Google’s Anti-SEO Propaganda

Google Propaganda
It should be no secret that Google doesn’t like SEO. As the victim of its own success, Google has to accept that the majority of its users will click on the organic search results it provides, but the search engine resents companies spending money on SEO. It would much rather have that budget re-allocated to AdWords advertising.

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

Screenshot from Google’s ‘The Customer Journey to Online Purchase’ microsite

Last year I attended a Google seminar in Dublin entitled ‘Improving Search Performance’ [PDF]. 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.



  1. Interesting post Barry and I have to say I agree with you for the most part. However, are you willing to call their bluff and risk carrying out tactics that we are being told will be punished?
    If we are indeed being treated like tools then there is nothing we can do about it because there is always the chance that we aren’t being lead astray. Google are in the great position of being able to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  2. Good point Chris, it’s Google that’s holding all the cards – to an extent. Due to their 90%+ marketshares in most European countries, we don’t really have a choice but to play along with Google.

    But there’s a difference between slavishly adhering to Google’s guidelines and proclamations, and using your own insight and experience to deliver lasting SEO value. Not all SEO tactics that Google decries are actually risky – Google is in fact rather incompetent when it comes to identifying spam links (which is why they use the Disavow tool to let scared SEOs do it for them).

    So a clever SEO can easily find scalable and reliable tactics to get sites to rank well that Google might disagree with.

  3. You’re right. It’s a question of them at least wearing two caps simultaneously.

    Reading your article I just realised something about the use of the “Panda” and the “Penguin”.

    Conveiling a message using something most of us see as familiar and we even often attach emotions.

    Pandas and penguins are creatures that makes most of us open our minds emotionally because we mostly see them as good.

    It also opens our minds to “learning” or “manipulation” – whether it’s positive or not.

    Using something well known to “teach” something that might be difficult to comprehend at first is an excellent “vehicle” of communication. I know the concept in a positive way because I learned that in practice from especially SEO-Expert Thomas Rosenstand, who made learning SEO fun for me via his books, forum and videos, and I also got introduced to the theory behind this concept from the coaching material “Ultimate Edge” by my favourite coach Anthony Robbins.

    Now the names “Penguin” and the “Penguin” makes perfect sense. The animals are conveilling their message, which is not very clear except of course if you see dramatic changes in rankings.

    Well known concepts can also be used to conveil concepts we do not understand (and they maybe don’t want us to understand either).

    Most people associate a panda and a penguin with something positive and trustworthy. So obviously they are excellent choices for manipulation too :-)

  4. This is by far the best post I have ever read regarding Google’s propaganda! I am still surprised to this day that SEO’s even considered using the disavow tool. It shows just how Google’s propaganda has really put the fear of god into SEO’s the past couple of years. A dreamy tool which wishes all your bad links away? As it if it was going to be that easy. Truth is whatever Google says/does/demonstrates they are still just relying on a calculated computerised algorithm which is good at detecting/working out machined like link profiles. It will always try but will never be as smart as the human mind. As long as you apply the psychological human mind when marketing (not a machined like one) then you will never need to worry about Google’s propaganda or your link profiles!

  5. If you were a computer, and only had 1 and 0 to play with (one and zero), everything would be black or white, just like a Panda and a Penguin.
    The next big thing might just be a Zebra update. :)

    When doing SEO, if there is such a thing, you have to do what feels right, and not chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. There is nothing there.

    It’s no secret what makes a site rank well, Google shows it to you every day.
    Just take look at the sites on page 1 on Google, analyze them, and do with your site what you find.
    It takes time, and is very tedious, but worth big $$

    Happy hunting, and remember; Not every finding is a pot of gold – could be crap.

  6. I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this – and the more you look into it Google the more you see the most astonishing sleight of hands.

    Don’t even get me started on the mixed messages the Adsense team sends out in seemingly direct contradiction to WebSpam’s quality guidelines.

  7. Something that hasn’t been pointed-out is the clarity of the colour-schemes of penguins and pandas. Google is insinuating that there is only black and white where its updates are concerned – there’s no grey, nowhere to reside in the borderlands, you are either with them, or against them. Black or white (hat), good or evil, right or wrong. No ambiguity.

    This is reinforced by their examples of bad links (or any other bad-practice) are always at the extreme-end of the spectrum and they never explore the less clear-cut examples. You are either a spammer, or being a well-behaved little webmaster.

    The level of applied psychology in this campaign is both startling and deep; a multi-layered approach that is designed to erode the confidence of SEOs and alienate them at the same time.

    The ever-changing webmaster guidelines reinforce this pressure toward alienation. How many SEOs can put their hand on their heart and say that there are no “low-quality directory” sites in their backlink profiles (for an old site, at least)? They are pushing us into a place where we cannot honestly say that a site is adhering to their guidelines, which in turn makes us breachers of those guidelines – making us look like evil slime to clients and stakeholders.

    The true black-hats must be laughing their arses off; little has changed for them while their squeakier brethren are falling upon each other and being driven slowly underground.

    This is fnord at its most masterful. Disinformation and misdirection designed to engender a base-level of fear and unease, and it’s working. Google are forcing an identity crisis upon us.

  8. I am agreed with you Barry, I have read many article and the authors have similar opinion like you that Google is on war with SEO. Many authors are saying google is going to increase its ad prices in coming months.

  9. I agree with you in that Google is very conscious of it’s users spending money on paid advertising rather than SEO. Google spreading a false statement about SEO is indeed frustrating and considering the benefits to Google users you would think they would back SEO companies more.

  10. Hi barry!

    i checked polemicdigital on every saturday, and you provide such an amazing and informative news. keep it up. and in the last of 2013 after the Google Algo update eveyone says that now SEO is finish, but as u see that SEO is grown day by day.

  11. Thanks for the great information. In the past, people are thinking that the SEO will be finished but we can see SEO is changing the old tactics with the new one. We can say now that SEO is playing the vital role to rank the websites in search engines.

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