In its efforts to make that happen, Google has been waging a propaganda war against SEO. A war of public perception, of risk and reward, that it’s slowly winning.
This propaganda war has been going on for a while. Ever since Google started giving SEO advice on its support forums, it realised how webmasters paid close attention to anything said by Google employees on the topic of SEO. So it was easy enough to use those official statements to influence how SEO was perceived and subsequently practised.
“Don’t buy links.” “Create great content.” “Add value to your users.” Meaningless mantras that Google preached relentlessly until the wider SEO community started to believe them.
This wasn’t enough, of course. Many SEOs possess a faculty known as ‘critical thinking‘, which means that they could see the massive disparity between what Google said is good SEO, and what actually worked as good SEO.
So Google had to make sure it upped the ante, and it’s been doing so relentlessly for years. The Panda and Penguin updates were as much about the propaganda impact they created as they were about actually attacking spam websites, which is why so much webspam still goes unpunished.
The legions of unnatural link warning emails Google sends out is a similar tactic, aimed at creating panic and confusion amongst webmasters and to widely discredit the SEO industry.
In a move one could only describe as sadistically brilliant, Google let companies stew in their post-warning panic for a while before offering an easy solution: its Disavow tool, which is an elaborate honeytrap to let the SEO industry do the hard work of identifying spam links.
After all, why have highly paid Google engineers spend valuable time on identifying & fighting webspam, if you can crowdsource it to the SEO community with a simple carrot & stick approach?
More recently, a Matt Cutts video about upcoming algorithm updates is a masterclass in corporate propaganda and doublespeak:
This is the first time Google has made such a fuss about updates to its organic search algorithm that may potentially be coming in the near future.
And, as with anything said by an organisation dealing in propaganda, you have to ask yourself why they’re saying what they’re saying. Like the Transition Rank patent, it seems this video is primarily aimed at generating a response from the SEO community.
There are more subtle ways in which Google is attempting to make organic search – and, by extension, SEO – a less obvious channel for businesses to explore.
Take for example this Google microsite, aimed at providing businesses with data to make informed decisions. Look at how they subtly omit organic search from the leading graphic:
Screenshot from Google’s ‘The Customer Journey to Online Purchase’ microsite
Last year I attended a Google seminar in Dublin entitled ‘Improving Search Performance’. Nowhere in the seminar’s title nor its marketing collateral was there mention of paid advertising, and the impression given beforehand seemed purely about Google search in general. One would be forgiven to expect SEO and organic search to be mentioned.
The seminar was of course entirely about Google AdWords, and there was no mention of organic search. I’m sure Google staff providing similar seminars around the world are encouraged to use phrases and terminology that plants seeds in the minds of unsuspecting attendees, gently altering their perception of search to equate it to paid advertising and downgrade the importance of organic search. Such tactics are subtle and long-term, but they undoubtedly work.
There are countless more examples of how Google is muddying the waters, which are obvious once you’re attuned to the propaganda war. The search engine’s intent is clear after all: to make SEO appear like a risky, unreliable, expensive, and untrustworthy tactic, and to make paid search advertising seem like the only sensible choice.
When you do SEO, Google doesn’t like you. It never has and never will. But Google is smart, and they’ve managed to turn the tables quite effectively.
If you do SEO the way Google prescribes it, make no mistake: you’re the tool, and Google is wielding you expertly.