03 Jul 2016
Does Google now view search engine optimization as bad, as spam, as something you could get banned for? Almost certainly not, but thats the takeaway you could now get based on a legal fight between Google and a publisher that was banned from its search results.
The case involves e-ventures Worldwide, which had many of its sites banned by Google and is fighting in court for damages as a result. As we covered earlier, Google lost a battle to have the case dismissed, so the fight continues.
This week, an article in Entrepreneur highlighted an interesting part of Googles legal arguments, that search engine manipulation is something the company fights against, might ban anyone for and, importantly, is defined about the way many people might define SEO.
Google: SEO is not spam
So,Is Google Trying To Kill SEO, as the headline of the Entrepreneur article asks? Almost certainly not, as Ill explain. But lets start with Googles official statement that it gave Search Engine Land on this:
While we cant comment on ongoing litigation, in general, Google supports and encourages SEO practices that are within our guidelines and dont consider that spam.
Got it? SEO commonly accepted best practices isnt spam. And anyone encountering the newfangled term of search engine manipulation should view that, in my opinion, as meaning spam, not SEO.
The search engine manipulation backstory
How did the concern over what search engine manipulation means come about this week? Its from a key document in the lawsuit,a statement by Brandon Falls, the Google search quality analyst who took action against the e-ventures sites. This Wall Street Journal article about the case links to his declaration.
In that, Falls introduces the term search engine manipulation for the first time in my knowledge by anyone within Googles search team. Its not a term thats regularly used by Google when dealing with publishers. Theres not a single help document for publishers that mentions the phrase in Googles webmaster support area.
From Falls declaration, the first reference to search engine manipulation is as follows:
An important part of providing valuable search results to users is Googles protection of the integrity of its search results from those who seek to manipulate them for their own gain.
As noted, efforts to subvert or game the process by which search engines rank therelevance of websites are called webspam in the search industry.
Such search engine manipulation harms what is most valuable to users about search: the quality (i.e., relevance) of our search results for users.
Accordingly, Google considers search engine manipulation to be extremely serious and expends substantial resources to try to identify and eliminate it. These actions are critical to retain users trust in Googles search results.
Ive bolded the key parts. Google opens by saying it tries to protect its search results from those who seek to manipulate them for their own gain. The problem with this is that this statement not only applies to SEO best practices that Google itself encourages, but also to activities that violate Googles guidelines, which it considers spam.
Anyone doing commonly accepted SEO is doing so in hopes of manipulating the search results for their own gain. Googles own guide to SEO acknowledges this in talking about using its advice as a publisher in order to have anoticeable impact on your sites user experience and performance in organic search results.
In short, Google actively encourages and instructs publishers how to manipulate its search results, and publishers are inherently doing this for their own gain. SEO is manipulation, and the Google declaration suggests that anysearch engine manipulation to be a potential cause for action.
Why its obvious that search engine manipulation means spam
Sophisticated SEOs, of course, wouldnt interpret the declarations statement in that way. Knowing that Google does things like publish a guide to SEO, produces videos on it, speaks on the topic and encourages SEO in many ways makes it blindingly obvious that Google doesnt consider SEO within its guidelines to be bad.
Rather, Id say most sophisticated SEOs would interpret this new search engine manipulation term to be synonymous with web spam or spam for short activities that fall outside Googles accepted guidelines for SEO.
Reading through the rest of the declaration, it becomes pretty clear that search engine manipulation is indeed being used as a synonym for spam and does not include accepted SEO. For example:
Googles online Webmaster Guidelines include a discussion of Quality Guidelines. The Quality Guidelines enumerate numerous manipulation techniques that violate Googles Webmaster Guidelines.
In that statement, Google is acknowledging that there are many search engine manipulation techniques, but only some violate its guidelines. In other words, not all manipulation is bad and an actionable offense. SEO manipulation, that which is done within its guidelines, should be okay. Outside the guidelines thats spam and potentially gets you in trouble.
Nevertheless, the opening statement in the declaration can be read as including even best practices SEO in search engine manipulation. Its a pity Google wasnt much clearer and didnt stay with the commonly used industry terms out there. As a result, its possible for anyone to fearmonger or fear that doing accepted SEO might be a bannable offense.
In reality, anyone who stays within Googles guidelines really should have nothing to fear, as Googles own statement today says. In particular, its important to note that this declaration introducing search engine manipulation as a term was made back in November 2014. It was only just noticed now. If this was a first shot in Googles coming war on accepted SEO,then for over two years now, thats not actually had any impact.
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