What Google (Search) Wants!

by Jeff Quipp November 19th, 2007 

Google's been very very busy lately, devaluing Page Rank, penalizing those who buy and sell paid links, and those who engage in PayPerPost. I think in attempting to justify their actions, we can all surmize that Google is acting in its own best interest ... and rightfully so. That said, hostility toward Google seems rampant and growing.

So who's right, and why has Google chosen the path its following? Many of us think we intuitively understand, but do we really? Accordingly, in this post, I imagine that I have Mel Gibson's skills (from the movie "What Women Want") of being able to hear whatever Matt Cutts and his superiors are thinking, even when they are saying something different! If we can then interpret and understand these motivations, we can then attempt to understand Google's current and potential future actions better with respect to Page Rank and penalties.

What follows below then is my analysis of "What Google (Search) Wants" ... visa vi my imaginary conversation with Matt Cutts ... Google spam fighter extrordinaire.

What Google Wants

This is how the conversation might go:

Question #1:
Jeff (Me) - given your role in Google as the anti-spam superhero, what does Google (Search) want, and lets forgo all the high level stuff (ie. revenue growth, profitability, market expectations, etc.) and get right to your operational tactics for search?

Matt (What he says) - Jeff, ultimately we want the best search results (paid and organic) amongst all competitive choices. We don't want people circumventing our terms of service, buying links, other otherwise attempting to artificially inflate their rankings. We want the top search results to be the most relevant.

Matt (What he's thinking) - Damn ... where do I start? OK, well I guess with; I'm scared as hell. We're in a really difficult predicament (no really) ... when you're already so dominant at the top, there's almost nowhere to go but down. At the same time, our size makes us the logical target of many spammers. That said, a big part of our strategy HAS TO BE, to entrench and protect existing revenue streams. Since organic search is our loss leader so to speak, and the driving force behind our paid search revenues (we know all too well that a given % of all organic traffic will click on paid results ... so the more traffic through organic search, the higher our paid search revenues will be), it means ensuring that our organic search results are the best.

The metric we use to assess 'the best' in terms of organic search results can be no other than 'RELIABILITY', meaning what % of the time that users perform searches on Google versus Yellow Pages, MSN, Yahoo, Ask, etc., do they find precisely what they're looking for?

For example, if someone found exactly what they were looking for 100% of the time they searched Google, they would never have reason to search elsewhere ... right? Absolutely!

Question #2:
Jeff - Interesting Matt. So, how do you propose to ensure that people do not buy or sell links, or otherwise attempt to artificially inflate their rankings?

Matt (What he says) - We penalize any wrong-doers. We're removing/reducing the all important Page Rank from sites that buy and sell links. Sites that do not utilize nofollow tags, are having their ability to pass link juice confiscated, and we're also removing Page Rank from those sites engaging in PayPerPost type solutions.

Matt (What he's thinking) - We want you to think we're penalizing wrong-doers, but in reality, we're messing with their minds. Perhaps this needs a little more explanation.

Essentially, there are 3 Key Success Factors for Search These are the 3 component levers that we at Google can wield to improve overall reliability? While we can make this super complex, I'll oversimplify and argue there are really only 3:

1) the first lever is Completeness of Information - essentially this means, the percentage of known information, that is indexed. Imagine, if every single bit of human knowledge was indexed, and each interpretation too, then 'ease of use' and 'relevance' would be the only levers. To explain this differently, 2 years ago we worked with the Yellow Pages Group (there's only 1 Yellow Pages publisher) in Canada to create indexable pages for each and every business account in their database. The goal was simply to increase the completeness of our Google Database for terms we knew people were searched for frequently (ie. business names, and especially those without web sites). Completeness is also why we've been engaging in Google Universal ... providing images, videos, maps, etc. in the search results.

2) the second lever is Ease of Use of Interface - just how it sounds. We ask; is the interface intuitive, fast, meaningful, and friendly? Many would argue the simplicity of our interface initially was a big part of the reason for our success ... did I tell you our stock is above $700 now, and I own lots? Apologies ... I digressed there.

3) our third lever is the Relevance of Results - aka the ordering of the results. It doesn't really matter if the information you're looking for has been indexed, if it can't be found. Accordingly, this is probably one of the most important differentiators amongst search engines given the size of the search databases. We at Google obviously need the most relevant search results to appear first, which helps to explain why we've been so busy with concepts like personalization.

So in summary, these three levers guide many of our spam fighting decisions. If we get too aggressive in penalizing/banning sites then we only hurt ourselves by negatively impacting our completeness and/or relevance. People then find what they're looking for less frequently, and may resort to using a different engine.

Accordingly, we need to find ways to either
a) make people think they've been penalized for engaging in said tactics
b) limit the abilities of those engaging in said tactics by removing their ability to pass link juice.

Jeff - What Don't You want Us to Know Matt?

Matt (What he says) - Nothing Jeff. There's nothing I don't want you to know, other than the precise inner-workings of our algorithms.

Matt (What he's thinking) - Hmmmmm ... let's see. I definitely don't want you to know that:

a) we have more 'patience' with large companies than small mom and pop shops. Large companies are brands, and those brands are searched for frequently. Its really important for us to have superior results for terms that are searched for frequently. A certain margin of error is acceptable for more rarely requested queries.

Slap on Wrist Cartoon

b) we don't really want to penalize, but rather have you believe that you're being penalized for specific behaviours ... thus the recent Page Rank tinkering.

c) we want you to be paranoid about the possibility of paying for links, that pass no link juice. The more paranoid you are en mass, the less we actually have to make changes to our algorithms and filters.

d) we want you to think that Wikipedia's nofollow links are passing no link juice .... hehe

Jeff - Matt, I'd really like to thank you for taking the time to participate in this imaginary conversation today. I've really wanted to engage you in some dialogue for quite some time, but of course can never get near you at conferences due your SEO posse. Perhaps in Las Vegas huh?

Again, for those of you not paying attention ... this was an imaginary conversation, that discovered some real possibilities!

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12 Responses to “What Google (Search) Wants!”

  1. Nick James says:

    Great idea, Jeff. I think you've hit the nail on the head with regards to Google's recent actions (although this is conjecture on both our parts). But until the big G actually comes up with some explanations instead of engaging in these guerrilla tactics, I think they're laying themselves wide open to as much bashing and conjecture as can be thrown at them. Now would be the ideal time for a serious contender to the crown to enter the ring. Sadly, the chances of that happening seems further away than ever.
    Great article.

  2. BristolSEO says:

    Jeff – (What he thinks) Now if only I could continue to mind melt with Matt and the enclave at Live and Yahoo search to improve their results rather than allowing them to turn into micro governments.

  3. Jeff Quipp says:

    @ Nick – thanks for the comment Nick! Actually, I'm kinda sympathetic to Google. If they're as transparent as we all want, then they'll have to issue more real panalties, and those negatively impact the quality of their results. They're walking a very fine line!

    @ Phil – ABSOLUTELY! Live and Yahoo are still missing the point, but we need them to get it. Google was successful because they focused on users first knowing advertisers would necessarily follow. I'm still not convinced that Yahoo and Live understand that.

  4. richsage says:

    I agree… Google has been acting as the BIG DADDY all these years… as the other competitors are all way behind Google in reach and penetration

  5. I've seen this Jeff Quip guy all over people's MyBlogLog bar, finally found your site.

    Insightful post. I think you have it spot on.

  6. Jeff Quipp says:

    @ Richsage – yeah, they're way behind. That is a testament to Google's forsight though. While Yahoo and MSN were focused on squeezing every nickel out of advertisers, Google smartly catered to users knowing advertisers would have to follow. It was brilliant really!

    @ Dave Hopkins – I do read many many blogs. Thanks for stumbling, commenting, and tracking me down.

  7. I think your on to something with this one Jeff. After you perfect the telepathy thing, maybe you can work on the Jedi Mind Trick and take a more active role on behalf of the SEO community (Puppermaster Style)in regard to Google and their upper management.

  8. Google no longer has the best search results as many on Sphinn have pointed out. You can argue that they have a huge index but does it matter that they may have billions of pages indexed when maybe we only go 4 or 5 or 10 shall we say pages deep in any search before trying another keyword or phrase?
    Google became the best because they had a system to rank webpages, thats all. Now that they treat sites differently and webmasters are up in arms, it's only a matter of time before Google becomes the AOL of search engines. I think they are smart though and will adjust before it's too late but mark my words once people get over any myth that any one search engine is the end all of all search engines, competitors will be popping up that can overtake them. Maybe its being created in some 18 year old kids garage right now.
    On the no-follow crap just imagine BMW or Mercedes telling their owners that from this point on anyone driving a Mercedes or BMW must always must always be in a 3 piece suite or they will lower their maintenance contract to supplying the owners with almost nothing.
    Don't know about you but the arrogance is ridiculous to me and when I'm told I must do this or that by any company, I go the other way. On my own blog I just discovered that wordpress does that no-follow crap on messages. As soon as I find that plugin or tell one of my webmasters to cut that out, it's done.
    There's a great book called the Myth of Market Share. Any company that starts to tell it's users or customers how to do anything, that is the beginning of the end of that company's dominant market share, unless it is a government enforced monopoly. This has always been the case and always will. Nothing lasts forever my friends and in no time you will all be talking about ( in 3 or 4 years) how to do better in the next search engine giant's listings.
    On what Matt is thinking, that is brilliant and right on the money I think. Google could always hide pagerank from this point on, as a revolutionary step for them, but I doubt it. When on top those who are there will do anything to stay there, even violate their own ethics and policies so that they stay there.

  9. Aerosmith says:

    I think Google is doing the same thing which they have to. There are some limitations to users but that’s the need. Also, I think lots of other businesses are on the same way as Google. Every search engine will like to act as Google. What they are actually, a technology, If others have the same they can also take advantages like Google. That may take some time but then It can change whole scenario. I suppose others are just waiting for god opportunity to come up. They are also able but I think they don’t have resources like Google. Who cares, I just think is Google did a intelligent thing and shown a good business way to others.

  10. […] Seriously, I’d try my best to continue on the path he’s on. As I mentioned in my post on What Google Wants, Matt has to tow the company line, otherwise the wheels begin to fall off the proverbial Google […]

  11. that's the benefit of being the biggest giant. like it or not, we just got to follow google, as most of the internet users use it as their search engine. sadly enough..