture that will go with their stories.
Photo by Scott/adjustafresh via Creative Commons
But wait! It’s not just about webmasters taking bad pictures (or making bad sites). It’s about how they get away with stuff that SEOs can’t, like giving away pizza and getting back thousands of backlinks. And that’s not fair! That’s a good point.
Let’s look at Lois and Jimmy’s friend Superman. He stands for truth, justice and the American way. He can outrun trains, stop bullets, blah blah blah, you know the story. His job is to do the right thing all the time. If Superman starts breaking the law, no one will put up with it. He’s supposed to uphold the law, help the innocent, play by the rules.
But what about Google?
All right, I’m done with the superhero analogy for a minute. What about Google not holding itself to the same standard? They know the rules too and they’re ignoring them. How come Google can give away brand new Android phones but Michael Gray can’t do the same without warning the recipients that they can’t link back without a nofollow attribute?
Michael’s got a point, and it’s a different one than Lisa’s. Why does Google get to manipulate their SERPs with giveaways that would have any SEO on the planet slapped for suspicious intent? Unfortunately, the answer here sucks because it’s that life isn’t fair. Google isn’t the government (yet) so they don’t care about the First Amendment. You don’t have a right to free speech and if you want into their clubhouse, you have to play by their rules.
These are the hard truths:
- It’s Google’s index, they set barrier to entry wherever they want to.
- Google gets to play by its own rules, like with the Android phones giveaway.
- Google gets to change the rules when it wants in order to improve its SERP quality, not to make SEOs’ lives easier.
But come on, we know all this. We’ve always known this. This same conversation has been going on since before I got into the industry four and a half years ago and it’s never ever going to change. So relax, because in the end, it doesn’t matter.
Forget fighting Google. Make good sites.
Look, if Google really thought that SEOs were common criminals, that they hated the whole industry, that SEOing a Web site was a show of bad faith, why would optimized sites be ranking well? Maybe this is a chicken and egg question but it really does baffle me. It’s not like it’s hard to tell if a site has been touched by the sticky fingers of SEO. Heck, I’m just a writer and I can tell when a site has been optimized. I’m sure the big brains at Google can do it if I can.
Photo by Andrew Magill via Creative Commons
If SEOs are making sites that rank and are following guidelines that Google considers “good for users”, why would Google hate that? Google wants things to be good for their users because that’s what makes them money. They’re a multi-billion dollar company that relies on their search engine to keep customers coming back and clicking on those oh-so-important text ads on the right rail. They don’t do it with flashy branding or look-at-me gimmicks. They do it by consistently delivering results that their customers are happy with. Make sites that make customers happy and you’re on the right track.
Now go forth and optimize. Oh, and don’t forget — there are other engines out there too. Maybe give them some love.