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Just say “No” to Google bashing (and other unproductive endeavors)

Many moons ago, I wrote a post calling out Aaron Wall – someone I greatly respect – for going a bit overboard on the Google bashing tip (FYI – make sure to read that post all the way to the end and check out that eye sore of an anchor text drop I managed to insert in there).

Fast-forward five years and Aaron is still dipping into that well regularly, which is fine, because he also happens to be one of the few online marketers that speaks to themes that transcend marketing and deal with more fundamental, human, societal issues. I keep telling him that he should break away from marketing and focus on some of these truly pressing issues but he just won’t listen ; )

Anyhow, what I really want to address is the somewhat alarming and frankly perplexing trend I’ve been noticing as of late. It seems like with every passing day, more and more prominent online marketers are following Aaron’s lead and spending their time addressing the economic, philosophical, and even moral implications of Google’s business decisions.

Today, the topic of discussion centered on bashing Google for deciding to turn off the remnants of what was once a completely free traffic spigot that used to be known as Google Product Search. And while I get that it pays (e.g. leads to increased social follower counts) to wax poetic on the hot topics of the day, I am vehemently opposed to devoting more than a few seconds of my life analyzing how Google’s decisions regarding their product feed engine might or might not reflect a poor (or even non-existent) ethical stance.

Why?

Well for starters, if you’re so concerned about the moral and ethical well-being of human society, might I suggest that you look past Google’s relatively tame transgressions and focus your efforts on this, or this, or even this (among other things).

Secondly, and from a more pragmatic perspective, lamenting the ills inherent in Google’s current business model won’t move the needle for your business in any tangible way (unless you are in the business of being a thought leader that’s paid to share their opinions on goings on in the search engine marketing space). So instead of doing that, consider investing that time into capturing the market share that goes up for grabs every time Google changes the game in one way or another.

I can tell you that my team is all over this Google Shopping paradigm shift, and we’re already mobilizing and poised to snatch away every sliver of revenue we can from any competitors that either fall asleep at the wheel or get caught up complaining instead of responding to this latest evolution in the digital marketplace.

And we welcome any and all tweaks that may be in the works and actively try to predict where, when, and how those tweaks might manifest themselves, because we know that it affords us another opportunity to innovate and outmaneuver competitors that fail to recognize the evolutionary nature of this digital marketing ecosystem of ours.

And building that type of visionary, forward-thinking culture affords little to no time for crying over Google’s spilled milk.

 

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://steveg.com/ SteveG

    A

  • http://steveg.com/ SteveG

    A certain amount of venting is good for the soul from time to time. It allows you to express frustration and get it out of your system. It helps if you can do it in a humorous way. It becomes an issue when that tends to be the only thing you do though.

    Much like spending too much time watching what your competitors are doing . It is never as productive as staying focused on your mission and goals and what you need to do to be more successful today that you were yesterday.

    That said, I think the for the first time we are starting to see ‘fanboys’ vent. Many of us understood the monster we were getting in bed with to improve our businesses. Unfortunately, a large percentage of people actually thought that ‘don’t be evil’ was something that a for profit company could afford to do. ;)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Steve. I just think that marketers, and search marketers in particular, have a very skewed perspective on what Google does and whether or not it matters in the grand scheme of things.

      For example, it would be one thing if Google forced consumers to pay for their search results, but simply asking marketers to pay for marketing clicks to their product pages is not evil in any way shape or form.

      • http://twitter.com/AlesiaKrush Alesia Krush

        Hugo, I think that what you call “a very skewed perspective” could be called “a very informed perspective”, depending on how you look at it.

        I think, the searchers may be simply unaware of how the search results are being manipulated BY GOOGLE to serve the promotion of Google’s own properties and give exposure to Google’s own paid advertisers. Isn’t that a skewed and biased way to organize the world’s information?

        Also, I don’t quite understand the duality of your position. On the one hand, you’re saying there are quite a few things you don’t like about Google. But that’s your view as a philosopher and a human being.

        On the other hand, as a marketer, you think it’s whiny and useless to complain about Google robbing SEO’s of “free” advertising opportunities. Well, don’t you think that everything Google does is somehow aligned and connected, and that one thing leads to another, and that we should regard it from one perspective, and not by wearing multiple hats?

        That said, I think that, if one claims to organize the world’s information, while not being evil at the same time, they should NOT be organizing it in such a way that they give extra exposure to the information that pays. This includes making presumptions and custom-tailoring the search results whether asked or not asked to do so, which is ultimately aimed at better monetizing Google’s properties, if you ask me.

        So, in my opinion, by bringing up these issues as marketers, or people, or philosophers (don’t matter), we’re doing a favor to the people who still might be thinking they’re getting objective and unbiased search results.

        • Anonymous

          Hi Alesia! Thanks for stopping by to chime in.

          You’re certainly entitled to think that search marketers have a more informed perspective as opposed to a skewed one, but the fact of the matter is that search marketers have a vested interested Google results that included the properties they manage, optimize, etc. Moreover, you’re presupposing that a search result that’s paid for isn’t more relevant than one that isn’t. That’s a very common perspective, but it’s isn’t necessarily supported by empirical data.

          There is some data that suggests that organizing information, particularly information that’s commercial in nature, with a priority on entities that are willing to pay for positioning, makes for a better user experience.

          But back to the main point of my article. Why spend so much time theorizing on this (without the requisite empirical data needed to make a truly informed opinion/decision) when you could just spend that time on analyzing, optimizing, adjusting, and planning ahead?

          You kind of lost me a bit on that “duality of my position” assertion. I definitely don’t think that everything is directly connected, especially when dealing with large corporations that have a myriad of divisions, stakeholders, employees, and geographical locations.

          That said, I’m a big fan of philosophy and an even bigger fan of skepticism and the scientific method, so I’d be happy to discuss this further if you’re interested, perhaps on Google+ or via email (seriously). If you’re interested, let me know what medium/channel you’d prefer. I also have a few personal blogs that deal with some of my world views, which could lend themselves to this discussion.

          As for your last statements on the right vs. wrong way to organize the world’s information, it sounds like you have a clear-cut opinion on that, but I’m guessing that Google’s opinion is different, as is mine.

          Moreover, it’s not a black and white issue. There are degrees and nuance that must be accounted for. The way information is organized and prioritized for a search on “abiogenesis” should and is quite different than a search for “summer dresses” or “iPad accessories.”

          One lends itself to paid results. One doesn’t. That seems fairly evident in my opinion.

  • http://twitter.com/content_muse Anthony Pensabene

    good points, dude. From a clients standpoint, I’d want my provider to be stoked to play ball anywhere, whether it’s Google’s stadium or another one..

    On the other side, if a client is obsessed with G, and a provider can’t elucidate other marketing roads for them to explore, well, I question the provider’s marketing abilities…

    Like you state, your team is on the paradigm shift. That’s what I would want to hear from my provider.. ‘we’re on it.’

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Anthony! Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for contributing. I’d rather spend my time focused on figuring out how to gain market share and how to craft a search program that’s immune to the ups and down that have always been a part of the search game. That’s what leads to long-term, sustainable success in my experience.

  • http://www.paligap.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    I think there is an assumption behind this blog that people who are complaining about Google’s changes are paralysed by those changes. If that is true, I would completely agree with the conclusions.

    I don’t know whether it is though.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for stopping by to chime in, Iain! It’s much appreciated. I doubt that many are paralyzed by Google curve balls. But every minute spent waxing poetic about it is a minute that could have been spent on more productive pursuits.

      • Jill Whalen

        Does complaining about the complainers make you more productive? ;)

        • Anonymous

          Thanks for swinging by to chime in, Jill! It’s an honor. The answer to your question would be probably not. Glad I’m not doing that. Too busy circling the wagons around the latest tweak and trying to predict what the next curve ball will be so jump ahead of it.

          Oh, and also trying to spread the word about some real “be evil” scenarios that make Google’s search practices seem almost saintly in comparison.

  • http://www.johnon.com/ john andrews

    Let’s not confuse “sharing with other optimizers” with journaling thoughts for the general public. Sharing observations about Google within the optimizer community helps peers see what isn’t always obvious. Voicing those thoughts also earns valuable feedback (from other optimizers who may have other observations).

    Google has for years moved towards a closed system, but very real people with valid opinions haven’t believed it. Daily reports of Google “taking away” what was there before are important; society has granted Google leeway partly because it claimed to be “organizing the worlds information” and “serving the users” under a “don’t be evil” mantra.

    I appreciate the commentary coming out, because of the observations. Google alerts no longer include URLs. Google search results include paid listings. Google local business center virtually requires participation in Google Plus. Google the search engine works very hard to keep you from visiting non-Google web sites (search for a local movie theater and Google will try to keep you on Google properties for shows, show times, address, phone, reviews, etc. with nary a single link to the theater’s own website, despite dozens of misleading anchor text links that look like links to the theater).

    If each of these observations is accompanied by emotional “I can’t believe they’re doing this” I’m fine with that… in fact, it reflects the reality of the great deception executed by Google as we move forward.

    Take a look at the PPC spending trends of the past 12 months in competitive industries… Google is taking GAZILLIONS from industry players whose organic traffic has dried up following Google’s changes. Mergers will peak pretty soon, as the various players make deals to avoid marketing-expense bankruptcy.

    Much of that has nothing to do with optimization of SEO or link building. It has everything to do with Google having claimed to be a service to the community, while unilaterally acting to switch that community to a pay-to-play model.

    Is it business? Sure. But it’s okay to complain about it, too.

    When Starbucks was expanding, it researched local coffee shops to discover small, local roasters and advocates who had built communities around their shops. Starbucks then placed stores right next door to them or across the street. Starbucks could afford tolose money for up to a year, while in most cases, the pressure put the local community coffee shops out of business.

    The poetry readings, live music, art spaces, and community meeting rooms went down with them. Within 3 years those Starbucks stores morphed into gift shops pushing 20 and 30 oz frozen deserts and pastries. No more fresh coffee (only vacuum-packed), no more decaf (except via a single serving plastic “pour thru ” system that is a bad joke), and dozens of just-over-minimum-wage staffers most of whom aren’t even offered the coffee school and barista training Starbucks was known for.

    Is Google’s exploitation of the marketplace and compliant webmasters worth discussing (and complaining about)? You betcha.

    When you boil it down, these corporate giants survive on their brands, and the more people discuss the brand character, with evidence, the more the company is forced to pay attention in order to survive. It has no other goal than to grow revenues… someone else will have to try and keep the world from becoming a cesspool.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for swinging by to chime in, John. As you know, I have the utmost respect for you as a professional.

      That said, rather than get into specific reasons why I disagree with some of the assertions you posited in your comment, I’ll simply point out that, in my opinion, your work in the field of marketing and search and particular has skewed your perspective.

      It would be one thing if Google was charging its customers to use the search engine (and no, getting their personal data doesn’t count as “payment”) but they’re not. Google is in the business of serving up relevant search results and monetizing those results.

      That’s it. The rest is just stuff that search marketers conjure up in their minds. Thinking that Google should be primarily concerned with the well-being and personal wishes of the tiny fraction of the population that attempts to profit of their free search service is akin to humans that think that they and the planet they live on should be considered the center of the universe.

      If you have evidence that suggests discussing such things helps you as a marketer and business person, then more power to you. I haven’t found said body of evidence, and so I focus on analyzing Google’s changes as they come as well as attempting to predict what the next round of changes might be. But not to point out supposed ethical or moral breaches.

      P.S. Out of curiosity, where do you stand on economic policy (e.g. regulation vs. free markets). I’m of the opinion that while there does need to a fair amount of regulation, market forces will even force the hand of even the most ghastly of corporate conglomerates. The book “The Master Switch” (Aaron turned me onto it via one of his posts a while back) seems to suggest that this is the case. And if so, Google will also fall in line or fall behind.

      • http://twitter.com/Skitzzo Ben Cook

        A lot of time we as search marketers assume our views are skewed by our work when in fact, they might not be. I had a conversation with a chiropractor last week where he mentioned that he’s being more and more frustrated with Google. He used to use it to find variety of goods offered and bargains on the goods he purchased.

        Now, he says, it’s just all big box stores. If I wanted their stuff I could go to their site, he told me.

        When I explained that shopping listings were going paid, he got even more frustrated and said that will just make it worse!

        His next question is how they’ve gotten away with being such a monopoly for long.

        Now, that’s anecdotal sure, and this guy is smarter than the average bear, however, I think it shows that just because people aren’t in the search industry doesn’t mean they don’t see what Google’s been doing recently.

        And, as more and more people depend on the web for business (whether its only providing directions & a phone number of the business or actually gaining market share) more and more businesses ARE in the search business whether they intend to be or not.

        All that to say this: don’t minimize or dismiss valid concerns by assuming they only impact those of us in the SEO space.

        • Anonymous

          Hey Ben! Thanks for stopping by to chime in and I appreciate you sharing the personal anecdote. I’m sick as a dog, so my rebuttal will be somewhat short.

          For starters, that guy is nowhere near representative of the average searcher because as a business owner he has a vested interested in Google’s search results and that (as is often the case) colors his opinion on whether or not the results set is good. Secondly, my experience with retail has taught me that most good sold via e-commerce are commodities. In other words, the stuff is not very unique and is sold by both the little e-tailer and the big box retailer. Furthermore, even the smaller players usually have the budget necessary to pay per click, so I’m not sure that his gripe holds much water.

          Lastly, if you don’t like Google’s shopping results you have plenty of other options, like I heard that there’s this website called Amazon.com and a lot of people use that instead of Google ; )

          And by the way, you gotta pay to show up in those results too, but I don’t hear anyone complaining.

  • Matt Cutts

    Generally I do not comment on specific SEOs or media people, but I agree that bashing for the sake of bashing is not productive. For the record, Panda, Penguin, paid inclusion, a massive increase on number of ads and all the changes have improved relevancy and user satisfaction.

    Instead of bashing, SEOs should listen to my videos.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Matt! And I also appreciate the insight on relevancy and user satisfaction.

      I frankly wouldn’t care if all of Google’s results were of the paid variety, as long as they made for relevant and varied results.

      I’ll probably get blasted for that point of view, since it doesn’t leave much room for the “mom and pop” websites and blogs but I truly feel that way.

      Besides, I’m sure some other company would quickly swoop in to cater to that crowd if you guys ever went that route ; )

      • http://www.johnon.com/ john andrews

        “a massive increase on number of ads..” is that really Matt Cutts?

        • Anonymous

          No, it wasn’t. The skeptic in me kicked in after I replied to that comment, so I emailed Matt and he confirmed that it wasn’t him. The depths of my gullibility are apparently immense.

  • Anonymous

    I sense a bit of sarcasm and vitriol in your comment, John. Not a huge fan of that, but perhaps I’m reading it wrong.

    Who said anything about not reading other people’s reports? Seems like a bit of a straw man, since my post is not entitled “Just say no to reading and staying informed about the industry”.

    Like I said, if you think chiming in on Google’s transgressions (real and imaginary) helps you succeed as a search marketer more power to you.

    I am a little confused about your commentary that seemed to assert that relevancy equals having your pages in the result.

    As for some of the legitimate transgressions you referred to, I’m a big fan of grass roots activism and political/legal measures, and while I realize that these efforts don’t always bear fruit when dealing with massive corporations, I think that it’s a much better approach than complaining on Twitter, blog posts, etc. If you start a site whose purpose is to bring together signatures or support for a particular, legitimate anti-Google movement or action I’ll be happy to sign up.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for swinging, Ash! Anticipation is key. While it might be hard for some to fathom, there are a lot businesses out there – big and small – that don’t spend any time complaining about Google’s changing landscape because they’re too busy reaping the rewards of building sites and businesses that are more or less immune to the changes and/or tend cash in as a result of their anticipatory measures.

  • http://twitter.com/DanielSpeicher Daniel Speicher

    Complaining about the recent changes is just going to create an antagonistic relationship between SEOs and Google. Aside from being incredibly unproductive.

    But let them complain. The recent changes just upped the ante and made it more difficult to game the system. You can view that as a setback or an opportunity to surpass your competitors. I’d rather work in a more difficult environment, because I know that I can outwork and outsmart my competitors. If you embrace that mentality, you will be better off in the long run as a result of these updates.

    Yes, some people were crushed by Penguin and Panda. And that sucks. But they should of diversified their efforts. Relying on anyone or anything for the majority of your success is a mistake.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, Daniel. I agree that a more difficult, ever-shifting environment is preferable. And I’m not only referring to SEO, but all marketing channels.

      • http://twitter.com/DanielSpeicher Daniel Speicher

        Happy to stop by Hugo. While you’re referring to all marketing channels, I’d say it’s more of a life truth than anything. Complaining and self-pity rarely accompany success. There are edge cases, where negative circumstances are crippling, but in the majority of instances, obstacles = opportunities.

        The First World Problems meme was a nice touch.

        • Anonymous

          Right on!

  • http://www.socialcubix.com/services/facebook/application-development Facebook Applications

    I am also not very satisfied with the new changes, Google is turning into a creepy search engine.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jovan. Can you give me an example of why Google is turning into a “creepy search engine?”

  • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

    Criticism is vital. If we all just roll over and play along whenever a corporate giant throws its founding principles out the window and goes full-tilt avaricious megalomaniac on us, we’d all be morally hollow and ethically bankrupt.

    Some things are worth riling against, regardless of the futility of our opposition.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for swinging by, Barry! Criticism is vital but I loose you after that sentence. Let’s be real. You want something to critique and fight against? I can give you a really really long list of activities, corporate and otherwise that have far graver implications than Google making their product search ad based. And yes, many of us are morally hollow and ethically bankrupt for not criticizing and actively campaigning against these many corporate, governmental, and societal ills. But when you talk about Google in this manner I wonder if you ever stop to think that you’re looking at things from the perspective of a very small minority; e.g. people who advertise on Google. The vast majority of people who use Google could give two “F”s about the tweaks they’ve made along the way because as far as they’re concerned Google is still by far the best, most relevant search engine out there and is also prone to give out all sorts of freebies like Gmail, Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Calendar, etc.

      Google’s founding principles were to serve searchers, and I’m pretty sure that founding principle still holds true.

      As for their many changes to both natural and paid search, as a marketer, I welcome them, because they give me ample opportunity to outmaneuver my competitors.

      So nope. No complaints here. Just lots of market share out there for the taking.

      • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

        I do realise my criticism is part of a minority opinion, Hugo. That never stops me. At some stage of another most commonly held beliefs were minority opinions.

        “Google’s founding principles were to serve searchers, and I’m pretty sure that founding principle still holds true.”

        Now you’re just being naive.

        • Anonymous

          Trust me, Barry. I’m very familiar with the idea of holding a minority opinions. I hold one of the most minority opinions out there with regards to belief in general.

          My point is simply that you’re in the minority, it’s that you’re point of view (and that of many that engage in Google criticism) is based on the fact that you stand to profit from favorable circumstances (ex: free traffic from Google shopping results) and that’s what often elicits critical responses. The true searcher (e.g. non-marketer) could care less about that. In other words, if Google’s shopping results stay the same or, dare I say, improve as a result of this particular tweak, Google will most definitely be staying true to their mission statement.

          In any case, thanks for chiming in. I’m enjoying the conversation!

          • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

            “if Google’s shopping results stay the same or, dare I say, improve as a result of this particular tweak”

            Do you believe that to be the case? Because I can only see negative effects: higher costs for (small) businesses which result in less choice for consumers.

            Back to the topic of criticism, it always takes a minority of expert opinions to change the wider societal debate about an issue. Climate change became an agenda item because climate scientists made it so. Chemical pollution became an issue because a small amount of environment researchers made it so.

            It takes experts to discover, debate, and make known to a wider audience the things that go wrong within a specific industry. When it comes to search it is us, the search professionals, that serve that role.

          • Anonymous

            I work in retail, and the truth of the matter is smaller e-commerce retailers are perfectly capable of funding PPC-based shopping engine campaigns. Moreover, the truth of the matter is that many retailers sell overlapping product assortments, so the idea that there will be less choice is unlikely. Besides, most people use Google Shopping as one of several search origination points for shopping-related queries (with Amazon and eBay being the other two most common points of entry).

            So in short, yes, I do think that the results will either stay more or less the same or will improve. But time, and evidence, will tell…

          • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

            I work with a number of small-to-medium sized ecommerce retailers, and some just don’t have the advertising budgets to compete in PPC with other merchants – especially when they sell commodities and competition is stiff, with very little wriggle room with margins.

            You may have the luxury of working with companies big enough to be able to afford PPC, but you should realise there are more small businesses out there than big ones.

            And if you believe that in the case of overlapping product assortments, it’s a good idea to limit visibility to those merchants that can afford to advertise, I fear there are more fundamental differences at work here than our different interpretations of Google’s avarice.

          • Anonymous

            I think that you just hit the nail on the head. The reason those customers can’t compete is because they deal in commodities (e.g. low margin stuff that a lot of other people sell). That’s not a Google problem. That’s a business model problem.

            I consult for several small retailers/e-commerce sites and though their budgets are small, they are able to play in the paid space by applying the very techniques that we talk about so much in this industry of ours.

            It’s not easy, but it’s definitely doable.

  • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

    I think people are frustrated at this because the webmaster is reminder that they are not in control here – Google is.

    Google has hooked us on free traffic like a drug dealer giving away free samples, and now we either have to pay for it or kick the free traffic habit – neither is pleasant.

    It’s less about spilled milk, and more about Google controlling the situation to suit their business objectives.

    • Anonymous

      Yep, I can’t argue with that, Dan. The “spilled milk” reference was just a cheesy cliche that seemed to fit well (and made it easy to wrap things up since I was on vacation at the time of my writing this post and my wife was pressuring me to get off my laptop).

      • http://twitter.com/dancristo Dan Cristo

        I’ll be on vacation time next week. Hoping to get a blog post or two written on the break.

  • http://twitter.com/alexanderchalk Alexander Chalkidis

    All these great arguments (in the article and the comments) point out to me that the article is basically just a matter of emphasis. Obviously people like us that work in the field of content marketing have various gripes with Google when it makes our life harder. We also all adapt to these changes (much like the article proposes).

    Sometimes we complain about it. I have sometimes being called a Google basher; probably because I occasionally feel the need to fill the information gap to the majority of people completely unaware of the Google business model. (For example with Android http://bit.ly/MXT9mW )

    We need both of course. We will work around Google’s changes in order to survive and for the best interests of our customers and we will explain to that friendly neighboor that starts a discussion over the BBQ how Google REALLY works. (As opposed to the kind socially responsible creature he THINKS it is.)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for chiming in, Alexander! I’m feeling really sick and I’m sort of tired about debating the main issue (e.g. paid vs. free results) so I’ll focus on your last comment.

      I actually think that Google’s “socially responsible” characterization is well-deserved in a lot of ways. Many of the products they create make little to no money and they do actively support all sorts of altruistic endeavors.

      And if they have their way (and I think they will in due time) we will not have to lose lives in car accidents at anywhere near the rate we lose them now (e.g. next to none) thanks to driveless, autonomous cars.

  • http://oziomedia.com/productreviews seo copywriting

    In the final analysis, what Google does with its search engine is Google’s business and if you don’t like their business practices, then use another search engine. In reality, Google’s best interests are served by creating a better search user experience, which they have done. This creates opportunities to evolve your own business practices to take advantage of the constant changes in Google as you say Hugo.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for sharing those thoughts! Ironically, I just got an email from someone insulting me because I dare to disagree with some of the sentiments commonly associated with Google bashing.

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  • Spook SEO

    Well in the human society moral and ethical values are so important and without these values its very hard to survive in this world. If I see towards Google then incredibly it is offering great opportunities to others in such a competitive environment.