I'm not a Google hater. In fact I have no real problems with Google other than the standard fare. I don't always agree with what they do and they, at times, appear to be quite hypocritical. Many would simply chalk that up to big-business. But Google's no Enron, at least not yet. My only real problem is that Google tends to talk out of both sides of its proverbial mouth, and expects the SEO community to take them at face value. But we really can't anymore.

I had an alternate title for this post: "Ask not what Google can do for you, but what you can do for Google". We're moving into a new age where we have to pay closer attention what Google does -- despite what Google says.

I smell deceit in the air

If I asked you to tell me the biggest lie perpetuated in the SEO industry, what would you say? Now before you answer, notice I didn't say "biggest lie perpetuated by SEO's". Sure there are plenty of those, whether deliberate or out of ignorance, but none reach the status of being one of the greatest all-time self-serving lies of all time when it comes to SEO. A lie, which many have bought into, but has very recently been exposed for what it is. And here it is:

Another useful test is to ask, "Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn't exist?"

That quote is pulled directly from Google's Webmaster Guidelines, and it's great advice. Unfortunately, Google has shown that, as much as we may want, we really can't build websites for "users" alone. And if search engines did not exist, websites would be developed differently than they are today.

This particular lie was exposed very recently when Google fired a warning shot across the bow of many high-profile sites by lowering their toolbar PageRank. This was in response to an update to their help center discussing their policy on paid links.

Not all paid links violate our guidelines. Buying and selling links is a normal part of the economy of the web when done for advertising purposes, and not for manipulation of search results. Links purchased for advertising should be designated as such. This can be done in several ways, such as:

  • Adding a rel="nofollow" attribute to the < a > tag
  • Redirecting the links to an intermediate page that is blocked from search engines with a robots.txt file

You'll notice that both of the solutions Google provides for disclosing paid links have nothing to do with the site visitor. In fact, neither solution does anything to benefit the user or even informs them that you've used paid links. No, these solutions benefit someone, but it's not the website visitor. That's quite the contradiction from their longstanding rule of doing things to your site for users rather than the search engines.

Turn to the left and cough twice

And therein is the great SEO lie that Google has been kind enough to expose for us. Google says that you shouldn't make changes to your site solely for search engines. However, they are more than happy—neigh, they demand—that you make changes that fill in for their own algorithmic shortcomings. Changes that would never be made if we based it on the answer to the question, "Does this help my users?"

Welcome to a new SEO generation, where Google has us by the, uh, well, you know. In the past, webmasters have been the ones in the drivers seat, manipulating Google and other search engines to give us the results we want. That manipulation has now become a two player game. We're still free to ask what Google can do for us, but don't be surprised when Google demands we give a little back. And that they are more than willing to squeeze their grip a tad bit if that's what it takes to get our attention.

The cat is out. The lie has been exposed. I can live with that, but let's not continue to pretend that it's only users that matter anymore. Google has made it clear that Google matters. And Google cares about themselves far more than they care about their users. The only thing left to do is for Google to stop pretending otherwise. They do that and a little tug here and there won't be so uncomfortable.

November 6, 2007

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Great post! I have been thinking the exact same thing for awhile. I am sure they will come up with some way of making it not sound like such a lie. Watch they will change the webmaster guidelines asap to make sure that line is taken out.

Bravo. Exactly what I'd been thinking ever since the first time paid links and rel=nofollow were uttered in the same breath.

Thanks for saying what so many people have been thinking over the last few weeks.

I think Big G need to revisit their webmaster guidelines and add a caveat:

"Make pages for users, not for search engines. Well apart from us, obviously. Let's face it, we're the head honchos and what we say goes, chummy"

...I tend to agree with Google's policy. If you have to buy links to get people to link to you, then I think that search engines should take those purchased links into mind.

J, it's hypocritical for a company selling literally $B in text links to tell others they have to do anything especially when it includes redirects. That is Google's job, it is of their own doing and not anyone else's responsibility to fix, particularly, if that impedes their ability to monetize their site.

I understand Google's position however one has to also consider that there are a number of sites monetized using this method. In the early days the biggest problem for most information sites was finding a way to monetize the traffic. I admit Google deserves to be rewarded for this, however, if that limits the ability of a publisher to monetize his site then this becomes a lop sided alternative.

IMO, it is not a stretch to argue that this campaign by G against paid links is akin to Microsofts leveraging of it's position as dominant OS ... and we all know how that ended! Is what G doing any different afterall, it's not like these paid links came along after G wrote the algo that changed search.:-)

I do agree the proliferation of directories doing this is a result but... they are laughable as you can almost read between the lines on their site that they are selling links by the pound so... not hard to just ignore.

What Google really wants is for everyone selling advertising links to join AdSense. A close look at the SERPs could raise an eyebrow considering the proliferation of sites sporting AdSense. In fact I told a directory, that formerly placed, that I wouldn't be surprised if the fastest way to the top for them would be to drop their paid links and join AdSense.

AFAIK, rel is also a non-compliant attribute of the href element, so basically any page using it is not going to pass a lint check. I have seen no effort by the SE's to seek the W3C's assistance in managing this since as the "keepers of the HTML spec" they should manage this not some SE's that have demonstrated by the Robots tag and txt that they do what suits them with absolutely no regard for those of us implementing these tags and files.


You and most of the SEO world make a big mistake when talking about Google’s latest move. It is not "hypocritical" it is monopolizing the market! I know many of you will say “Google has the right to decide what goes in their index”, well they did, BUT they do not now!!!!! They control 60% of the search market. It is one of those things you lose when you grow too big. Simply compare it to Microsoft, they do NOT have the right to bundle whatever they want into their operating system. Why? Simply because they control the market!
You want proof? The fact that every web site owner is now changing their underwear because of the latest PageRank update shows how much power Google really has and when you combine it with their control of the “Ad sense” market, MONOPOLY! Let me lay it out in a simpler way
*Google: 30%-40% of our revenues are from Ad sense.

*Web site owners to Google: “Google, we don’t want to share revenue with you, but would rather sell our own ads.”

*Google: &^%$ (pick any 4 letter word) you!!!!! We will force you to use our revenue sharing system and if you don’t – NO TRAFFIC.

*****Google has become the TRAFFIC NAZIS!****

True, so true... Good stuff keep em on their toes!

Please tell me more about "the latest PageRank update"

I think Google is not good enough in the term of providing best information to their users. The thing is how do we know that the vote in the form of links means that the service that the website is providing is trustworthy. Do you see my point? I think the better solution is to have the users vote the old fashion ways too, not just the link back that matters for the vote.

May be Google should add some script to ask people for "do you like this site?" or "what do you think about this service?" I think this is the best way people can participate in the voting to help the site ranking if the site is really helpful or the service is a trustworthy and worth paying to the website.

Google, well they don't provide the best search results. This is evident.

@Kalman: It's called a monopoly. Microsoft were taken to task for this, shouldn't Google also?

@Terry: Again, it's a monopoly. Sad, but true. The option is still there to not use them as a possible provider. Just remove the Google Bot from crawling your site with the robots.txt file, easy. Ah, but then again if I did that I would lose some 99% of all search engine traffic to my website. I have to like it or lump it.

@Mike: Spot on!

Google break their own guidelines all the time. But as I've said before, if you set the rules you can change them bend them or even break them. I don't see how rel="nofollow" will ever aid my visitors. A "sponsors" or "ads" title above my ads may do. In much the same way the Google Ads are shown now. Fair enough. But then again shouldn't design, look and feel and the strength of link flow be up to me... It's my site!

What seems odd to me is that you are surprised (and disappointed?) from the so called hypocrisy by google. I'm taking google's side on this one, as I think they didn't really deceive or lie to anyone, and all the quotations from their guidelines seem reasonable to me.

Google is a business. A business that does try to develop quality products and give good service, so visitors will find google reliable and click on their ads. Their main aim is to satisfy their visitors' needs by giving relevant results. In this case, there is an alignment between their business goals and the goals of the "public". And we must realize that old school SEOs work against this shared goal.

"You'll notice that both of the solutions Google provides for disclosing paid links have nothing to do with the site visitor" If they WOULD be deceiving us, they would NOT release this info, and punish all those who try and manipulate the results by buying tons of non-ad links without the real content to back it up. It would make for more relevant results.

When you write "you make changes that fill in for their own algorithmic shortcomings" you make it sound like google are too lazy to make the perfect algorithm... I don't get this.
We all want to make the google algorithm give us a high score, but you're complaining that they give you guidelines on how to do that...?
It seems to me that, by helping google and conforming with their technical requirements, you ARE helping the visitors who come to your site via google.
It's gotten to a point where webmaster who complies with google's requirements is more likely to get a better ranking score than someone trying to manipulate the results, and let's face it, usage of manipulation methods only without real good content is working less and less.

Regarding traffic and google products: G use all the tools at their disposal to determine on the widest spectrum which pages are relevant. Tools that they provide for free such as Gmail, adwords, analytics, maps, documents etc.
It's true that all these are sort of advertising platforms, by-products of the search engine, and contribute to their dominance in the market.
But I don't believe that if your page is relevant, G will disregard you if you don't have adwords on your site.

You can certainly complain about google being too powerful or about the flaws in their products, but I didn't really find any lies here...

Jonathan, I think you're reading too much into my comments. I'm simply pointing out that Google says to do one thing (when it suites them) and then demands we do another (when it suits them). That is basic hypocrisy. Google has every right to be hypocritical. They have every right to do what they want with their algorithm. Nobody is saying otherwise. Nor do I disagree that SEO is very much about manipulating the algorithm. I just find it odd that Google doesn't want people doing that until they can't quite figure out a way to make their algorithm work.

Hi Google Haters,

I have to say that you all hate Google. You hate it, because it does not give you enough visitors. You hate it, but 99 percent of your visitors comes through Google. Your hate makes you blind.

You can see the tree but can't see the forest. The tree is Google and the forest are the visitors. The visitors are not computers. They decide everything!!!

If 99% of the visits comes through Google, then 99% of surfer uses Google. Doesn't matter what do you think about Google. The People chosen Google and "Fifnito".

Google tries to show you the forest, but you just don't want to listen. The ones who understood this are the winners and you Google haters are the loosers.

Google tells you, to make websites to be more understandable for search engines.
-Because Google want's to make sure that the search results are accurate.
-For whom?
-For the searchers!!!

For example Me. I'm a intermediate level SEO and webmaster, still learning. But my site goes well on Google, 'cause i have original contentand following G's rules. Why? To se the forest, because today the forest comes through Google.

If MSN will be the best search engine today, you will hate MSN.

So try to see the forest! I did not want to hurt none of you Guys, just want to help you....


Comments closed after 30 days to combat spam.

Search Engine Guide > Stoney deGeyter > The Great SEO Lie Exposed