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Is SEO really killing Google?

A Memeburn article on SEO and Google search results a few months back got a lot of heat going in the comments section. Most of the hating on it, I suspect, comes from those with a vested interest in promoting SEO. And Google fan boys.

Apart from a couple of considered responses, most were either of the “you just don’t understand the interwebs and the computerses”, or “surely you don’t believe puny humans could outwit the Mighty Google Page Rank Mightiness” variety.

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Then this piece appeared a few days ago in the Washington Post that very much confirms the view… hard numbers show that Google is becoming more and more useless for finding solid information and reliable sources.

It’s drowning in spam and SEO bait.

Looking for something pretty mainstream on the Web still works – the latest on the Egypt protests, or latest Groupon deal, or how to bake bread. But when you are searching for something specific, or specialised, or authoritative (you know, written by an expert giving actual, reference-able fact without commercial motive), then you can end up scratching around for ages.

One commentator opined that Google still works, it’s never been perfect, and you can spot the spam links a mile away, so stop whining.

True. The problem comes when the whole first, second and third page are spam links. When you do stumble across a useful doc, more often than not it’s because you found a link on a forum post (which maybe has good Google juice). You can seldom find these pages directly, even though they contain awesome, authoritative, genuine content.

PageRank no longer finds quality, it only finds effective SEO. Which is why social search is taking off. And walled content gardens. Sorry AOL, turns out there is a market demand for your model, ten years later.

The only question is how long it will take over-zealous digital marketers and blundering SEO monsters to poison that well too.

No matter how clever Google’s engineers and developers, and how many of them there are, there are always a hundred…a million…times more people across the globe gaming the system, making noise, and simply being skanky (possibly even with the best intentions).

Google apparently tweaked PageRank to stop the Vitaly Borker’s of this world, but he was an outlier – a clearly black-hat black sheep.

More problematic is that in an online global economy, PPC dollars and SEO resources beat quality every time – local small businesses can only struggle to compete with the Netflowers and Amazons and CNETs and Ask.coms, and non-businesses (academics, experts, enthusiasts, hobbyists) are not even in the game, even though they are often the source of actual, real, genuine, useful, honest content. The stuff people are looking for.

Like fighting email spam, fighting search spam is a losing battle, because for every thousand good-willed people, it just takes one sociopath to mess things up. Good luck Google, I hope you triumph over the SEO monster you unwittingly unleashed.

We’re all rooting for you.

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