“It’s one of the most important rules of search engine optimization. Don’t depend solely on SEO. Especially don’t depend solely on Google, the largest of the SEO sources. I’m always surprised when people fail to learn this lesson.”
That’s how Danny Sullivan began his column, “Penguin’s Reminder: Google Doesn’t Owe You A Living, So Don’t Depend On It,” on Search Engine Land last week. In that piece, Sullivan draws parallels between Google’s latest algorithm update, codenamed Penguin, and algorithm changes from the past. He references the online virulence that often occurs in the wake of such changes. Penguin has been no different. Hence the article and the position that Google doesn’t owe you anything -- get over yourself.
I understand his message, and even agree with the core theme: You need to diversify your investment in online marketing. You wouldn’t place your entire retirement savings into a single stock. Similarly, you shouldn’t rely exclusively on organic search engine traffic to sustain your business.
But people will always resist change. There’s fear in the uncertainty of it all. Because no one has any real control over changes Google makes, you can expect a vocal minority to cry foul. We saw it with Panda, we saw it with “secure search,” we’re now seeing it with Penguin.
I don’t have any real beef with algorithm updates, per se. I understand the motivations for both Panda and Penguin. They (for the most part) make sense too.
But Sullivan misses the point of frustration that many have been experiencing with Google of late. The real source of tension here is between Google and actual SEOs, not online business owners. It’s rational to expect businesses to diversify their investment in online and offline communications channels; it’s equally rational to expect SEO practitioners to freak out when Google changes the rules of the game – changes that often seem irrational because of the lack of a believable explanation.
The most recent, non-algorithm-related, changes have given me pause to reflect on this, and it’s become plain to me that SEOs make their living off the ecosystem built by Google. They have a right to expect more.
What would Google be without SEOs, after all?
I’ve been admittedly vocal about my frustrations ever since Google announced it was making search “more secure” by encrypting organic queries when its users were logged into Google Accounts. I wrote twice on that change (here and here), and the topic still bothers me today.
Let me be clear, though: SEO became a legitimate industry on Google’s watch. It is an industry that was both created and cultivated by Google, and through the years a symbiotic bond was formed with SEOs. Google showed us the blueprint for content discovery and valuation. In return, we held its hand as new content was published.
Would Google have discovered the most relevant content without SEO? Probably, but we have accepted the responsibility of indicating which sites and content we believe are most important for a given query.
And we have both profited considerably from this relationship.
So while no one should place all his or her eggs in one basket, I do think we have the right to expect more support and greater reciprocation from our “partnership.”
Though Sullivan believes we shouldn’t expect anything, how can Google not owe us something?