It’s hard not to write about Google. After all, as an SEO in the UK, Google is your entire playing field. Recent Hitwise numbers once again confirmed Google as the biggest player in search, with over 90% marketshare in the UK. Thus it’s not unwise for a search professional to cultivate a (un)healthy obsession with the big G.
I do seem to find myself criticising Google more often than not. Perhaps when I first began to voice my criticisms of Google, I felt the need to compensate for what I perceived to be a general lack of critical perspectives on what Google does (and doesn’t) do. There were a few exceptions, but mostly it seemed that for a long time people in our industry were trying hard to become Matt Cutts’s new BFF, complete with Webmaster Video cameos and direct phone lines in to the Googleplex.
Recently this trend seems to have reversed and now search professionals everywhere seem to be playing a one-upmanship game of who can be the loudest and most vicious Google critic. I’m not sure that’s a commendable trend, to be honest.
It might surprise some people, but my critical stance towards Google is not born out of animosity, but out of love. I love Google. I love what they’ve done for search, and online marketing in general. Google’s tools have made me a very happy man. I can’t imagine doing the job I do today without Google.
It’s exactly because I love Google that I criticise them so often and so vehemently. I want Google to be right, to do good, to be the shining beacon of corporate light that our world so desperately needs. Maybe those expectations are unrealistic, but a lack of realism has never stopped me before. I embrace my idealism wholeheartedly.
It is because of this genuine love for Google that the insights in to how the search giant operates, courtesy of Stephen Levy’s most excellent In The Plex, disturb me so much. Because it appears that below the surface of the benevolent search giant, Google is a company deeply confused about itself. It seems Google doesn’t really know what it wants to be, nor how it can get there.
This confusion is expressed externally in many different ways that are easy to spot, once you know to look for them. One of the most obvious of Google’s internal contradictions is how it approaches privacy. As befits a company that wants to make the world’s information accessible, Google has a voracious appetite for information and tends to disregard any attempts to keep things secret. Yet at the same time Google guards its own secrets ferociously, taking every measure imaginable to keep their secrets from leaking in to the wider world. I can only imagine the hideous lengths of legalese in the NDAs Google employees have to sign.
On the one hand you have to admire Google’s transparency in things like its regular search quality highlights and the recent video it released from a search quality meeting. Yet the cynic in me cannot help but see these as meatless bones thrown at a baying crowd of SEO hounds. These snippets of information say a lot without actually saying much at all.
Google’s internal conflicts are expressed in many other areas as well. It used to embrace its informal “don’t be evil” motto, but at the same time as a publicly traded company they have a legal obligation to be, well, evil. (Profit maximisation is not a moral attitude to have, no matter how you look at it.) Google’s growing – and legally required – greed is evident in how they approach their cash cow AdWords, as well as in their tax evasion tricks (which may be entirely legal but would be hard to justify as morally right). Yet I don’t doubt that most, if not all, of Google’s employees genuinely believe they work for a ‘good’ company.
There’s also the case of Google as an employer with undoubtedly a very egalitarian, inclusive working environment. Race and gender don’t seem to matter at Google, as long as you do good work. Oh, and as long as you’re an engineer, of course. Non-engineers seem to struggle more often than not with Google’s corporate culture which favours engineering excellence above all else.
And then of course we have SEOs own pet peeves: Google’s continuous algorithm adjustments. Google claims its search algorithm has no editorial bias and that it favours great content above all else, but at the same time we see plenty of evidence of manual adjustments being made to the black box from which Google’s SERPs ‘magically’ appear. And one might argue that any algorithm change that favours one type of website over another is, in essence, a manual editorial preference being expressed.
I could list many more examples that, to me, demonstrate a deep-seated conflict in how Google perceives itself and how Google actually functions in the real world, but I would suggest you keep an eye out for yourself. Listen to what Google says – and what it doesn’t say – and how it behaves in everything it does.
The schizophrenia is there, plain to see, once you know what to look for.