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Google’s Catch 22

Google's Catch 22

Google’s mission has been to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible. At the core of this mission is their infamous algorithm. This organises, filters and ranks the web’s information to return the best possible results for each query received. In fact this algorithm is so important to their business that Google’s engineers have dedicated over 1,000 person years developing, testing and tweaking it. I love sharing this comparison between Bing and Google just to show Google’s strength and how far it has come.


Google is set to make about 40 Billion this year with about 96% of this from Adwords – making it the largest advertising company in the world. Without doubt, Adwords is the easiest way to get to the top of the search engines. It’s a shortcut. Websites who want to rank on top of search results can be there by paying for each click received. The problem with Adwords is that it’s expensive to pay for every click. On top of this, only about 20% of users click on the Adwords listings. The other 80% are clicking on the organic results.


It doesn’t take a genius to work out that there’s enormous value in appearing in the organic listings. SEO (search engine optimisation) is the industry that has sprung up with the purpose of increasing organic rankings. SEOs try to reverse engineer Google’s update using Spearman correlations, experimenting and just generally learning from each other. The fact is that Google is under serious scrutiny. With over 50,000 people having SEO in their official job titleon LinkedIn there are a lot of people depending on Google’s algorithm for commercial gain.

Miserable Failure
Did you ever type ‘miserable failure’ and the first result was the WhiteHouse’s page for George W. Bush? Well if you didn’t, it was an example of where Google’s algorithm was pranked by groups of webmasters who all linked to the page with the targeted anchor text of ‘miserable failure’. This prank highlighted a huge dependence in Google’s algorithm on links with focused anchor text that was still drawing on the fundamentals of the PageRank formula.
Without going through Panda, Penguin and a whole range of major algorithm updates since this – there is a conundrum on the hands of Matt Cutts, Amit Singhal and the rest of the Google engineers in perfecting this algorithm. Black hat SEOers push Google to their limits. There are an estimated 1 million spam pages created each hour. Filtering out the noise and presenting the most relevant results is a serious challenge and publicly acknowledged by Eric Schmidt.
Recent negative SEO discussions in the industry suggest that it is possible to take down affect a website negatively through SEO. Simultaneously, webmasters have been receiving more messages than everfrom Google for breach of their guidelines asking them to remove unnatural links. In my opinion, the problem is that Google’s algorithm isn’t advanced enough to judge link quality equitably because there is no black and white in quality. Even with hundreds of signals to judge link value it’s still not perfect and never will be.
Google has a dilemma on its hands. It’s clearly finding it a complex task to decide what links are worth counting and which are not. How should unnatural links be treated? Links are at the core of determining a website’s influence and importance. To penalise or not to penalise, that is the question.


Google’s Catch 22




Do Penalise sites with ‘spammy’ links.

Spam is punished.

Innocent webmasters become victim of Negative SEO.

Don’t Penalise sites with ‘spammy’ links.

Nobody is punished.

Spammers keep spamming.


Discounting the value of unnatural links and adopting Blackstone’s formulation – not penalizing them – has to be the way to go: Better that ten guilty webmasters escape than let one innocent suffer – otherwise expect SEO wars.


About the Author

Brian Martin is a director with e-Celtic Ltd. He joined e-Celtic in 2006 and leads the growth of the company in European markets. He is a speaker on SEO and passionate about the potential of the Internet to grow businesses. e-Celtic specialise in performance based digital marketing campaigns working with leading brands, eCommerce sites as well as SMEs.

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