Are you in the business of tricking Google? Anyone playing SEO games involving link buys, crappy pages that inflate page count, and valueless social links probably is.
The next time you’re thinking of trying to outsmart Google, recall the words of Sky Masterson, from Guys & Dolls.
“My daddy told me, ‘Son, someday a guy is going to walk up to you with a deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. And he is going to offer to wager you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of this deck and squirt cider in your ear.
But son, you will not take this bet, for as sure as you do, you will wind up with an ear full of cider.”
This quote came to mind when I was thinking about Google’s search results, of all things. Thanks to Google’s reputation and its clean, spare design, those results always appear objective. The pages are populated with organic rankings that live side-by-side with paid advertising, magically separated by invisible layers of technology.
It is vital for Google to preserve the appearance and reality of this separation. If there is ever reason to question the integrity of organic search as the pure function of its objective search algorithm, the company is sunk.
European Regulators Are Watching Google’s Response
In order to keep the search results “pure,” the company has initiated broad changes that have effected many results. One of those results called into question the rankings achieved by JC Penney. Some thought making “manual adjustments” would mean these changes would remain localized. That’s not in the cards.
Making high profile “manual adjustments” would invite regulation and fines from EU regulators. They will ask, quite reasonably: if Google’s rankings are objective and driven by an algorithm, then why do high-visibility penalties have to be assigned by a manual process? Are other business choices being made by hand behind the scenes?
Google will now move heaven and earth to automatically assign Penney, and other corporate “SEO innovators,” to whatever page they deserve to be on. Prepare for screams from many more businesses that rely on organic search and have tried to do improve their rankings with various tricks.
However, screaming is about all they can do: There is no higher court of appeal when Google reorganizes. No amount of lawyers or PR gets one back from the sixth page of search-results hell. (All is not lost, though. Based on my personal experience, I can tell you that time, and a good relationship with a Google rep, can work wonders.)
The Listing of Down-Ranked “Search Losers” Has Already Started. (via Guardian UK)
- The British Medical Journal, the respected medical resource.
- PR Newswire, which pumps out press releases on behalf of companies, and so is often a mirror of what appears elsewhere, on companies’ sites.
- Slideshare, a sort of social site organized around sharing presentations online.
- Technorati, the once-great, now-fading blog indexer.
Want an Ear Full of Cider?
So it’s time for firms to lay off tricks that generate SEO Google juice. JC Penney took a risk that paid off until it didn’t. Now the retailer has a reputational bill to pay to Google. This shouldn’t be a shock: If guys who rent servers for $3/month are on to a search trick, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Google’s 20,000 or so staff figure it out too.
In nature, the shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line. Try hiking across streams and rocks in a perfectly straight line. It’s just not natural. Google knows when something isn’t natural, too. If you’re paying for “straight line progress” this is about to become a liability.
Working with people who promise they can jump results to the top of SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) is a lot like making the jack of spades squirt cider. When all is said and done, these people are never the ones who have to dry the wet ears, or pay the reputational debts.