Today, I’m going to be talking about the big elephant in the room when it comes to digital marketing. I hear a lot people say “doesn’t Google hate SEO”, and it infuriates me when I hear that, because in some ways, yeah it’s true, Google does hate SEO… but it hates the SEO that people do that is unethical, that’s dodgy and bad, that hinders your website.
You know, the down-and-dirty nasty tricks that people in my industry have coined over the years to essentially cheat the system, to get an unethical advantage they shouldn’t have for a website that has no business ranking where it is.
Now, I was actually talking to one of the guys that we have working for us now at my digital marketing agency, and he’s only slightly older than my eldest son. I was talking to him about Google Page Rank, which anybody in our industry knows it used to be the be all and end all around the mid-2000s to like 2009, 2010, that sort of thing. When Google updated its Page Rank, everybody got really excited about whether you’ve got a higher rank or a lower rank, and I was talking to him about it and he had no idea what it was, which made me feel impossibly old – but back to the point.
Does Google hate SEO? I hear this all the time, and the long and short of it is that no, Google does not hate SEO, because what does SEO mean in itself? Search engine optimisation. You optimise a website for search engines, so the purpose of it is to make your website easier for a search engine, i.e. Google, to index it, to find the information that it’s looking for and to list it in Google’s index, where it deems it relevant and necessary to do so.
Why would Google not like that? Why would Google not want you to help it index your website? It’s nonsensical, and, in fact, Google provides tools to help you do this.
Google Console, formerly Google Webmaster Tools, has a specific focus to help you with the SEO of your website, to help you troubleshoot the errors that you may find to help you get the pages that you want to be indexed to be indexed, to help you with your Google Core Web Vitals, which is a very technical thing we’re going to go into in a later article, so don’t worry about that right now. I’m not going to get all nerdy on you, but everything within Google Console, which is a tool that you can access and set up with your website, doesn’t cost you a penny. It’s fairly simple to do and integrates directly with Google Analytics so you haven’t even got to install anything on your website to use it. It’s very simple to look at, and it will give you some vital information on whether your website has done something dodgy, has a problem or has some sort of indexing issue, so the whole thing there is to help your website rank better.
Google gives you these tools because it wants you to do SEO, it wants you to help it index your website. Let me explain what Google’s motivations are here. Google has long since had an ethos of sorts, a mission statement of “don’t be evil”. That’s what it used to say: “don’t be evil, don’t do things that you shouldn’t be doing.” But Google’s real reason for being, Google’s real mission statement, is to make sh*t loads of money.
It wants to make so much money it can literally climb into a big tower like Scrooge McDuck, dive into it and swim through it. That’s what Google wants, and the only way Google is going to get that is with Google Ads. That’s where bulk of its revenue comes – Google Ads, people spending money on PPC. People spend money on PPC on Google Ads because they get results, because their target customers use Google to find what they’re looking for, and then they see their PPC ads, they click on them, they go through to their websites and they buy their products, or they download their lead magnets, or join their mailing lists, or enquire to use their services, whatever it is that you’re promoting on PPC. That would not happen if, when people were searching on Google, they didn’t find what they were looking for. If they didn’t find what they were looking for, they’d go and use something like Yahoo or Bing. Can you imagine?
But they don’t use Yahoo, they don’t use Bing – they use Google. And they use Google because it works, and they find what they are looking for. Therefore, Google’s very happy because it earns billions and billions of dollars in ad revenue, but the only way people are going to find what they’re looking for is if Google gives them the right information, which would be your website.
The only way Google is going to be able to give them your website is if your website has the best information, is if you help it, which is where SEO comes in. It’s about helping Google to index your website, to find the information on your website, to find the most relevant content that answers somebody’s search query. That’s what SEO is, so why would Google hate that? It wouldn’t help it make sh*t loads of money.
No, what Google hates is the bad SEO, the dodgy SEO, the SEO done by these unethical people who want to find a cheap, fast, easy route to the top of the rankings. Over the past 25 years – Jesus, I feel really old and I’ve had an existential moment right now – that I’ve been in in this industry doing this stuff, there have been many, many different ways that people have found to cheat, essentially.
I remember back in when was somewhere around 1999-2000, there was something called web rings. The idea was that there’s a website with a little box on it that’s part of a web ring, and then you click on it and it goes to another website that’s in the web ring, and then it goes to another website that’s in the ring. All these websites all linked to each other because links are an important part of Google, and the more high-quality websites you have linking to you, the more votes you have. Google will look as these links and think you’re important, so will rank you a little higher.
So, web rings came out and there were rings for particular industries. You could have web rings for, say, science fiction, or web rings for sports, or for books, or for construction, and all these websites linked to each other. And it worked, because obviously these websites linking to each other is going to have an impact – Google’s going to see and increase rankings.
But, of course, that quickly started to not work when Google realised “oh right, they’re doing this are they? Right, well, we’re gonna alter our algorithm and we’re gonna filter that out and stop that crap from happening.”
Then came the reciprocal links –where website A links to website B, and website B links to website A. That worked for a short while, and then Google stamped that out because obviously that’s just linking for the sake of trying to increase rankings, there’s no other benefit other than “oh look, I want to rank a bit higher in Google”.
Next, somebody thought “what if we had a three-way?” Not in the sexual way, a three-way linking – so website A links to website B, and website B links to website C, and website C links to website A. So, there’s no reciprocal linking going on, but there is three-way linking going on, so everyone was getting a good-quality link. That worked for a while, until Google found out that they were doing that and stamped that out as well.
So essentially, there have been a lot of attempts over the years to manipulate Google’s rankings to cheat, to use what isn’t really SEO, but has been thrown under the SEO banner basically for evil, to do what Google doesn’t want anyone to do, to manipulate rankings the fast way.
Google hates the dodgy stuff. Other things would include hidden text on websites. People would go “oh look, I need loads of text on my website for it to rank. I don’t want to have lots of text on my website because it’s ugly, I just want images, so I’m going to make my text the same colour as the background of the website.” Google’s onto that as well, I’m afraid, but for a while, that would have worked.
Then, there was a really, really nasty one. There was a company that I ended up working for Cardiff, and it was using a digital marketing agency up in Manchester, and I won’t say the name because I think it’s still going, but it was doing probably the most unethical thing I’d ever seen in my life. This is one of those SEO things that Google hates, but at the time, it worked on our website.
One day, I came into work as the web designer, and there was loads of text all over the front page of the website. We didn’t know where it came from – loads of text about holiday cottages in Devon, and a casino in Stockport, with lots of big paragraphs about these holiday cottages and a casino and then links to them. The owner of the business is like “where the bloody hell did that come from? What’s that text on my website, what’s been going on there, what have you put on there?”
I hadn’t touched it or done anything to it, I’d just got in and seen it like this. So I had a look and sure enough, that text had been on there for a couple of years, but it was hidden. It was hidden with a style sheet that said display left minus 2000 pixels, which essentially means display that text off the screen to the left so no one can see it.
So all that text was there, it was just off the screen, so when you’re looking at the website on your computer in your internet explorer or your Opera or Firefox – if Firefox even existed back – the text is displayed off the screen to the left, so you can’t see it, but if you look at the code, it’s there. If Google looks at it, it’s there. But one day, this text just suddenly appeared on the front page of the website linking to these other websites, and then when you clicked through to these other websites, they’ve also got this spammy text on their website as well, and one of them was linking back to ours.
What had happened was the style sheet that was hiding this content was being pulled by this SEO company’s website, but its website and server had gone down so the style sheet wasn’t loading, which meant it was just displaying on the website with no hidden stuff.
So what this company had been doing with all of its clients that had taken on for SEO for digital marketing, with every single one, was using them to house spam text linking to all of their other clients. Our company website was linking to dozens of other websites, and all these websites were linking to dozens of other websites, and they were charging us and every other client for the privilege of using our website as a spam link farm, in effect.
And that is the absolute epitome of black hat, dodgy SEO. It’s extremely unethical and will get your website into some serious sh*t. That’s the type of SEO Google doesn’t like, because you shouldn’t be doing it, and this company should never have been doing it in the first place. It was essentially scamming its clients by using their own websites as link farms and charging them for the privilege. That’s the kind of SEO that Google doesn’t like.
So when people say “I heard Google doesn’t like SEO” or “I know Google doesn’t like SEO because it was on my website and my website doesn’t work anymore”, it’s because what they’re doing is dodgy, unethical and against Google’s terms of service. The SEO that Google does like is the SEO that you should be doing, helping Google to index your website and its content that your potential clients and customers are looking for. That is good SEO – that is the SEO that you want.
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