Papering over the cracks in the Google wall

By: Rob Corbidge, 02 November 2023

The world of SEO and Google search efficacy is promoting debate

Exploring the world of SEO has led one writer into a great deal of fascinating controversy.

Alluvial gold is still found in many places across the planet, where pieces of raw earthly wealth can be plucked from a concealing embrace of mud and turned into money. As the lively docuseries Aussie Gold Hunters has shown, prospecting for such gold can be both exciting and frustrating, laborious and intricate, and ruinous or rewarding.

The present generation of reputable SEO specialists can be seen as such toilers, equipped with expertise, instinct, and the right tools, they can lead clients to the perfect spot with the correct advice. What they can't guarantee - and this is what separates the good from the slicksters - is total success. 

The reasons for this lack of certainty are manifold, yet at the heart of it sits an information search system (aka Google) that ostensibly treats all pieces of information as equal until it has applied certain filters. Navigating those filters in order to benefit the visibility of a client's website is what a helpful SEO-er does, yet, just like the shifting sands Outback miners have to account for, SEO advisors work in a search environment that also morphs unexpectedly and has shifting unknowns.

In a well-written and entertaining piece this week The people who ruined the internet a writer for The Verge asked the question "Did SEO experts ruin the internet or did Google?"

It's a lengthy read, but worth the time. You know when some kind of target has been hit because it causes a stir  in the reputable SEO community that do their utmost to make clients realise what is achievable and have to fight their own battles against those notionally in the same field that would happily promise the moon on a plate to part a client with their cash.

In fact, references to scammers and grey-area-sharp-practice merchants are probably the part of the article that excited most comment. As wise heads have pointed out, the days of absolutely naked Google result gaming are long gone, and judging the state of search on behaviour from a decade or two back will not produce an accurate assessment. And yet and yet, I've still seen Google return some awful trash AI-generated results at the top of my search requests in recent months...

The Verge piece by Amanda Chicago Lewis has seen people such as Google's Danny Sullivan provoked to post their own thoughts on it, and fascinating reading it is too.

However, one can't help but feel someone working for a business with supreme commercial power shouldn't be quite as defensive as he comes across, like an annoyed colonial administrator, in a piece pretty much as long as the original no less. No one responds at length to stupid claims and he agreed to be interviewed by Lewis for the article.

It's still a truth in the public and commercial spheres that unless a journalist shakes a tree, nothing will fall out. Not a lot falls out of Google's tree - although it does coincide with a large drop of information presented as exhibit evidence in the US Google anti-trust trial currently underway.

A good question might be how Google would assess the worth of such an article, bearing in mind Mr Sullivan has chosen to shred it for accuracy and even somewhat ominously mention his own conversations with The Verge's editor-in-chief. It's inaccurate so it must be worthless right? 

Yet, you could argue that while inaccurate on some specifics, it remains accurate in substance, and at least has triggered an informed debate. There's huge value in that alone, or in the quote from former Google search liaison Matt Cutts, saying "I deeply, deeply, deeply, believe search engines are newspaper-like entities, making editorial decisions." 

So you can stick that in that in your E-E-A-T and smoke it.

It does appear The Verge committed one identifiable sin. As The Guardian's Chris Moran pointed  out they didn't put "SEO" in the headline.