Google Can Kiss My Derriére

I’ve given yesterday’s Google smackdown a bit of thought over the past 24 hours. I’ve been angry, sad, indifferent, resigned. I’ve gone through the entire spectrum of emotion over the deal trying to figure out how it would affect what I do and how I do it. After sleeping on the matter for the past day and reading the opinions of lots of other people who were affected, I’m inclined to let Google shoot themselves in the foot.

As one commenter in my previous post noted, this is classic FUD. That theory rings really loudly in my ears and I’m inclined to go with that theory. Google slaps down a bunch of prominent people, lets the buzz take over and hope that the warning shot would be taken seriously by the rest of the blogosphere. Well, Google can kiss my derriére.

I’m not inclined to change the way I do things, nor am I inclined to recommend anyone else change what they do, how they do it or try to avoid Google PageRank penalties in the future. In the case of my blog, I have not broken any rules nor have I pimped my blog in some way to artificially manipulate SERPs or PageRanking. In fact, what I’ve done is no different that the bulk of other legitimate blogs.

Let me summarize what Google exists for, from the perspective of a blogger, content producer and user.

Google Exists to Produce Relevant Search Results

Google is first and foremost a search engine. Sure it has lots of other tools and apps that they offer, but their bread and butter is search and to that end, they want to produce relevant search results to users. They want to produce relevancy and authority. You’re more likely to get gadget recommendations from Engadget, for instance, than our own The Gadget Blog. It’s the truth. Engadget is just the authority followed by Gizmodo. Yes, they are competitors. That’s fine. They are the authorities. When I search for a gadget that our blog and Engadget has written about, I expect, as a user, that the Engadget listing would rank higher. Google wants to produce relevant, authoritative content.

Google has an Advertising Business

Google Adsense is Google’s advertising arm and will run on any site regardless of PageRank. On the flip side, commodity advertising companies rely heavily on PageRank. What you have here is a burgeoning case of Conflict of Interest in the case of Google.

Google does not like to have its SERPs artificially manipulated

The beauty of the Google algorithm is that no one really knows all the details. I’d doubt even the founders or CEO have the full picture. This is a deep, dark secret held as closely as the Coca-cola formula. Going a step farther, Google’s algorithm changes as time goes on and as the volume of indexable content grows and challenges with spam and search engine gaming grow. Google likes to have the final word on what is authoritative and relevant. So they do things like lay a smackdown on people selling text links in exchange for PageRank juice. Purchased influence is not something Google likes to deal with.

Now having said all that – what I expect of Google and what I think Google expects of itself – let me tell you exactly what Google has told the world about itself.

“PageRank is Irrelevant”

In the early days of PageRank, it was about casting relevancy of sites. The higher the PageRank, the more authoritative a site was. Now PageRank is less important as only advertisers really care about it. It’s more important to rank well for keywords and phrases – why? Because of Adsense. I’ll get to that later, though.

What Google has shown with their zealous adjustments on PageRank is that content really is not all that important. What is offered to the world is really not that relevant. What is relevant is playing by Google’s dictates. When they say jump, if you jump, you’ll rank high in PageRank. Realistically, PageRank is about the only leverage Google has to influence relevance and by penalizing those that are highly relevant arbitrarily, they have devalued the perception of PageRank beyond its already low perception.

“We Don’t Want You to Advertise Unless You Use Adsense”

The people who have been penalized in this and the last update are people who are monetizing their blogs. The people who are selling text links – okay, slap a nofollow tag on those links and prevent manipulation. Those penalized yesterday – well, I don’t think any were selling text links, but we are running advertising. And we’re not running Adsense. Under the assumption (faulty as it is) that advertisers only want to run ads on sites that have higher PageRank, and Google Adsense does not rely on PageRank, Google has throttled anyone making significant income on non-Adsense advertising. They are trying to dictate how we monetize.

“Content is Not King. Playing by Our Rules is King.”

I stated yesterday and I’ll state it again today: Those who were penalized yesterday should not be the ones who are demoted but PROmoted. If Google’s endgame is to produce relevant and authoritative listings (see point #1 above), then they should be trying to figure out how to promote our content more. They should be asking us to be listed in Google News. They should be pre-populating our feeds in Google Reader. They should be striking up dialogue with us about how to address their concerns while protecting ours. It’s our content, Google.

Now I still cannot speak publicly for b5media, though my inclination is that the corporate position will be roughly in line with my position, I do not plan to change how I run my site. PageRank 3. So what? Google can kiss my derriére. You as the readers discover this site through search results (which to be clear are not necessarily affected by PageRank, so let’s keep that argument separate), through social media promotion via Twitter, Facebook and reading other blogs, and through networking. As noted in the comments on SEOMoz’ White Board Friday a few weeks ago, this blog is an influencer blog – it doesn’t have the volume of traffic of, say, Scoble but the key people who need to read this blog, read it. They don’t care about PageRank. You don’t care about PageRank. Why should I care about PageRank.

I still have people approach me at conferences asking me “Hey, aren’t you the guy from Technosailor?” I still am in the Technorati 5000 (was Technorati 2000 but I don’t try anymore since T’rati is pretty much irrelevant too). I still have people who look forward to meeting me whenever I’m going somewhere. I still have people who LOVE the chance to write here (there’s original Spanish Language content coming as soon as I can secure the writer!). This blog is successful on its own without Google. It’s a shame Google won’t play the game with us, but if they want to be on their own island, let them be.

For bloggers who are not sure what to make of this whole thing, I’d say ignore it. Don’t worry about PageRank. Don’t worry about whether or not you should include a blogroll on your site. My advice about avoiding blogrolls centers on value for everyone when you link to your favorite blogs in the context of your content instead of a semi-static blogroll no one may ever look at. It has nothing to do with whether Google might or might not penalize you for having a blogroll. For bloggers in networks, I’d say forget about Google’s pagerank. Don’t install the toolbar. Don’t torture yourself. Like Alexa ratings, the numbers are completely bunk and are not in your control anyway. Just ignore it. Produce great content, and people will find you. Trust me, they always do. People want good content, not PageRank. Write for your readers or yourself. Google can kiss your derriére.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

23 thoughts on “Google Can Kiss My Derriére

  1. Nice post, well thought out.

    It’s funny because when Google first got going I remember all the webmasters and developer promoting it. It was new, it was cool, it was FREE. Now that the money machine is cranking it seems that Google has turned on the very people that made it popular. It’s not too hard too imagine a paradigm shift, where Google used to be “cool”, now the words “monopoly”, “corporate”, “heartless money machine” come to mind.

    Page Rank is worthless. Why doesn’t someone step up and make an unbiased ranking system? Not one controlled by a search engine.

  2. I gave these matters a lot of thought before I ever started building sites and blogging. Being the relative dinosaur that I am, with values thoroughly mired in a different time, I decided up front not to care about Google, or Google’s ilk. While I would not be offended by good rankings from Google, I’m not going to chase them. I try to put up quality content of one kind or another and let that speak for itself. If that doesn’t work, I don’t really care. I don’t want to try to live with a self that expends all of its energy sucking up to a search engine.

  3. Aaron,
    A most excellent rant but completely on the mark. To be honest, PageRank isn’t something I’ve really worried about. As for as advertisers are concerned, the focus should be traffic and how effective a Web site does in targeting an audience.

  4. Well stated and summing it up nicely.
    Toolbar PR is a Disney magic wand fairy tale deployed entirely for social engineering purposes, and the more webmasters and companies realize it (and the sooner!), the better.

  5. Excellent post.

    Here is food for thought:

    You said “They should be striking up dialogue with us about how to address their concerns while protecting ours. It’s our content, Google.”

    What a lot of people (or large parts of the public) is missing is the fact that Google is looking to be THE primary information broker in EVERY MAJOR content areas – regardless of who owns the content or which content source is the best available.

    Examples: Books, real estate listings, yellow page listings, mapping information, classified advertising, scholarly information, web based applications, video – even 411. And the list goes on and on.

    They want to dominate. Not to liberate us or for some holy “do no evil” mission statement. They want to show us adsense (but don’t you dare make a site only designed to show adsense!)

    The more areas they extend into the more likely it is that they will push other search results down the page. And the share of the audience that they provide will diminish as well.

    Webmasters, Bloggers, and Internet Marketers everywhere are going to have to learn to build their own traffic sources.

    I think you hit the nail exactly on the head.

  6. Adam – there is actually a group of people trying to do exactly what you suggest at Mahalo.com. It’s a human powered search engine. It’s still in the process of being developed, so who knows what it’s going to be when its fully up and running, but for now, the idea seems pretty cool.

  7. If the same webmasters who supported Google when they were small, turn around and suddenly support Ask or Live and the momentum grows, Google can lose 5% or 10% marketshare. Does not sound much, but look at their revenue and then that number hurts. Give Microsoft 5% or 10% more market share and Redmond will run with it. It’s too early for that, but if Google ticks off enough people and they start talking about it …..

  8. Yep…PageRank is bullshit. You see heaps of shitty cookie-cutter sites with PR5 when really they shouldn’t be ranked at all. And the Search Engine ranking on Google? Laughable. Read this on how they rank Brad Callen’s new baby on Google – Who’s on First?

  9. Google absolutely should make a public statement about this update, and soon, or people are going to lose confidence in their search service. And when that happens, there goes the market share.

  10. The real loser in this is truly the consumer who is using Google for search. I remember when Google slammed John Chow. It was a dumb move that did nothing except to hurt both Google and John Chow. If I was searching for “Making Money Online” or something similar, John’s blog should be up at the top! If it’s not, I lose – not Google or John.

    One of the things that you touched on that I thought was key was that this IS content that Google is not compensating you for, but they are profiting from it. Seems to me that Google should have to share the revenue for paid advertising with all the unpaid links that show up on the results page. After all, if we weren’t here, they wouldn’t be!

  11. Google can only keep as much power as the users allow them to have. Anyone who can influence Internet users is in a position to make a difference. I’m favor of shifting support to anyone except another monopoly like Microsoft. Google may have just made a very large tactical error. Perhaps they acted now because bloggers gain more power every day and they’re hoping it is not already too late?

  12. This hardly hurts people with the big name sites. This gets them more press, more links, and more traffic. Who this hurts is all the ones nobody is talking about.

    The smaller guys who work hard day in and day out yet got stung. I got hit in a site that doesn’t sell links. the only advertising is YPN, yet it took a hard hit.

    Google just attacked all the people trying to put food on the table.
    Is this how you reward the people who built you?

  13. @Adam

    A few people did try that with OpenRank (http://www.openrank.org/) but it didn’t take off. To be honest though, do we really need a visible ranking bar? Success for a site should be determined by readers, subscriptions or turnover – sensible metrics for any online business.

  14. Great post Aaron. I’d venture a step further and say that we need to start using alternative search engines and recommending that others do.

    Yahoo! has perfectly good relevancy. I’d be keen to try Ask as well. Better still, the SERPs aren’t totally polluted by results from large media sites like YouTube, Wikipedia, and the rest.

    We also need to see which monitization platforms are a viable alternative to AdSense. Start a movement to counteract this Google monopoly and promote alternatives.

    As an industry, SEOs and probloggers have given far to much weight to ranking in Google. I suggest that those influencers who read this blog should give serious thought to promoting alternatives.

    Use this initiative to take action before the dust settles and we’re all worrying about our Google rankings again.

  15. Well said Aaron. Particularly in regards to it being “our content”. We all need to remember Google would be nothing without us. In my opinion they’ve grown a little too comfortable in their top spot and need to remember they are a service and nothing more.

  16. Being highly optimized for the last 6 yrs on Google has brought in over one million dollars in business. For a small company thats *huge.

    I wake up every morning and try to figure out new ways of kissing Googles ass.

    I feel your pain though.

    Regards
    Rick

  17. What happened here was obviously a recalibration of the pageRank logic. The web changes fast and to retain quality Google will have to update their algorithms regularly.

    It is clear that the pageRank system is a relative one — with the drop of a couple major sites, a lot of minor sites must have gone up. But the majors have bigger mouths and make it seem this is all bad. If a handful of major sites are taken away their dominance in search results on certain topics, that is a good thing for the consumer. We should all hope that the online information landscape will never turn into the nightmare the offline media landscape has been for decades.

    Anyways, I wouldn’t take it personal. You seem to think someone at Google looked at your site personally and said “Hmmm.. I’ll take this one down x points.”.

    According to your profile you see yourself as someone who is “often seen as an advocate for open and honest speech” but now that you see holes appearing in your revenue you start a bezerk bashing. If you are so concerned with integrity, be objective about it.

  18. Great write up and many valid points. I found this post via googling google after finding out i dropped from PR5 to PR3. I, like many before me that left comments were, shocked to find out that this is so.

    But you are right, strangely my RSS has been improving and visitors numbers though small has not dropped much. My regular readers are still around and well the rest you have put it all in perspective.

    Thanks.
    dt.

  19. While I was hit with this PR retooling sporadically across sites, the one true metric for measuring the impact is revenues. I’ve noticed no significant changes since the PR updates, and I’ve not really heard any major complaints about revenues or even traffic patterns shifting from others.

    I also would like to see the search volumes switch to something less monopolistic, but I fear that a groundswell of change is going to be strictly a dream for at least the next 6 months or so. To support the cause, I’ve personally started re-using Yahoo more. Moving to Live/MSN is too much to ask though!

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