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Rant on Class Action Suit Against Google

Posted on Mar 19th, 2006
Written by Lee Odden
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    The class action noise about Google and the company who’s rankings have dropped is a pure waste in my opinion. Google has no legal obligation to treat sites in any particular manner as far as I know. No one pays Google to be included, so is there really an obligation by Google to explain legally? Granted, it would be unfortunate to have one’s site removed from Google, particularly since Google can mean the difference between being in or out of business. But a lawsuit?

    My SEO firm has been involved with several SEO “cleanup” and re-inclusion requests for companies that came to us for help and EVERY TIME there was a clear reason the sites were removed from Google. Hidden text, too many links from link farms, doorway pages, duplicate content, cloaking, redirects, keyword stuffing, you name it. The companies would start by saying they had no knowledge of anything “sneaky” but a quick look at source code, back links and checking the site out with CSS turned off (ala Matt Cutts) revealed a lot. Unfortunately, without a lot of experience, it’s not always easy to figure out why a site has been fallen. (BTW, we are NOT taking any more of these sorts of projects)

    I wonder how much of an effort that company went through to find out why their rankings have dropped? When I have sent emails to Google, I had a response in a few days. In fact from my experience, Google doesn’t consider a site “penalized” unless it is completely gone and that is not the case with the company filing the lawsuit. I think they’ve shot themselves in the foot by filing that lawsuit.

    In Forbes coverage of the situation, this quote stands out to me:

    With the stakes so high, Web sites assigned a low Google ranking are constantly trying to elevate their standing, and an entire cottage industry has formed surrounding search engine optimization. Some sites resort to dirty tricks, hoping the shenanigans will fool Google into highlighting their Web links.

    It is a bit amusing for someone to call SEO, which is currently a $1 billion industry a “cottage” industry. There was $5 billion spent on SEO/SEM/PI overall in 2005, according to SEMPO. That’s a lot of cottages!

    I know there are many folks calling themselves SEOs still practicing “dirty tricks”. Journalists are prone to focus on the negative because it gets more readers and the continued use of these tactics give them the opportunity to make sweeping generalizations. Not all journalists are like this of course and there are a good number of articles that are balanaced. It’s just the negative ones that get the most attention. Not all SEOs use dirty tricks either, in fact I’m pretty confident they’re a small minority. I’m not talking about black hat tactics either. I mean short term, greedy, newbie SEO, stupid tactics. Well, maybe some of it is black hat.

    The funny thing is, that quote from Forbes journalist Michael Liedtke, could be rewritten substituting SEO for just about any other marketing discipline. For example:

    “With the stakes so high, companies with limited advertising budgets are constantly trying to improve their brand visibility, and an entire cottage industry has formed surrounding advertising. Some companies resort to clever ad campaigns, hoping attractive ads will fool consumers into buying their products.”

    Or how about this one:

    “With the stakes so high, little known companies are constantly trying to improve their reputation and credibility in the industry, and an entire cottage industry has formed surrounding public relations. Some companies resort to pitching journalists, hoping the contributed articles and interviews will fool consumers into believing the company is an expert in their industry.”

    I’d do another on web design, interactive marketing, email marketing, etc, but you get the idea.

    The point is, this less than positive reference to SEO is trite and un-founded at best. You can chalk it up there along with the other paranoid articles about SEO focusing on overt manipulation rather than the value that is added by SEO firms from usability enhancements, keyword targeting, technical and content optimization, conversion and analytics reporting. The list goes on and on.

    [/end rant]

    h/t to Bretton Jones

    Update:¬† Here’s an excellent comments thread on this topic over at Threadwatch.