When I first began outlining this article, the contrast between the ‘old’ Google, and the company today kept slapping me in the face. It’s possible I’m simply naive, and Google has always been ‘the same’. But I don’t think so.
This is how it began:
Last week (actually last month) I received something I’d bet most of you haven’t: a check made out to me, compensation from Google, the settlement for a legal dispute. No joke – I sued Google and won. And they just paid me.
How much, you ask? One must assume that Google, one of the wealthiest corporations in the world, could afford a decent lawyer, right? And with all the money they have, surely they could have fought rather than settling. Was the liability so great that even with all that cash, access to a lawyer, and an ‘inside track’ on looking stuff up, like case law, precedents, things like that – not to mention all the information on the entire planet – Google was afraid?
Why not just use some of that cash horde to “bury me with paper” ( I heard that once in a movie), filing motions, affadavits, restraining orders. They could probably have tied me up in court for decades, or at least that’s what I assumed the implied threat behind being “buried with paper” was.
So what could be so bad as to make great big Google settle with little me? I’ll tell you exactly: Google overcharged me. So I sued them, and won. And now they’ve paid up. Still don’t believe me? Gawk at this, buster:
I used to do quite a bit of advertising with Google via Adwords. One of the parameters within Adwords is ‘Daily Budget’. This is supposed to be the maximum amount you can spend in a day on your ads. It tells Google to stop running your ads when that threshold is reached. In fairness, Google tells you that you could conceivably be charged up to 120% of your ‘Daily Budget’ on any given day, so as to smooth out ups & downs in daily traffic volume and ad impressions, but that over a month period, you won’t be charged more than your ‘Daily Budget’ would come out to.
Somehow or other, Google screwed up. Despite an extreme concentration of the biggest brains on the planet – not to mention the largest computer network ever built and single largest ‘x-million’ core networked processor – Google messed up their Excel spreadsheet that had my daily Adwords spending on it. As it turns out, that ‘guarantee’ that they would smooth out the “conceivably up to 120%” thing so that it came out to only 100% of what I agreed to spend over the course of each month didn’t work out so well. They managed the 120% all right, just not the commensurate reduction necessary to balance it all out.
But that’s not all; Google managed to charge me on the days I wasn’t even advertising, days when my campaigns were on “pause”. Finally, adding ‘insult to injury’, they didn’t just ‘hit me up a little’ when no campaigns were running, they dinged me the full 120% of my ‘Daily Budget’ on those no-ads-running days. Let me say that again: Google, my once-loved-and-admired “provider-of-all-things-internet-including-my-income”, stole money from my Adwords account (ok, so it wasn’t actually taken out of my account, it was added to my monthly Adwords invoice), creating bogus charges for running ads that never ran!
Turns out I wasn’t the only one, either. A printing company in Minnesota, and a guy in New Jersey had the same thing happen to them. But unlike me, who at the time still thought of Google more as a benevolent internet company than a cut-throat corporation, they were pissed. And they sued. But they didn’t ‘just’ sue, they figured this was happening to others and initiated a class-action suit.
If it sounds a little like the kind of failed extortion scam you’d see in a low-budget made-for-tv movie about some third-rate loser mafia crew out of New Jersey, that was my feeling as well.
It’s hard for me to imagine Google this way, but the alternative is even more ‘out there’ – that Google knowingly or intentionally ripped me off. And the hardest part of that to swallow isn’t just that a big corporation would do something illegal (won’t even go there), but the notion that Google could actually be a “greedy corporation”.
(And here is where I abandoned the light-hearted “silly old Google” article I had started writing.)
I’ve been working in this industry since it’s inception. In fact, I was working in the industries that ‘gave birth’ to all of this, and have watched & participated as it evolved. I remember clearly the “pre-Google” internet, their swift rise to dominance, and the generally-held impression of a rare, really ‘good’ corporation, fashioning itself into a company that resonated with the “ideals” of the internet itself.
That image and sense of Google was so strong and widely-held that when something less-than-ideal would happen, it would be dismissed out-of-hand. For a long time, it was as if most people just knew that Google couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything that wasn’t somehow, at some level, beneficial or for the ‘greater good’.
It’s only been in recent years that this sterling image has seriously been called into question. And, to my dismay, it appears that in fact Google is “guilty as charged” – a company who’s actions are now often self-serving, at the expense of others, and intentionally obscured.
(What we’re talking about here is the overt conflicts-of-interest impacting online business. I’m not even touching on the scary-in-its-real-significance invasion of privacy stuff. While some may buy the “We screwed up” mea culpa once or twice in some areas, Google has even admitted intent here. More than once. )
I won’t recite the litany of ‘grievances’, though one of the best illustrations of this is the whole organic search space that Google dominates. Aaron Wall’s blog at SEOBook has been illuminating Google’s often-nefarious changes and double-standard practices for some time. I have to admit, as compelling & convincing as his posts were – and they were *really* compelling & convincing! – I had a lot of resistance to re-evaluating my stance on Google as a company. But the increasing number, and severity, of Google’s “transgressions” have plainly removed doubt about their intentions, and willingness to “play dirty”.
All of which brings me (finally…) to the idea that prompted me to write this post the way I did.
In my business – developing revenue-generating websites and teaching others how to do so – I’ve had to become an expert in SEO, something that was years in the making. Prior to that, my focus was on paid traffic and “SEM” (“Search Engine Marketing”), mostly via Google’s Adwords PPC advertising. I was a “Google Certified Professional”, managing a monthly spend of approximately $100,000 (and unbeknownst to me, also ‘qualifying’ for the above class-action lawsuit).
Over the past 12-18 months, Google has implemented changes in search that made the practice of SEO – search engine optimization – increasingly confusing and significantly harder, while vehemently denying that they were “anti-SEO”. Concurrently, they’ve been shrinking the organic search results real estate on their pages, with proportional increases in paid ad real estate.
Since search engine traffic acquired through rankings are the ‘lifeblood’ of so many companies, and a major focus of what we do, and what we teach, any changes impact us directly. And yet we still look to SEO as a viable business strategy for traffic, and the resulting revenue.
But that needs to change, because it’s abundantly clear that Google will continue making it harder & harder.
In a recent interview I read, Larry Kim of Wordstream said something that cemented all this for me. He visited with Google recently, and says they have shared some of their 2013 plans with him. In the interview, he was asked what changes he expects from Google in 2013 as far as search is concerned:
“Google will make SEO increasingly difficult, by making it un-measurable, by crowding out search results with larger paid ads and ad other formats, and rolling out algorithms that actually punish SEO.”
What he said next was what really hit me, as it puts all of this into context, and provides the ‘answer’ that most suspected, but have had such a hard time accepting:
“I think that Google’s CEO, Larry Page, views SEO clicks as theft and has basically declared a War on SEO to drive Google revenues.”
I may not like it, and it ‘seals the coffin’ on any idealistic view of Google, but it makes complete sense. The take-away to all of this? Any business model that is built on, or relies on traditional SEO will seal it’s fate. The way to future success is in ranking through ‘Authority’, alternate traffic sources, and paid traffic. SEO really is dead.