Has Google failed in search? If you haven’t been reading about Google’s search fails recently – either you don’t read much about trending topics, or you don’t do much with SEO and web ranking. Search and search results are on the mind of everyone who builds web sites and works with people that want good rankings and more traffic. For the most part Google is very quiet about their work on their ranking algorithm because it’s possibly the most valuable tech asset in the history of the world.

Think about it, there are a billion Google searches performed per day. A BILLION! Per day! The value of being in the #1 spot for keywords easily translates to money. The amount varies only by the number of people searching for a given keyword phrase. In the last few years, I think it’s become a little more predictable on how to get ranked in Google for keywords – and that’s why we’ve seen some much talked about stories relating to Google and SEO.

I predicted something was going on last year in my post No More Google Pagerank Updates. I knew that since last year Google only fully updated pagerank a single time, and all years prior (that pagerank existed) it was 3-4 times – they were trying to indicate that they were placing less emphasis on PR number. Or at least, that’s what they “wanted” people to think. I mean, come on – all SEO’s just hung on PR updates, especially those buying and selling links (because the PR number indicates how much they can charge). I think Google waited as long as they could to take a little of that power away, and to show everyone that they can update PR whenever they feel like it.

Let’s recap the last 8 weeks or so in SEO news, shall we?

Nov 26th: NY Times Story about Online Complaints Boosting Authority in google
This was an unbelievable story about a Brooklyn web site owner that started up a site to sell designer eyeglass frames. He would take orders for stock he didn’t have, order it off ebay – and ship it out. He literally stalked people that complained and asked for refunds – to the point where he’s now looking at criminal charges. People that complained online in ripoffreport.com and other online customer service forums unknowingly boosted his web sites search rankings with each bad report, because the consumer sites had such high authority themsevles. This was basically a loophole in Google because they have no way of determining whether links to a site are good or bad, they just know whether the site linking has high or low authority. To make matters worse, the web site owner boasted in the NYT interview that the more complaints he got – the more sales his web site made. This was an unbelieveable thing for the average person to comprehend, but for those of us that do SEO – we’ve always known this.

Jan 28th: SEOMoz blog Posts Proof of Highly Organized Spam in Google Results
I believe this page first had the title “Organized Crime” (and not spam), because the permalink still has it. I have long said that the efforts of most online hackers and spammers stemmed from organized crime. This article shows that the mob has figured out how valuable search results are in general – and getting ranked for key terms (like high profile jewelry and clothing) means money. Many of the sites they put online don’t even sell anything, they just scam people out of money. A large marjority don’t even bother to pay for links, they just pay hackers to break into sites with high authority and place links where they want at will. I fixed many hacked blogs per year, and I always tell these clients that most hackers don’t want anything more with their site than too place links in the footer, or to spam their google cache results (which is harder to find).

Feb 1st: Google Officially Accuses Bing of Copying Search Results
This was kind of a shocker (for about 5 seconds). Google announced on the official Google blog that they had set a trap and caught Bing.com red handed outright copying Google search results. It made the jaw drop of quite a few people, but then when you start to think about it you say – why did Google come out on the defense like that? Do they really see Bing as that much of a threat? Are they trying to divert attention from their problems with search results lately? You don’t really start publicly trashing other companies unless you see them as a threat – do you?

Feb 12th: NY Times posts “Dirty Little Secrets of Search
This article surprised a lot of people – personally I just figured it was a matter of time before something like this came out. As it turns out, JC Penney had thousands of blackhat links built to be one top for the Xmas season (PAID links) for things like dresses, area rugs, bedding, skinny jeans, home decor, comforter sets, tablecloths, and more. Things they were never ranked for before they were suddenly #1 for in Google. The NY Times turned the info over to Google, who admitted they new JC Penney was up to no good last December in terms of links, but they never “circled back” – so the retailer dominated those search for the entire holiday season (and then some). Now Google has dropped them from those searches, while JC Penney denies they knew about it and works to remove all the links – the bulk of came from seedy sites with absolutely no relevance to the retailers market at all. Looks like their SEO company (SearchDEX) is F-I-R-E-D.

So – what does all this mean? For one, the public perception of “SEO” is definitely different right now – with views ranging from alchemy to criminal. There’s a lot of finger pointing going on too, and many think that it’s very strange for the NY Times to have posted so many recent articles specifically about SEO. I mean, it was the NYT that “turned over the JC Penney search results to Google”. Some cry “conspiracy”. Why would a newspaper do that? What did they stand to gain? Was a seed planted by a JC Penny competitor?

On the one hand the NY Times “exposed the truth”. But on another they took advantage the information by doing a little “SEO” themselves on the page copy. They called the heading of the page “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search”, but the HTML title is called something different: “Search Optimization and its Dirty Little Secrets”. Why would they do that? It’s a no brainer – they knew this story would get THOUSANDS of links world wide from SEO’s and people working online, so they added “Search Optimization” as the first 2 words of the HTML title to get ranked for that keyword phrase in Google. Is it as dirty as what JC Penney did? No, but a little ironic to say the least. That NY Times web page has Google adsense links on it, one in the bottom of the right sidebar, and the other directly beneath the article. What do you think they’re showing right now? Ads for SEO! They’re not stupid – they’re gong to use the opportunity to out somebody else as their own opportunity to rank for something, and make some good cash on ads in the process.

Am I crazy? No, the Search Engine Watch blog seems to be asking all the same questions. Mike Arrington bemoans Google results as still sucking, while commenters accuse him of potentially spamming his own links (for gogobot and Blekko), while Matt Cutts himself sees fit to jump into comments and correct some “mis-information”.

My Opinion on Google and SEO

When you see a site like Huffington Post go from political blog, to supposed “breaking news” site getting deliberately ranked for things like “sex” and “funny cats” – you begin to realize how much money is at stake in search. The NY Times actions show even more vividly how much large media outlets are now realizing that controlling search terms is like dredging in dollar bills with a net. There was a time when I wondered when news and media outlets would figure out how to use SEO in their web sites. I just figured it would be a web guy that was behind pushing it – not their controller.

The bigger you are, the easier it is for you to fail and fall. The only thing (at this point) Google has in it’s favor is about 500 billion dollars. You would think they’d allocate a half-billion to better search results and relevance, but may believe that’s not even in their best interest (because of Adsense and Adwords). Google has money to burn for years, but just 2 years ago it NEVER would’ve guessed that Facebook would be the world’s most used and largest web site. If Facebook is able to install some kind of “more relevant” search – google is screwed – period!! If another company comes along that is faster, more nimble, and can somehow gain a foothold with technology users (like Firefox did), within a few years they could be as big as Facebook or Google.

My only point is – do not bet on Google, or ANYONE for that matter. It doesn’t matter what changes to SEO may come, as long as you are putting out relevant quality original content and building an audience. No matter what is on top in future – you can take your following with you. There is nothing wrong with ethically using SEO to build online authority and links, and Google actually encourages that in it’s web quality guidelines.