Social Responsibility Google?
By Kalena Jordan (c) 2007
Unless you've been living on a desert island with no Internet access, you've probably seen the recent blog fallout from Google's latest crack down on alleged link brokers.
This week it seems that Google made some type of manual Toolbar PageRank reduction on a handful of major blogs and portal sites like the Washington Post, ProBlogger, CopyBlogger and Forbes.com. Some of these sites had PageRank scores of 7 which have now dropped to 5, scores of 6 which have now dropped to 4 and so on. The blog buzz is that the sites have been singled out by Google as using their high PageRank scores to sell links and have been punished by the world's most popular search engine as a result. There is currently no proof of this and no public statement by Google acknowledging or denying the situation.
A lot of bloggers have weighed in with commentary, observations and opinions. Every time I read a new post about the so called smack-down I imagine some Googlers at Mountain View laughing hysterically and high-fiving each other for turning the tables on the SEO industry yet again.
The situation has even got the SEOs turning on each other. One of the world's best known SEOs, Jill Whalen, made a post in response to the situation that included a comment about one of the affected sites, Search Engine Guide. Jill's post has been interpreted in some circles as a type of attack. Here's the comment Jill made in her post:
"Even my very good friends at Search Engine Guide were smacked down. I hadn't been to their home page in ages since I usually visit through direct article links, but when I looked at their home page today and scrolled down to the bottom, I was taken aback to see what looks more like a link farm than anything else!"
I've known Jill a long time and I read her remark about Search Engine Guide as a quick off the cuff comment, not a deliberate attack. Without putting words in her mouth, I think it sounded more shocking than she meant it, probably because she was typing as a response to first impressions of Search Engine Guide after not seeing it for so long and because (being ridiculously busy) she was probably in a hurry. So the comment itself didn't raise an eyebrow for me. But I WAS concerned about how the general webmaster community would interpret the comment.
Yes, she has every right to her opinion. But being who she is and the industry reputation she's built up, Jill has incredible influence over a large number of webmasters and SEOs who absorb her material. Persons reading her article that are unfamiliar with Search Engine Guide may permanently associate the site with the term "link farm" and all the negative connotations that brings. No matter her intent, her remark definitely has the power to hurt Search Engine Guide and their reputation. The site's publisher Robert Clough obviously thought so, as he was prompted to make an uncharacteristic post in response.
Personally, I think Jill should have considered the possible backlash from her casual comment and worded her post much more carefully. After all, with industry influence comes responsibility. Which brings me to the main point of this article. Google now has extreme influence and power over the Internet. When they make changes to their algorithm or the way they cache and filter web sites, it has a dramatic impact on not just web site owners, but business and life in general. Millíons of people rely on Google to survive, literally. In that respect, this attempt at link bait humor is a little too close to reality to be funny.
With such powerful social influence, I think it's about time Google started taking more responsibility by being more transparent with their activities. If too many webmasters are doing the wrong thing with regard to linking, or an algorithm change has occurred, why not launch a media release to set the facts straight? Not everyone knows about Google's Webmaster Guidelines, or has a Webmaster Tools account. But a lot of people read the newspaper. If they want webmasters to co-operate, Google has to recognize it's a two way street.
By slapping on this latest penalty, (if it is indeed a penalty), Google seems to be claiming to *know* the intent of these sites. But what if they're wrong? What if, as Jennifer Laycock claims, they are merely selling advertising space without Google being a consideration? There's nothing in Search Engine Guide's advertising material relating to PageRank OR Google. To assume they are trying to use their site's high PageRank as a selling point is pretty arrogant and irresponsible of Google, in my opinion.
Without some type of public acknowledgement from them, we can only assume Google's latest move is an attempt to control how webmasters use their own web site space. That's a huge line in the sand they've crossed and I don't know about you, but it makes me nervous.
About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running her own SEO business, Kalena is Director of Studies at Search Engine College - an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.