Most business relationships involve some level of parasitism, wherein one party derives benefit from the resources of the other. Ideally, there is benefit to both sides, which would be described as symbiosis. Sometimes, however, one side is simply providing support to the other, getting nothing in return. The relationship that we have with Google can sometimes become a classic example of such a parasitic relationship.
Most of us recognise the potential for mutual benefit from our relationship with Google, but some feel that Google gives very little in exchange for what it takes. From a high altitude viewpoint, I think Google offers quite a lot… but not on a silver platter.
Furthermore, I think that site owners, users and marketers that look realistically at their interactions with Google will acknowledge that there are really several different relationships at play. Each of those relationships should be evaluated independently, even though they usually overlap.
Benefits Google Offers to Us
This can be somewhat vague, as it involves many factors. A site’s ranking for a specific search term can vary dramatically, due to relevance, personalisation, location, temporal issues and more. But all else being equal, Google offers the opportunity to have a page displayed in the SERPs. This is a very complex process and Google’s resources enable them to do for us what none of us could accomplish for ourselves on such a scale – open the door to targeted users.
Google offers us a great deal of data about how they see our pages and how users interact with our sites, ostensibly to help us improve the quality of our sites and increase visibility. There are other ways for us to acquire some of that data, but most are less reliable and most aren’t free. Many of them also simply take the data that Google accumulates and feed it to us as their own.
Through our Google accounts, we’re able to connect our account with our various websites, profiles and online intellectual properties. This enables us to increase our visibility and authority, claiming credit for our work through such features as authorship, along with interconnection of various profiles.
While the many technological advancements that Google can lay claim to may seem to be outside of our relationships with them, they still permeate our online experience, as well as those of our clients and customers. Smart glasses and self-driving cars, email, satellite imagery, fibre-optic and balloon-supported internet access, streaming video, tonnes of cloud storage, Android, Chromecast and more have all changed the landscape of our lives. Use of an increasing number of those benefits require us to be on Google’s grid.
Benefits We Offer to Google
A search engine isn’t of much use to anyone if it doesn’t have fresh, relevant content with which to respond to search queries. Billions of websites fuel the index that Google uses to respond to search queries from all over the world. The content that publishers populate to their websites provides the meat on the bone for that index, but if Google doesn’t deem that content worthy of consideration, it will either appear deep in the SERPs or not at all.
It’s been said that users are really no more than Google’s product offering. In terms of ad sales, which constitutes the vast majority of the company’s income, users are, indeed, the product that they offer to advertisers. Google’s ability to efficiently put specific ads in front of targeted viewers enables them to continue to grow their ad revenues.
Google is heavily invested in capturing and indexing virtually all types of data. This includes knowing who users are, where they’re located, what they’re interested in and who they’re connected to. As an increasing number of users move about the web, logged into any one of many Google properties, the scope of this data base increases dramatically. This data (and the interconnection of it with other data) feeds Google’s ability to serve highly targeted ads, arguably the strongest driving force behind its very successful ads services.
The Evolution of the Relationship(s)
Initially, at least to most users and publishers, Google seemed to be providing a great deal of benefit and to be fair, that was true. Suddenly, there were effective methods of building our sites up in the search engine’s eyes, to have our pages displayed to users that were most likely to be receptive to whatever our site was offering. And for searchers, it was simply amazing!
Of course, with so much money to be made online, it was inevitable that abusive tactics would surface. That led to Google having to take on an additional role – one of policing the Internet. As many still like to point out, Google doesn’t own the Internet. One can argue that they do own their search results, however, and the appearance of a page in the SERPs is simply Google controlling the quality of those results.
Since SERP quality is what keeps the company at the top of the search heap, Google can provide access to the largest single pool of (ad) viewers. Logically, they’d want to protect their share of search, as it’s at the heart of their ad sales. Ironically, it is this necessity that gave birth to their burgeoning PR crisis.
Becoming a publicly-traded company has almost certainly made some top-level decisions more complicated for Google. And naturally enough, as Google takes more actions against those that abuse certain techniques in an effort to manipulate their rankings, there’s no shortage of accusations against the company. Some claim it’s all done in an effort to force more site owners to purchase ads, while others say that Google doesn’t care about the businesses it destroys. A few even seem to be convinced that Google intends to take over the world.
The problem that seems to be simmering is that at first, Google was only breeding discontent among SEOs and digital marketers. Now, though, that has spread to site owners, as well. As more and more penalties are levied, the number of Google-haters seems to grow. If it spreads to the search user base at large, Google’s days as a leader in search and advertising may be numbered.
Most offenders that find themselves fallen from grace probably know, deep down, that they deserved it. That often doesn’t keep them from raging against Google, though. But what seems to be causing the greatest PR issue for Google is the growing number of innocent parties whose sites are penalized, often causing significant financial hardship.
Military leaders have long used the term “acceptable losses” in connection with the casualties of battle. If the battle is won and sufficient troops remain to do further battle, then those that were lost are seen as a cost, but acceptable.
The question is, does Google view as acceptable losses, the businesses that are wrongly swept up in a flurry of penalties, without having deliberately done anything wrong? Probably, because is it even realistic to expect an algorithm to accurately detect intent? Surely not.
Knowing that there will be innocent casualties, does the company take any measures to prevent the catastrophic impact to a business of losing 60 to 90 percent of organic traffic for a month. Apparently not.
At the end of the day, it seems that we are just Google’s product. Even those of us in the digital marketing sector (including the many businesses that manage their own marketing) are such a minute slice of Google’s base that the outrage we might express at their calculated disregard is nothing more than a minor ripple, if that. In short, we don’t matter.
Knowing that, each of us needs to consider what Google gives us and what it takes from us, and decide if it’s worth the cost. And that’s not a one-time evaluation, either… we need to re-evaluate with every change, in order to attempt to control whether we’re figuratively hosting an oxpecker or a remora.
As always, diversifying your sources of traffic is key in minimising your dependency on any single channel. If any source is providing your business (or a client’s) a large enough percentage of the total that its loss would be difficult to recover from, it’s time to adjust your focus and redistribute the risk.