What if Google Changed the SERP and No One Cared?

(thanks chad burgess for the image)

This is upon review, a somewhat scatterbrained “brain dump” type of post without any particular point; please, if this is your first visit, read something else too before you leave. I’m usually more coherent/less ranty :)

I think those of us in the search marketing field tend to live in a sort of echo chamber- personally, I follow many, many blogs in the SEO and social media spaces and I can see where that echo chamber comes from- many of the articles that purport to be original content are either critiques, summaries or rehashes of something the author read somewhere else, or something someone else read and wrote about that they are now reacting to their reaction; which doesn’t add a ton of value to the discourse. That’s never been more evident than over the past couple of days with Google announcing first Google Search Plus Your World, and now today the announcement of their new, all-Google-service-encompassing Terms of Service. Biting the hand that feeds them seems to be a very common activity among those doing SEO- whole blogs, personalities and memes have sprung up that have used “ripping on Google” to build their reputations, and indeed a whole cottage industry complaining every time the big G does something that could be considered against their┬ábest interest. Usually these criticisms are couched in nebulous language about Google not “serving the User”- but at the end of the day, it’s Google who gets to decide how to serve the User, because it’s their free to use, free to take or leave service. If they somehow close some loophole you’ve been exploiting because that’s the game you’re choosing to play, you’re being frankly ridiculous to cry about it. I still really hate the image of SEO as something shady or underhanded or unethical- I was on a forum today where “SEO” was used as a noun to describe a bad SERP. It doesn’t have to be that way but the behavior associated with that image has to stop to affect any sort of change.

A lot has been made of Google’s original mission statement which was “don’t be evil”. In fact, a bookmarklet for Google Chrome called “Don’t Be Evil” which serves results that don’t implicitly favor Google’s properties was recently released in what, I feel, is the ultimate expression of sour grapes. Why the heck wouldn’t Google want to favor its own properties? How is it that people can just complain about Google being unfair because they got in and fine tuned and monetized the search space first and now they can’t compete? Microsoft is sort of gamely hanging on until someone invents an alternative to Office, Apple might as well be Jesus’ second coming (moral imperatives aside, I probably shouldn’t post that link because I have no idea if my Android phone isn’t made in the same damn factory) at least to shareholders- the point is, things change and Google won’t remain the king of the mountain forever. This reminds me of a situation with one of my favorite video game developers, Valve- they gave an interview a long time back where they explained that they thought that “taking control away from the player is a bad design decision”- I’m paraphrasing; but they were talking about how to effectively show the action that moves the story along ┬áto the player in a 1st person shooter, without having to take control away from the player, to ensure that the player actually sees that big expensive set piece. Then, years later, in Team Fortress 2, some design decisions were made to give the User a weapon that could freeze another player in place. People absolutely howled, posting that 5-year-old statement over and over as evidence of why Valve was breaking their own design spec. However, the original statement was never supposed to apply to this kind of design. I think people get similarly hung up on “don’t be evil”- but that doesn’t mean “give the competition an advantage because they wouldn’t agree to share data because you have a dominant product”.

Here’s the thing about Google Search Plus Your World- most people don’t even know it exists, and if they do, most of them won’t care. Don’t think that the echo chamber in the online marketing space means that the average User shares that sentiment. There’s a lot of real strong sentiment out there about Google’s recent changes, and how they are a monopoly (they aren’t, just because they got their first and did it better doesn’t mean that Search is now a scarce resource) and how they’re evil, and how they are cannibalizing Twitter and Facebook’s traffic. Let’s not forget that those other services are the ones that don’t want to give Google access to their data! So why does Google have to go out of their way to be inclusive of their competition in search results? As I read it, Twitter and Facebook didn’t want to make deals with Google- so why does everyone insist that Google isn’t playing fair?

Let’s take the example that’s been floating around of searching for a celebrity’s Twitter account. In a lot of cases, looking for ‘Britney Spears Twitter’ brings up Spears’ Google+ page, instead of her Twitter account. My guess is that Google will argue the searchers’ intent was to find social media information about Britney Spears and as such a fully filled out Google+ profile page- including a link to the Twitter account- best serves the User’s intent. Think that’s a fudge or a waffle or there’s something vaguely wrong with it? So what? Google’s not allowed to leverage its competitive advantage? I don’t understand that mindset, that someone did something first or better and now they have to level the playing field for everyone else.

At the end of the day, Google has deep pockets and G+ isn’t going anywhere. The only way to make a difference is to use a different search engine, and Google is still the best at what they do- they just get picked on a lot because they’re top dog- remind you of any current political transpirings?

Also, as I’m fond of reminding anyone who asks- YOU CAN TURN IT OFF!

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