Darth-Google and the Dark Side of the Force Penalty

by Dev Basu January 3rd, 2008 

Credit: TechRepublic

2008: The Year Of More SERP Massacre?

The 950, 30 and more recently the -6. No I'm not talking about the latest Tony Hawk skating manouevre, but rather the ominious penalties Google has smited webmasters with in 2007. Now even the Sith have a heart (albeit a very cold one), but seemingly, Google did not refrain from massacring the SERPs for 'quality' and 'relevant' websites even in the heart of the holiday season.

As reported by Tedster at the WebMasterWorld forum, Google has implemented what seems to be a penalty knocking down Tier 1 keywords for relevant and well established websites from premier #1 and #2 ranking to #6. That's around the middle of the page and below the fold folks! And incidently, that #6 position is also the last sponsored search result along the right sidebard. Methinks I smell an ulterior motive here...

Credit: Ckelty

Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt

Yes this record has already been played over and over to boredom, but really, why is Google playing the industry like a set of dominos? Power, Position, and Prowress apart, Google's in it for the sheer revenue. With Google buzz about the air for all the wrong reasons, businesses are jumping on the bandwagon of hypocritical corporate promises such as "better quality score algorithms thats save advertisers money", "search results that rely purely on relevancy". As an SEM it is disappointing to see gullible individuals having to spend more money on Adwords when they sign-up in order to 'save more later' due to an improved quality score, or to see fellow webmasters frustrated with Google's stance on paid linking.

That said, is the dark side of search really going to dictate the work and incomes of businesses and servicing SEM agencies alike? Let's take a closer look at what Google's corporate philosophy states (with my emphasis) :

Credit: Daniel Starrason

You can make money without doing evil.

Google is a business. The revenue the company generates is derived from offering its search technology to companies and from the sale of advertising displayed on Google and on other sites across the web. However, you may have never seen an ad on Google. That's because Google does not allow ads to be displayed on our results pages unless they're relevant to the results page on which they're shown. So, only certain searches produce sponsored links above or to the right of the results. Google firmly believes that ads can provide useful information if, and only if, they are relevant to what you wish to find.

Google has also proven that advertising can be effective without being flashy. Google does not accept pop-up advertising, which interferes with your ability to see the content you've requested. We've found that text ads (AdWords) that are relevant to the person reading them draw much higher clickthrough rates than ads appearing randomly. Google's maximization group works with advertisers to improve clickthrough rates over the life of a campaign, because high clickthrough rates are an indication that ads are relevant to a user's interests. Any advertiser, no matter how small or how large, can take advantage of this highly targeted medium, whether through our self-service advertising program that puts ads online within minutes, or with the assistance of a Google advertising representative.

Advertising on Google is always clearly identified as a "Sponsored Link." It is a core value for Google that there be no compromising of the integrity of our results. We never manipulate rankings to put our partners higher in our search results. No one can buy better PageRank. Our users trust Google's objectivity and no short-term gain could ever justify breaching that trust.

Thousands of advertisers use our Google AdWords program to promote their products; we believe AdWords is the largest program of its kind. In addition, thousands of web site managers take advantage of our Google AdSense program to deliver ads relevant to the content on their sites, improving their ability to generate revenue and enhancing the experience for their users.

  1. Adwords is Google's biggest Cash Cow - Any advertiser can setup a sponsored advertisement, but can they sustain results from it? CTR, Ad Copy, and Landing Pages are the biggest factors, but why does Google make it unaffordable for small businesses to sustain their pay-per-click campaigns due to blown budgets, all for the sake of a good quality score (that promises to save money *later*)
  2. Adsense is a Poor Man's Bread Winner - Yes many adsense publishers have made fortunes from the program in the past, but with the introduction of smart pricing, where has that ability to improve revenue generation gone?

Living in Canada, I wholeheartedly accept our Capitalist mixed market economy (which is typical of most countries in the world these days). I pay my taxes, work for a living, and believe in the right to generate a profit from leveraging my intellectual property, time and effort. Perhaps the last mandate of Google's corporate philosophy is what irks me most:

Credit: Dawpa2000

Great just isn't good enough.

Always deliver more than expected. Google does not accept being the best as an endpoint, but a starting point. Through innovation and iteration, Google takes something that works well and improves upon it in unexpected ways. (contd.)

As an active member of the search marketing community, I see Google striving to make an honest dollar (or a couple of million), but what's penned on paper does not translate to real life effectively.

There is no justice when one cannot rank for one's own name. There is no justice when weeks (and perhaps years) of hard work are lost due to an algorithm shift that makes little sense. There is no justice when the biggest game in town doesn't play fair to the very people that are feeding its belly.

This industry depends on Google to a very large extent. From a technical and usability standpoint, I support and look forward to new Google contributions to enhancing search technology. But this appreciation aside, it is frustrating to explain to a long term client why their main 'money' keyword dropped from #1 to #6, all because of a big brother that likes flexing its muscles every now and then. I would certainly like to hear more from our readers as to how they see Google's nefarious activities proceeding in 2008.

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6 Responses to “Darth-Google and the Dark Side of the Force Penalty”

  1. theGypsy says:

    Now now… watch it with that minus whatever stuff… I am gonna have to rope ya and tie it off to my pick up ( just an Ontario country yahoo hear)

    I went along with this when Brett and co tried to tie PaIR (phrase based indexing and retrieval) back in Feb of 06 when they were playin the -900 game…

    Now they are throwing PaIR and UPMs (user performance metrics) at it this time around although there is much evidence PaIR evolved and I don’t see really how such methodologies would explain the isolated inferences going on in the thread.

    If ya'll ain't read my rant to the matter… please do bro… he he… a little spice in the mix.

    Oh and for the record, they can do what they please, it is MY choice to work in that space since that's the engine clients want to be in… he he…


  2. I bet this is more of filter than penalty. To get penalties you usually have to be doing something wrong wouldn't you think?

  3. Eloi says:

    If you don't like the way Google works, then stop working with Google. Oh no, wait, you can't, your clients want visibility on there too… Oh well, you're going to have to comply then.

    there are billions of websites out there, and an additional 10 000 every day, of course your rankings are going to change! If they didnt, your clients would have no reason to pay you!

  4. Dev Basu says:

    I love the comments that come in from any good rant! Well let's address your concerns then :)

    @Jaan – There's always something fishy about how Google chooses the particular demerit points for a website. #6 is smack in the middle of the page, and below the fold and as per CTR data it is also one of the lowest clicked results on the SERPs. Hence, while this may just blow over to be some sort of glitch, I'm inclined to believe it is some sort of minor penalty (that's just my opinion of course)

    @Eloi – It's ironic how Google's philosophies include the heading "You Can Make Money Without Doing Evil". Sure you can, as long as your corporate philosophy is in line with it. For example, the mafia are clear about what they do – there's no wolf in sheep's skin hiding there. What irks me is that Google does not follow its own corporate philosophies. This hypocrisy creates antagonism that is clearly visible in our industry, and it is worth speaking up about.

    This isn't about SERPs or the Google Dance. I know how many websites are competing for any given term and that as SEO's we can only affect SERPs and not control them. This is about Google strategically mistreating websites that follow its very own policies.

  5. Greg Meyers says:

    Great article. I love the topic and you make great point! Rock on!

  6. Great article man, you summarized some of the things I hate most about google and managed to do so without any profanity. The adsense/adwords part of google is what worries me the most. Google is supposed to be about doing no evil and being open, yet they do their best to leverage as much money out of you as they can with adwords, and pay out as little as possible with adwords. If smart pricing and insane adwords pricing continues I have no doubt they will be quashed by the competition.