By:Mark Angeletti, Published:2003-12-2

The Google funding bill is passed. The system goes on-line September 7, 1998. Human decisions are removed from search engine result pages. Google begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, November 16th, 2003. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.

Google strikes back.

Judgment Day – Less than a week before ‘Black Friday’, the busiest shopping day of the year, Google decides the fate of millions.

Thousands of web pages vanish from the Google search results. It’s not everyday you hear that one search engine is responsible for the death of thousands of companies.

In the aftermath, people are left shaking their heads, lost and scared, with feelings of hopelessness and despair. Questions like, “What did we do wrong?” and “Why us?” are asked, but few answers can be found. For now Google remains silent.

Companies now in an effort to regroup are assessing the damage and trying to figure out what they did wrong and how they can rectify the problem – quickly.

What we know: Google has never cared for search engine optimization and has always looked at it as an attempt to taint what they hold as precious. The question that must be asked is, “Why?” Why does Google see search engine optimization as the enemy and are they justified in their thinking?

Let’s first look at what it means to be an SEO and then we should have a better picture of whether Google’s distaste for the practice is justified.

Search engine optimizers, or SEOs, are used to build or alter web pages in an effort to have them rank highly among the results of the search engines when a user types in a query. This alone does not seem unreasonable; after all, don’t all web pages want to be at the top of this highly coveted list? So what is it that SEOs do from non-SEOs that has Google so upset?

What do SEOs do from non-SEOs?

The short answer is SEOs know a little something about search engines that non-SEOs do not. SEOs know which attributes of a web page the search engines like and factor into their equations when assessing who gets top placement from who doesn’t. This includes things like knowing which words your customers actually use when performing a search and making sure those words are found in the appropriate spots within the web page. In addition, SEOs understand the importance of having others link to their site. But could having a working knowledge of the search engines really be a detriment to your website – even to the point of having your site’s pages removed from the search engine results entirely?

It seems logical that you would want to know which terms your potential customers are using when trying to find your site and include those terms within the pages of your website. In fact it was once considered good practice – so much so that some websites emerged with the sole purpose of helping you find the most useful keywords for your site. But all that changed on November 16th when Google implemented a ‘filter’ that now drop sites from their search results if they deem them "too" optimized. The real kicker is only Google knows what "too" optimized means and they’re not saying.

One site that optimized for the keywords ‘POS Software’ has these words placed in the title, in the meta-tags, in the body and in an alt-tag for an image. Google obviously felt this was ‘over’ optimized and the site that was in the top 3 for the search query ‘POS Software’ for the last 2.5 years is now gone completely.

Was the site over-optimized? If so how? The questions to pose to Google are as follows: How can you over-optimize a website for the keywords ‘POS software’ that is, in fact, the leading ‘POS Software’ company in the world? Shouldn’t they be listed highly within the search results for ‘POS Software’? If ‘I like cheeseburgers’ was written in the page title rather than ‘POS Software’ would It be ranked higher? With this new filter that may be the case.

Keep in mind, there is no falsifying information or representing the page as something it’s not. The pages and entire website is about ‘POS Software’ so it’s not unthinkable that those words would be prevalent in the pages of the site. Is it
not possible to be highly optimized and yet still highly relevant?

The most important thing to a search engine should be the relevancy of its search results. Google has stated these same words on a number of occasions. But this new filter has gone the opposite direction. Now, on a search done for ‘POS software’ instead of the search results returning the leading POS software company in the world, you find: 1 directory, 1 portal and 2 educational sites. These same findings have been echoed throughout many different forums on the Internet. What you are left with is less relevant results.

The other tactic that is now in question from Google is having other sites link to your site. It would now appear that Google thinks that you should not be allowed to link to who you want to how you want to. You may now get penalized for linking to another site or having other sites link to you, but yet it’s ok to place Google AdSence on your website which is essentially just a bunch of links to other websites that pay Google. Is this not hypocritical of Google?

Perhaps Google needs to keep in mind that placing ads in significant places dates back to the first caveman who found that if he carved arrows into the side of prominent stones directing people to the location of his business that traffic would increase. But now it would seem that Google wants to own those stones or at the least be a broker for who gets the space on the stones.

Perhaps We Got Off on the Wrong Foot?

I think that what needs to happen is that Google and SEOs need to get to know one another better than what they currently do. It’s likely that because of some of the earlier tactics that SEOs used (i.e. placing irrelevant words, or even hiding words within the pages of their website and other tactics to falsify information) that Google took a justified distaste to search engine optimization. But, one would like to think that those days are behind us and that there are, as there should be, legitimate ways to optimize a page to help users find it under the topic of relevancy.

SEOs could be seen as the good guys – as knowledgeable people that work alongside the search engines to ensure that their listings are as relevant as possible. Is this a dream? Could this not be possible? It can be and often time already is. To optimize a POS software site, one would simply try to help users find what they were looking for, POS software.

What would be a good start is for Google to just come out and say what it is they don’t like and why they don’t like it. In psychology classes they teach you that for a relationship to work you need to be clear with your partner.

So in closing I would suggest that in order to create a sustainable relationship that nurtures both parties, Google and SEOs need to communicate with one another. In doing so they may find that they both end up getting what everyone wants.

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