The fear broke out when I looked at my webmaster tool impressions chart on Monday. An overnight drop of 100 to 1!
Stupefaction, incredulity. No message in my WT, no manual action nor unnatural links warning. A feverish look at my keywords rankings with another tool confirmed the drop from the 2nd page to the 10th page for all of them. Something like a seo penalty may have happened but still, I couldn’t believe it. Even more because we didn’t do any BH or aggressive link building.
With drops of sweat starting to form on my temples, I checked for our brand name… the home wasn’t showing up. I was nonplussed.
We didn’t exist any more.
As dumbfounded as I was, I had to slowly come into the acceptance that we were the victims of a Google SEO penalty. An algorithmic one. The worst, as you don’t always know what to do and as it takes months to recover according to most sources.
And this was a brutal one. Like with the Interflora penalty, the home wouldn’t come up for a search on the brand name. But Interflora is a huge brick-and-mortar company that was bribing bloggers by sending them flowers. We are a small business that certainly has no financial capacity to bribe anybody.
So how did that happen? That’s a good question. A question I’m still trying to answer at the time of this writing. And the survival of my business is depending greatly on that. If we ever recover from this penalty, this will be the subject of a case study that we’ll publish in this blog. And if anybody wants to help, you’re warmly welcome.
But, the topic of this post is not about the consequences that this penalty may have on my business. The topic is about the consequences that such practice may have on the Internet. What we’ve seen is a slow shift of Google’s position from actor, to regulator. And this is worsening to a kind of dictatorship that is now threatening the freedom of the Internet.
Thinking I’m going too far?
Let’s take the definition from Wikipedia: “Dictatorship is a form of government where political authority is often monopolized by a single person or a political party, and exercised through various oppressive mechanisms.”
Oppressive mechanisms. What we’re now seeing is that people are starting to be afraid. They’re afraid of being penalized and don’t dare to do anything that might be considered SEO, even if actually perfectly legitimate. This in turn reinforces the SEO industry, even if most SEOs are running like beheaded chickens trying to avoid the next deadly algorithmic animal. And the 1st ingredient of a successful dictatorship is fear.
Google’s own words read “Since the beginning, we’ve focused on providing the best user experience possible“. So how is hiding the home page to users searching for a brand name making the experience better? Google prefers to decrease its relevancy, and goes against its own alleged focus, in order to apply a punitive sanction. This is how far Google is willing to go to instill fear. And they can so well because they are the entry point of the Internet. If your don’t show up in Google, you don’t exist. Period.
Damn they are. My mom don’t know what an URL is. If somebody gives her a website, she will just type it in Google. Most people prefer to do so and click on the 1st link than to enter the full domain in the URL bar. It’s even worse now that Google search is integrated in Chrome’s URL bar.
So it all boils down to the fact that Google has a monopolistic position. Google holds 68% of the US search traffic, and a much higher percentage in most of the other countries apart Russia and China (>90% in France for instance). If the traffic was shared equally between Google, Bing, Yahoo, and say, Duckduckgo, or even better between 10 search engines, things would be very different.
Again from Wikipedia, “The most general type of dictatorship is despotism […] a single entity rules with absolute power.“
Getting back to my own case, I started thinking about what could have triggered this penalty. I thought about the few bloggers I contacted to get Linkody reviewed and to whom I was offering a free Pro plan as a courtesy. I was asking the bloggers to subscribe to the trial, test the service, and if they liked it and wrote a review, I would give them a Pro account to use for their personal SEO needs. Was that against Google guidelines? Was that a form of bribery? Well, if they didn’t like the product in the first place, what would they care about getting a free plan? On the contrary, if they liked the service, this would be natural to write a review and share it. And giving them a free plan was just a way to thank them.
But What’s more important here is to realize that Google is deciding what’s wrong and what’s right. Whatever the general consensus might be about such practice, it’s Google stand that matters in the end.
What if I don’t want to respect Google guidelines in the first place? Nobody should tell me how I want to conduct business, right? Well, then I would simply take the risk of loosing my business. And that’s exactly the point I want to stress here. A web business has to comply with Google’s rules.
Still from wikipedia, “Totalitarianism is a new and extreme form of dictatorship […] in which ideology plays a leading role in defining how the entire society should be organised.”
It has actually been a long time since Google was only a search engine. Today, Google controls both endpoints of the Internet. From the entry point, to the browser (Chrome being now the most used browser), through the hosting, the development solutions, the pipes… the emails. At some point I thought about them. What if Google is incorporating email content into its spam detection algorithm? Are my emails encrypted? Actually, isn’t Google already using my email content to deliver me “contextual ads based on the message you are reading“? So what would prevent them to use the same content to look for “buying link” or “link exchange” or “please review my product” emails. This reasoning may be completely groundless but that’s not the point. The point is that Google is generating fear to such an extent that paranoia is crawling in. And that’s exactly another trait of a dictatorial regimes.
To increase their stronghold on people, dictatorships use the well known tool of denunciation. Fear thy neighbor. Well, it looks like Google knows about it:
“If you’ve found a particular site that’s spamming our index, we’d like to hear about it. To learn about what we consider acceptable practices, please see our Webmaster Guidelines. The best way to tell us about a site that doesn’t meet our guidelines is by submitting a Spam Report at https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport?hl=en.”
They have also created a system in which an evil-minded individual or company can attack their competitors, through namely, a negative SEO attack. And the only solution they came up with is the disavow tool. Well done Google, you managed to create a big mess. But wait a minute. If I have to manually disavow links, does that mean that I cannot trust the fact that I will never be erroneously penalized and wiped out of the Internet, even if I strictly follow Google guidelines?
Without getting into the field of politics, and how companies should be regulated by other entities, namely governments, to avoid this kind of monopolistic position, I want to stress how Google is no different from any other company, how they stopped following their own motto “don’t be evil”, and how this impacts the web in general and especially the SEO industry.
Google, like any company that grows to such an extent is getting out of control. Google is ruling the Internet like Monsanto is ruling the GMO business. And Google is starting to apply the same bullying techniques, using fear and intimidation techniques, to make bloggers and businesses bend their knees into obedience.