They may make for slightly uncomfortable bedfellows, but Google (and the other search engines) need Search Engine Optimisation, just like SEO needs Google. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them, the ultimate marriage of convenience.
The whole point of a search engine algorithm is to index websites by mathematically calculating dozens of ranking factors. Search Engine Optimisation is, by its very nature, a process that continuously looks for ways to improve rankings by any legitimate means possible. Google wants to keep things natural; SEO just wants what’s best for a particular site.
Search engines have to fight a constant battle to prevent unscrupulous types gaming their system. Whilst they have no (open) objection to developers strengthening their site and abiding by the rules; Google, Bing and Yahoo are constantly having to monitor for techniques that may undermine their algorithm.
SEO is, by and large, an entirely ethical process. It is carried out by millions of sites each and every day, whether knowingly or not. But with so many competing pages and so much strengthening going on, finding new ways to get a site to the top is a major priority (and obstacle). This means that somebody, somewhere is always testing the boundaries, looking for weak points that could earn them an advantage.
However, without search engines, there would be no SEO. Heaven forbid.
SEO represents the population, happily going about their business on the surface, whilst the search engine is the planet, a solid entity around which everything else is built and developed. Just as with any planet, Google needs activity to justify its existence.
But why does Google need SEO? Well, imagine a web without any optimisation whatsoever. There would be little or no original content, link sharing would be at a premium and websites would be an architectural mess – not good. Whilst they don’t want to be gamed, search engines do need people to understand best practices and help spread the word.
Lest we forget, links are the lifeblood for any search engine. They provide the framework that their spiders can follow and index the wealth of information being shared every day. The search engine who is able to index the most information and present it in the most effective way will conquer all – I guess that would be Google then?
But as you can see, the Google-SEO relationship is an uneasy one. Going back to my earlier analogy, if Google is the Earth, then SEO are the inhabitants. There are many tribes, all with their own ideas and approaches, but fundamentally we are all looking for progress. Some want to be successful on their own merits, others want to do as little as possible and break the rules to get their own way.
Google, or earth, would be just another rock spinning through space if it weren’t for the millions of creatures constantly working away on the surface. It would be no more important than Neptune (or, say, Lycos) if it weren’t for all of this life. However, that isn’t to say all of the output from those SEOers is good for Google.
Pollution is damaging the search engines. There is so much noise, so much activity and a swelling population to deal with. But without the earth beneath them, the SEO life couldn’t exist, they would become extinct.
Search engines have to find a balance though. This is why they are so willing to engage with the SEO community (employing folk like Matt Cutts to do so). Whilst they don’t want people to be finding ways around their sophisticated algorithms and tainting their rankings with poor sites; Google and Co. can’t rely on an index based on chance or human opinion. It is their job to ensure that only the best websites prosper, which is why we have so many algorithm updates.
So whilst Google could survive without SEO, it wouldn’t be the same as it is now if optimisation weren’t around. Somebody has to carry the good word. There has to be some system in place to ensure websites are being created and developed in the best possible fashion. As Mike highlighted earlier this month, a world without search would be a very jumbled place indeed [see: What If… Search Didn’t Exist?].
The two factions of SEO and search engines may be in a constant tussle with one another, but neither could fully exist without the other. So for now, SEO will continue to try to improve Google rankings, whilst Google make it harder to do so.
It might be a marriage of convenience, but it certainly isn’t one that is likely to break up any time soon.