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by Mike Essex on 10th May 2011
Over their lifespan Google have made moves in to a lot of industries and revolutionised the way they work. Either by making existing things free (Analytics) or creating something entirely different (Google Earth), but in their march forward they have yet to touch Search Engine Optimisation. Given the close connection to their industry, and a need to clean up their listings, is this an area they will be moving in to? Plus what would it mean if they did offer SEO Services?
Why Would They?
Google exist to provide the best set of results to searchers. Sadly this is never 100% effective and is open to manipulation by both white hat and black hat SEO. This creates a need for Google to better understand the world of SEO, and what better way to do this than by becoming a provider of these services? In addition if Google are already carrying out research in to SEO (which it stands to reason their spam team would do) they already have a good understanding of what works that they can use.
Whilst it’s easy to argue that Google know their own algorithm so they don’t need to learn SEO, this isn’t the case. The algorithm is made by separate teams and has many different triggers, some of which are contradictory. Their search quality team work every day to spot flaws with the algorithm and fix loop holes. By working in SEO they would get an additional stream of data based on client needs.
That’s another piece of the puzzle that Google lack, a direct line to clients. Whilst Google AdWords offers direct call numbers, and dedicated specialists for large accounts, the organic side of Google is hard to get a response from. That’s why Forbes turned to Google help forums when their site was penalised or why Suite 101 wrote an Open Letter to Google when they were hit by the Panda update and wanted to understand why.
By having a set of clients to do SEO for Google would better understand the challenges that are faced by real businesses trying to rank. They’ll be able to really understand the battle between big and small businesses, and get firsthand experience of algorithm problems that clients spot. Whilst they won’t be able to solve every issue, it will certainly help them evolve their own rankings.
A Conflict of Interests?
The main argument as to why Google wouldn’t do this is down to a conflict of Interests, but you could say the same about them having paid listings on their site. You could say that having Analytics data creates a set of data that is a similar conflict. What about buying Beat That Quote when also ranking other services for similar terms? All of these services and acquisitions are conflicts that exist in the current Google ecosystem and they work.
As for why they work, Google put it down to having isolated teams. Paid listings bear no influence on organic listings. Likewise your Analytics data won’t affect your ranking, but can help Google guide their future algorithm changes. Would having a team of SEO professionals who aren’t given access to the algorithm also be an effective way of offering the service without a conflict? If they fed back data to the algorithm team but got nothing in return it would be the same relationship as suspected for Analytics, and it works for them.
The Google corporate guidelines encourage every employee to Avoid Conflicts of Interest:
“Could the potential relationship or situation create an incentive for me, or be perceived by others to create an incentive for me, to benefit myself, my friends or family or an associated business, at the expense of Google?”
As for whether giving SEO services would be at the expense of Google that is another sticking point entirely. In some cases it would help their bad listings tremendously (Pharmaceutical searches anyone?) and provide a dedicated stream of feedback to their teams. This will make the listings better for everyone, can that really be a conflict? Google are already helping businesses get websites, this could be the next logical step.
Whilst we can speculate the sort of logic that may drive Google to offer such a service, it’s unlikely it would ever make it past the first lawsuit. Google already come under regular allegations for fixing results to benefit a particular site – something they categorically deny. Having an SEO service would only add further fuel to this fire.
That’s not to say it wouldn’t be possible for Google to create a system that pleased regulatory commissions, but I’ve left out another element that will cause far more problems:
Existing SEO Backlash
If Google offered SEO services it’s very easy to see who the biggest brands would choose to manage their account. This would leave existing SEO companies who rely just on big clients at a bit of a loose end, and would lead them to try and find ways to outdo Google and beat their rankings in order to win these clients back. Clients would still exist and SEO agencies would survive, but a few would turn on Google and make it hard for them to get rankings.
Then there’s the black hat community who always love a challenge. They would relish the opportunity to beat Google at their own game and outrank them. Any announcement of new clients by Google would be seen as a gauntlet for the black hat community who would want to be the ones who beat them. The marketplaces they entered would become full of spam sites who wanted to win.
Then there’s the company brand searches, which would start to see negative stories ranking, again pushed up by other black hat companies. Fighting off this kind of competition is tough, and can Google really take on the world just to get some number one rankings? It’s hard enough fighting a set of strong competitors, but taking on the entire black hat community probably isn’t worth the hassle.
Then the good agencies that remain will still be competition, and will be carrying out the same SEO work for their clients. Google may not find it easy to rank, and will face the same issues every other SEO company faces. As their strategies will need to be 100% white hat, they simply may not be able to compete on a fair playing field, especially without the help of algorithm knowledge. If they didn’t stick to white hat tactics every agency under the sun would try and expose them.
Google Bought a Search Marketing Firm Before
In 2008 Google did offer SEO services when they purchased Double Click and their Performics division, so this isn’t as absurd as it sounds. This was approved by the Department of Justice, despite the conflict, and TechCrunch were quick to report this as a major conflict of interests. Perfromics was shortly sold off but you have to wonder how it was approved in the first place.
For now the last word falls with Tom Phillips on the Google Blog who puts a stop to this for now:
One thing is for sure, Google will grow in the next five years and will want to offer new services that monetise search. Whether this is SEO, or something else that impacts on the SEO community I suspect that the two will become closer linked over time. Beat That Quote was an odd acquisition, and no one can truly predict what acquisitions Google will make in the coming years. As the world of search gets more competitive Google will need to better understand the people who try and eke out the best results (and manipulate it in a negative way) from my point of view a collaboration with an SEO agency is inevitable.