Dear SEOs: Google Owes You Nothing

I have to admit it – yesterday’s column by Ryan DeShazer got my dander up a little bit. Just the headline -- “Doesn’t Google Owe SEOs Something?” -- caught me and wouldn’t let go. So, I decided I’d present the other side of this discussion today on why Google does not owe anything to SEOs.

First, it’s important to clarify that I, myself, am an SEO. And, I like many other SEOs, feel great frustration with Google on a regular basis. But Google doesn’t owe me, or you, anything. Here’s why:

1.     Life is not fair.

At home I have two daughters, ages 3 and 6, and I often have to explain to them that life is just not fair -- a basic tenet that everyone must learn. Yes, it sucks. But the best person does not always win, the best product doesn’t always sell the most, and just working hard won’t always get you that promotion. That’s life.



Google doesn’t have to be fair. Google is a business. It has the right to make decisions that affect its business without so much as warning us. Google has the right to make its product better – whether or not WE agree that the change is actually for the better.

2.     Google is free, but you have to accept its terms.

Google doesn’t charge any of us to use its search engine or its many tools like Gmail and Google Docs. But in return, as users, we must accept the company’s terms -- essentially the price we pay.

Part of that price is that as content publishers (be they companies, ecommerce sites, etc.) have to constantly respond to Google’s changes to survive. That’s just part of doing business.

Yes, Google encrypted search keywords, and now upwards of 50% of traffic in Google Analytics shows as (not provided). Move on. Innovate. Innovation is what keeps SEO alive.

You also have the right to take your “search business” elsewhere. Don’t like what Google’s doing? Leave it, and use Bing. You’ll make Duane Forrester very happy.

3.     Google keeps you employed.

One line that stuck with me from Ryan’s piece was this one: “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.”

SEOs shouldn’t “freak out” every time there’s an algorithm change. My phone never rings more than after a big update. I see all sorts of new work from businesses that weren’t prepared for updates or accidentally had rankings reduced because of simple issues.

Google, along with the other search engines, created the need for search engine optimization in the first place –- an entire industry that keeps SEOs like me employed. A recent ranking of U.S. search agencies showed that the top ten U.S. agencies accounted for $471 million dollars (including both paid and organic search).

4.     SEO isn’t the only industry dependent on another.

Ryan said, “it’s become plain to me that SEOs make their living off the ecosystem built by Google. They have a right to expect more” --  but I disagree. When I first graduated from college, I lived in the Washington, D.C. area, and many employers there are defense contractors. My first job was working as a designer and editor for a defense contractor.

In 1995, there was a government shutdown. Congress couldn’t agree to a budget, so the government just shut down. When you work for a defense contractor, your company’s revenue comes from the Department of Defense. No Department of Defense funding = no job. Workers at defense contractors lost their jobs or were furloughed without pay. I remember thinking back then that I would never again work for an industry so dependent on another industry.

But frankly, that’s not realistic. It’s not how our economy works. Every industry is dependent on others. Home improvement stores are dependent on good housing markets. Sales of SUVs at car dealerships are directly proportional to gas prices. No matter what the industry, we are all dependent on other industries. And without warning, at any time, fluctuations and changes in one industry affect another. As businesses, we have to learn to adapt.

5.     Google doesn’t need SEOs to rank good content.

Ryan also said, “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.”

Google DOES NOT need SEOs to find good content for them. In fact, many of Google’s updates, like the recent “over optimization” update with Panda, are designed to get rid of terrible content that rises to the top because of poor SEO execution, spammy techniques or overabundance of duplicate content.

In the end, we should all, albeit sometimes begrudgingly, embrace Google and its changes. Without Google (and other engines), what would you be doing right now? The beauty of SEO is its constant change – the constant challenge. It keeps our industry innovating and forces us to create better websites. Embrace it!

15 comments about "Dear SEOs: Google Owes You Nothing".
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  1. David Carlick from Carlick, May 8, 2012 at 5:20 p.m.

    To say Google doesn't need SEO to get content is like saying the press doesn't need PR agencies.

  2. Janet Driscoll miller from Search Mojo, May 8, 2012 at 5:30 p.m.

    David, the press doesn't need PR agencies. Ask any member of the press. :) (caveat: I used to work in PR.)

  3. Jon Mensing from Search Marketing Solutions, May 8, 2012 at 5:38 p.m.

    Well put, Janet. I found myself nodding all the way through your piece.

    I think Ryan truly demonstrated that he is missing the point with this statement:

    "...we have accepted the responsibility of indicating which sites and content we believe are most important for a given query."

    Google's point is that THEY are the deciders of which content is most important because THEY are the search engine more users turn to than any other. It is Google's goal to serve up the most relevant results for their users to keep them coming back, stay in business and producing profits for their employees and share holders.

    Google does not want to favor Ryan's client's site over that of other deserving content from a company that might not have a linkbuilder on staff.

  4. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, May 8, 2012 at 5:39 p.m.

    Overall, I agree with your thoughts and comments. I own and is in the highly competitive field of online sweepstakes publishing. The holy grail SEO keyword is "sweepstakes". There are usually 5.1 million pages to nearly 6 million pages per month for this one key word. Sweepstakes Today is number two in the rankings and I strongly feel I should be giving back my number one spot again. Well I am going to have to earn it.

    You earn it, not win it.

    With that said, I had to change things to keep me on the front page and above the fold. I did so not with the help of a SEO company but pure creativity. I will not say what, but it was fair, honest and did cost money. Lots of money.

    I suggest to the complainer(s) to start to think creatively to deal with Panda. Or, go to put your resume in doing something else.

    Craig McDaniel, President
    aka - Mr. Sweepy

  5. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, May 8, 2012 at 5:49 p.m.

    Last point, the Google Panda program disallowed me from buying keywords on Google Adwords. Adwords say they are their "own company now".

    I was spending a more than a fair amount of daily money in Adwords but not anymore. Some dude from India said that I had to even take down my Adsense banners when I sought the approval from Adsense 5 years ago. Adsense will not say a word about this...

    I told Mr. Punjab to save face and that Adsense was the ones who aboved the ads locations including the sponsors who work with me directly.

    In short, Microsoft Adcenter is actually out proforming Google on a cost per click basis anyway. Punjab did me a favor and I didn't take down anymore banners.

    Take the moral high ground and you will be better off.

  6. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 8, 2012 at 6:06 p.m.

    There needs to be a balance, always a balance. Because of the size of Google, there must be some type of regulations you experts can work on. That said, it doesn't mean Google shouldn't be appreciated for what it has accomplished and shares and entitled to be a business. Balance, baby, balance.

  7. Miroslav Varga from Escape, May 9, 2012 at 2:28 a.m.

    Hi Janett,

    I agree with every line you wrote.

  8. Kevin Pike from Kevin Pike, May 9, 2012 at 12:20 p.m.


    Suggesting SEO's think Google owes them something is inaccurate. As an SEO, the first thing you learn is Google owes you NOTHING. If you don't know that you don't know SEO or the people who a devoted to it.

    That said, we do expect is Google to produce good search results. Not for us, but for its users. On this front, Google has slipped up recently. A bit with GWT unnatural link messages, the Penguin update, and bit with some actual bugs they admitted to.

    Maybe it's because I'm sitting in the SEO chair, but I honestly don't get why the PR push is so Anti-SEO.

    My view is the real story should be Google's results are getting crappier and they are making mistakes. They keep down this path, and they could put themselves at risk to lose search market share.

    YES - SPAM, paid links, crappy content are all bad. However, it appears Google needs some more time sort out its own algorithm issues it created from being a bit overzealous.

    Do you want Google sending you a GWT message that says your sites has unnatural links when you have not tried to develop any links at all?

  9. Thomas Pick from Webbiquity LLC, May 9, 2012 at 5:43 p.m.

    The point is to optimize for your prospective site visitors - not for Google or any search engine. If you've created the best possible page for visitors searching for "electric blue thingamabobs" (or whatever), then that page should rank #1 - if Google is doing its job. It doesn't owe SEOs anything, but it does "owe" searchers the best possible result. And if it doesn't deliver, as Kevin notes, searchers will ultimately take their searching elsewhere.

  10. Ryan DeShazer from GSW Worldwide, May 10, 2012 at 9:21 a.m.

    Janet - thanks for presenting your thoughts on this. This discussion can be whittled down to one question - do you believe that white hat SEOs have delivered any value at all to Google over the years. If the answer is yes, then we have the right to ask for something/anything in return. That something can be Google Webmaster Tools in its current state, and nothing more. But it wouldn't be outrageous to expect something in return. I think the fact that Matt Cutts and Duane Forrester are so visible across the SEO community is an indication that both Google and Bing "get" the value we provide.

    If the answer is "no," you don't believe SEOs have provided any value to Google/Bing (as you seem to indicate with #5 above) -- then all we've done for the past 20'ish years is manipulate search results for the benefit of our companies and clients. That sounds dangerously similar to spamming, even if it's been done in accordance to Google's guidelines.

  11. Frank Reed from Marketing Pilgrim, May 10, 2012 at 10:08 a.m.

    So Ryan, you have agreed wholeheartedly that every client you have worked for was the absolute best at what they did and they were the only option for top rankings in Google? You must have an impressive sales team. As an SEO you DO manipulate search results. Your option may not be the absolute best one but someone has to be "the best". SEO is advertising and advertising is manipulation. If you haven't reconciled that on some level then you aren't paying attention. To think that SEO's are out there for the "greater good" is a little odd. The are in it for the money and in the process they try not to sell their soul (too much).

  12. Frank Reed from Marketing Pilgrim, May 10, 2012 at 10:35 a.m.

    A quick clarification. Manipulation has negative connotation for sure but not all manipulation is negative. I can be used for bad but people often NEED to be manipulated to even make a decision.

  13. Ryan DeShazer from GSW Worldwide, May 10, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.

    Frank - I'm not delusional in my assessment of the industry. I don't think SEOs occupy some pristine place in society. I understand that rankings are manipulated by SEOs, and that's the attractiveness in hiring an agency or in-house person to tackle it. I get it.

    My counter here is with those who say that Google doesn't need SEOs to find and rank the most relevant content. My position is that we've studied how Googlebot discovers and crawls content, and we've made its job as easy as possible. We've done so to place our sites in the best positions possible to "win" keyword rankings, true, but I think that process has provided at least some value to Google too.

  14. David Engel from Mobile+Positive, May 10, 2012 at 7:03 p.m.

    SEO should focus more on creating compelling content that organically gets passed around via social, blogs, PR and yes--ultimately--search. Content should be so compelling that it earns you plenty of direct & referral traffic outside of Google.

  15. Rob Garner from Author of "Search and Social: The Definitive Guide to Real-Time Content Marketing Wiley/Sybex 2013, May 11, 2012 at 4:59 p.m.

    First off, I thought Danny's article was a great reminder and warning of what can happen with a non-sustainable search strategy, and well-written and detailed as always. Rest assured it will be repeated again and again by Danny, myself, and others, as so many new people are getting into search, and haven't considered this yet.

    If you have ever helped a company get found for its own unique name or keywords that were previously invisible, then you have likely helped many search users who were looking for this content, when a search engine could not. It's an external usability issue, not gaming the search engines, or manipulation. When white-hat SEOs help searchers satisfy search intent, they also help the search engines by default. I know that *good* SEO has helped me find content as a searcher, countless times. It is about being found, when the content could not previously be found at all, amidst a sea of other irrelevant results. Apart from the "owe" word, I'm surprised that people are taking issue with Ryan's assertion that white-hat SEOs who strive towards increasing relevancy deliver a certain value in this area.

    Ryan is also correct that search evangelists - paid, natural, social, etc. - have helped grow awareness of the industry and its value, especially to the marketers and advertisers who spend billions with the engines. This is a fact. I still also wholeheartedly agree with Danny as well. As a business, Google doesn't owe anybody anything at all. I've written that exact sentiment many times in this column. But this statement, along with Ryan's, can actually co-exist as a subject of reasonable debate. No matter how you look at it, Google will have to continue a dialogue with its customers, who spend money on PPC, and also have a white-hat and relevant natural search presence worth protecting as well. The people at Google know this better than anybody.

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