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The Adversarial Relationship between Google and SEO

At the start of 2011 I wrote a post about the relationship between Google and SEO. Specifically, I made the case that Google is not an ally of SEO, but is our enemy.

I got mixed responses to that post. Many SEOs agreed, but many more said that they did not consider their relationship with Google to be adversarial.

It’s 19 months later and we’ve had to endure a few heavy-hitting Google updates. First Panda, then Penguin, and a whole slew of minor changes, all aimed at reducing the effects of what Google calls ‘webspam’.

Since I wrote my original post, I’ve seen a shift in attitudes in many SEOs that once considered Google their ally. Relationships definitely seem to have soured.

A criticism I received – and debated hotly in several online communities such as the SEO Training Dojo – was that Google simply didn’t care about SEO and that they just went on with their business of running a search engine rather than waste energy trying to make life harder for search engine optimisers.

However, I believe Google definitely devotes some of its resources to thwart SEO, making sure we’d never come to full grips with the workings of their ranking algorithms. A recent patent filing titled ‘Ranking Documents’, analysed here by Peter Da Vanzo, has proven me right:

“A system determines a first rank associated with a document and determines a second rank associated with the document, where the second rank is different from the first rank. The system also changes, during a transition period that occurs during a transition from the first rank to the second rank, a transition rank associated with the document based on a rank transition function that varies the transition rank over time without any change in ranking factors associated with the document.” […] “During the transition from the old rank to the target rank, the transition rank might cause:
  1. a time-based delay response,

  2. a negative response

  3. a random response, and/or

  4. an unexpected response”

In short, Google has devised specific algorithms intended to deceive SEOs, thwarting any attempt to monitor SERPs to gauge the effects of specific SEO tactics.

“All war is based on deception”, Sun Tsu said over two and a half millennia ago, and Google has taken this creed to heart with its intentional manipulation of search results to deceive SEOs.

Another point I made in 2011 was that Google sees pretty much all SEO as webspam:

Matt Cutts is the Google employee who most directly and visibly deals with the SEO industry. Through blog posts and comments, webmaster videos, conference appearances and interviews, Matt is spreading the Google gospel among the SEO crowd. In case you didn’t know, Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s webspam team. Let that sink in for a moment. The Google guy most involved with the SEO industry is responsible for dealing with spam in Google’s web search. That right there tells you all you need to know about how Google perceives SEOs. We’re spammers. We’re evildoers who pollute Google’s immaculate search results with our vile schemes and devious tactics. Google sees us as its enemy.

For some that was a contentious statement in 2011. Nowadays, though, the evidence is piling up. In the same ‘Ranking Documents’ patent filing, Google states the following:

“The systems and methods may also observe spammers’ reactions to rank changes caused by the rank transition function to identify documents that are actively being manipulated. This assists in the identification of rank-modifying spammers.”

And from their 2004 IPO filing:

“We are susceptible to index spammers who could harm the integrity of our web search results. There is an ongoing and increasing effort by “index spammers” to develop ways to manipulate our web search results.”

In a pretty explicit way, Google equates any attempt to ‘manipulate’ their rankings to spam.

Every SEO out there is trying to manipulate Google’s rankings. It’s what we do.

I don’t think there can be any doubt that in Google’s eyes, we’re all spammers. The evidence is overwhelming, from Matt Cutts’ job title, the increasing contempt with which Google treats us, to the explicit language it uses to describe us in its official documents.

While an attitude of cooperation towards Google might have been forgiveable at the start of 2011, you must be capable of truly astounding levels of cognitive bias to still cling to the belief that Google and SEO are on friendly terms.

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