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Examining Google's Practices

In the Disney movie Smart House, "Pat" (for Personal Applied Technology) turns from a helpful cyber-maid who makes life more efficient and convenient into an intrusive, abusive and overbearing omnipresence who attempts to take complete control over what her charges are able to see and do.

Is Google turning into Pat? I hope not; I remain a fan and prefer to believe there's still hope for Google—and I'm not saying that merely out of fear of retribution. (Actually, I think that's past tense, considering that this copycat page gets a spot on the first page of Google while my original article on how to get bloggers to write about you doesn't show up in the top 100 positions. That's just not right.) But the search giant seems to be doing everything it can lately to alienate all of its core constituencies.

Death to SEOs

In order to determine how well their tactics are working (and to report results to clients), SEO practitioners use automated tools to determine how well a specific web site is showing up, for a number of different search phrases, across the major search engines. These tools have been used for years, but Google apparently decided recently that it no longer likes them. As Chris Lang reported, "Google (has) implemented a feature which is transparent to searchers but really messes up tools that are used to check your rankings in Google. WebPosition Gold as well as other ranking report tools (scraper based tools - including the SEO Firefox plugin) have been impacted." In fact, Google doesn't even like it if it thinks your query "looks similar" to automated requests—it will then limit the number of pages of search results it displays to you and give you a really scary error message.

That's not the only way Google messes with SEOs. It's commonly known that title tags play a very important role in search rankings. But as this discussion of title tags on WebmasterWorld demonstrates, changing too many title tags on a site at one time can cause your site to nearly disappear from Google search results, as "Google is very cranky about title changes lately."

Then there is the matter of link buying. Since external links are very important to search ranking, the practice of buying links became common. And it way okay. Then some unscrupulous souls started to abuse it. So Google frowns on the practice. But not all the time. As the folks at Ranked Hard very creatively explain it, "link buying (got) out of control and Google’s way to handle it was to penalize both the link buyer and the link seller. The problem is, just about everyone is buying links in competitive markets, but only a few are actually getting penalized." In Using Logic to Prove that Directory Links are NOT Worthless, Will Paoletto of Big Oak SEO explains this phenomenon: "Google can’t just devalue all paid directory links in the same way that it can devalue, say, sitewide links because directories don’t leave footprints that the algorithm can discover on its own. As a result, the only way Google can reduce the effectiveness of a directory link is to manually visit a directory in question and punish it."

Kaila Colbin wraps this up nicely in The Emotionally Abusive Relationship Between Google And Its SEOs: "So Google essentially defines good practice, and then punishes you for following it too much. Got it. You'd better have the house clean and dinner ready by the time the big G gets home, as well."

Walk Like a Monopolist

Though Google isn't technically a monopoly, many observers believe it uses its overwhelming dominance in search to effectively act as one. Not content merely to let AdWords users bash each other over the head in bidding wars, Google continues to introduce "innovations" that can seem to be more about improving its own results than those of its advertisers.

The folks at the Digital Media World blog explain some of the AdWords changes here, stating that "The Google Adwords blog has announced a number of 'quality score improvements' (debatable use of the word improvements!) which will come into play for your Adwords listings in the near future...by telling people what it will cost them to appear on first page Google are prompting people to increase their bids to get the exposure."

As Tameka Kee reports in AdWords Quality Score Changes Could Signal Stronger Q3 For Google, financial analysts see the "improvements" largely on Google's bottom line. "UBS analyst Benjamin Schacter thinks...that the shift could potentially drive higher average CPCs. 'We believe that Google's decision to replace 'Minimum bids' with 'First page bids' should, over time, have an inflationary effect on average pricing for certain keywords.'"

Even Danny Sullivan, who knows Matt Cutts personally, alleges price fixing at Google. "Google already fixes prices within its own network...Since AdWords began, Google's never sold to the highest bidder. And these days it uses a 'quality score' as a way of causing some advertisers to pay a premium to show up. Let's be clear: Quality scores mean advertisers with ads deemed 'good' pay less. But the bottom line is that Google is interfering in the auction in ways only it knows."

A true monopolist not only charges high prices, but also delivers lousy service—with no real competition, there's no need to plow revenue back into taking care of customers. Judging by this post about Google lowering the bar on customer service and the ensuing comments, Google seems to be living down to this standard as well. Why is it a company that gets 1,300 resumes a day and can pick from the cream of the crop "can’t seem find anyone decent for their customer service department?"

No Greener on the Other Side of the Fence

According to John Andrews, Google isn't only squeezing its AdWords advertisers, but its advertising partners in its AdSense network as well. In this post detailing Google's Ad Manager service, he writes "Google’s kicking ass and I would be foolish to think they would do anything less than aggressively consume every last ounce of business intelligence they can get from me and my web businesses. How else did they get to be the winners? How else could they continue to dominate?"

Don Draper sums this up in his comment on Why Your Keyword Tracking Tools No Longer Work: "Google isn’t about making the rest of us money. It’s like having an elephant walk through your garden."

Privacy? We've Heard Of It

Meanwhile, Ars Technica's David Chartier has reported that Google's Street View team is undeterred by "no trespassing" signs, even to the point of getting sued for taking pictures where they don't belong. "It isn't just a privacy issue; it is a trespassing issue with their own photos as evidence...residents are complaining now that Google's drivers have flat-out ignored over one hundred private roads, 'No Trespassing' signs, and at least one barking watchdog in their quest to photograph roads and homes." And just up the road from WebMarketCentral headquarters, the private community of North Oaks has requested that Google remove all images of its private roads and homes from Street View.

Verb: It's What You Don't Do

SEOs, advertisers, network partners, property owners...who's left to abuse? Oh yeah, searchers. Google would like you to know that while you're free to use their search engine as you choose, you'd best be careful how you use the company's name. While most companies would love to have their corporate moniker turned into a verb, Google arrogantly blogs against it. "You can only 'Google' on the Google search engine."

C'mon Google, you're better than all of this. Show the world you're still not evil.

*****

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