Has Google ever been evil and is your SEO doing the right thing?

Updated: Nov 12, 2018

Google's old call corporate mission statement- 'Don’t be evil'

Don’t be evil, do the right thing.

You may not know that back in 2001 Paul Buchheit, a Google employee and the inventor of Gmail, coined the ‘Don’t be evil’ phrase as their corporate value. These actual words were used in the Google 2004 IPO. It was not changed to ‘Do the right thing’ until October 2015 when Google changed the structure with Alphabet becoming the new corporate brand for the overall governance of the group.

So why do I mention this? Well, firstly it is crucial for everyone to remember that Google is not the Internet. The Internet doesn’t need Google. Email is not Gmail. Email doesn’t need Google to exist. In the same way, Facebook or Twitter or Instagram is not social media and eBay is not the only online auction or Amazon the only online store. So why was ‘Don’t be evil’, which is a weird phrase for any business to even think of, become so embedded into the core brand of this business and why is it even more important to understand this today?

Well right from the beginning Google knew it had a search solution that was unique and inventive, and they could protect it. It became the market leader very quickly and once Chrome was launched and killed off Microsoft Explorer Google rapidly became close to a monopoly. They also knew that if they created a business model that appeared free for consumers to use and was paid for by businesses then all would be rosy. Of course, consumers pay for Google with use of their data and businesses pay for use of that data via the AdWords and other services. So, from that Google envisaged that “You can make money without doing evil” and from this, the corporate mission statement, “Our mission is to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” was created. Very rapidly Google and predominantly AdWords was so profitable that, perhaps, they began to think that organising the world’s information just to make more money for themselves was not only possible but difficult for anyone to prevent or stop or even really know about especially if it was shrouded in algorithms and tech speak… and therefore quite easy to be evil. Remember when Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook had to explain to the US Senate how he made money!

Of even more importance is the pressure Google is feeling from Facebook who has a revenue model which targets people not keywords that have put Google into a defensive mode for the first time ever.

We do know, unfortunately, that all big businesses always have challenges when they reach such a size that they feel invincible and in recent years the 400 or so lawyers now employed by Google have been busy.

So as a marketing consultant Google is always a big topic of conversation with clients. Many are very focused on understanding how to use Google products to enhance and grow sales. Even to the point, they feel this is the only way. Understanding how the Internet works, how social media works is, of course, fundamental to every business, however, we must remember that Google is not the Internet and Facebook is not social media and Gmail is not email. These are all just business making money from businesses that use their services. Therefore, when creating strategies to use their tools they must be viewed like any service provider. The Google brand, very cleverly, always make you feel that you are perhaps doing them a favour and you should be thanking them for the everything they do.. clever or evil or just brilliant marketing?

Let’s take SEO and look at three big players Google, Bing, Yahoo. The biggest is Google and SEO is, on the face of it, a free product Google created to deliver its corporate mission statement of ‘Organising the World’s information’ Google has a reason for you to focus on SEO; if you created a website following their rules then it will be easier for you to use Adwords in the future which they make most of their revenue from. Will a brilliantly optimised website under the Google rules help you get business? Yes, it does, but a lot less than it did 4 years ago! Why, well since Google launched its new Panda algorithms in 2011 it has been rolling out changes on a regular basis to focus on its business strategy. This strategy is driven by the market, the public and what they believe the future will look like. This strategy is the move toward mobile, voice and AI. All of this means that local searches, voice search, and the reduction in on-screen real estate mean that your brilliantly optimised site with fantastic long-tailed embed keywords with great regional localisation will unfortunately only ever appear in 8th place on the page below AdWords ads and regional map-based results. So, it your only strategy is just SEO then Google is making it harder and harder, is this evil? Of course not it's just business!

Google natural search results now start at postion 8

Google SEO has changed and natural results start 8th

So once again it is crucial to understand that Google is not a marketing panacea, they are reacting to the same fundamentals we all are; the development of technology, the increased processing power of chip technology (Moore’s Law) which is enabling more data to be delivered faster and more information to be processed quicker.

But, and a big but, Google, like Microsoft and Apple or any large successful online marketing business must be examined and reviewed and if relevant become part of your business marketing solutions. We can’t ignore them or avoid them and why would we? Our customers use them, perhaps trust them. In the case of Google, it will always create a challenge for you to maximise the use of what may be perceived as a free service and why shouldn't they? If you want to make it easy just use Adwords! Just look at Android, you can’t complain if they decide to charge mobile phone manufactures to put it on their phones, they never said they wouldn’t and so why should the EU decide it is unethical suddenly for them to do this?

So, Google gives lots of advice on how to build websites which are good for them. Worth remembering ‘good for them’. In their defense, I would also say most of it is good advice for anyone building an information resource which must be well designed, well written, visually interesting and an insightful series of linked pages, whether they are printed on paper, on a website, a film a podcast, or a social media post. The fundamentals of communications, brand and engagement have nothing to do with Google, Facebook or other online business solutions. The most effective communications connect with human fundamentals; look, see, hear, feel, speak, understand, learn, empathise, trust… then you buy.

Final thought on this blog. Google SEO - "If it seems too good to be true, it probably is" … but use the rules to give you a framework that will create quality online communication.

Stuart Greenfield is a technology marketing consultant with more than 25 years of experience working with businesses across technology, consumer, industrial and Government sectors. stuart@greenfield.co.uk

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