Search Engine Manipulation: What It Is And Why Google Frowns At It
Google's comments in response to a legal battle against a publisher threw up some controversy over its position on Search Engine Optimization. Some think Google could come against SEO. But Google condemn Search Engine Manipulation and not SEO per say. Lets look further into this scenario.
Does Google now view search engine optimization as bad, as spam, as something you could get banned for?
Certainly not, but that is the take away you could now get based on a legal fight between Google and a publisher that was banned from its search results. Many of us have gotten a Google penalty including an outright ban. But this legal battle throws up some interesting questions and we will be seeing a possible change in the behavior of Google following this development when a publisher could sue for being penalized/delisted from search results. It equally suggests that there could be a suit for being penalized and downgraded.
The case involves e-ventures Worldwide, which had many of its sites banned by Google and is fighting in court for damages as a result. Google challenged the suit applying to the court to have the case dismissed. Google lost the battle to have the case dismissed, so the fight continues.
This week, an article in the Entrepreneur highlighted an interesting part of Google's legal arguments, that search engine manipulation is something the company fights against, might ban anyone for and, importantly, is defined about the way many people might define SEO. The later is quite frightening - that Search Engine Manipulation could be defined about the same way we define SEO. Which suggests that Google could view a good, honest and genuine effort at good SEO, to be some sort of search engine manipulation?
Also read: A Complete Guide To Good SEO For Beginners
Google: SEO is not spam
Is Google Trying To Kill SEO, as the headline of the Entrepreneur article asks? Almost certainly not, and we will try to explain Google's intention when it talks about search engine manipulation. But let's start with Google's official statement that it gave on this:
While we can't comment on ongoing litigation, in general, Google supports and encourages SEO practices that are within our guidelines and don't consider that to be spam.
Got it? SEO - commonly accepted best practices - isn't spam. And anyone encountering the new term of search engine manipulation should view that to be synonymous or having same meaning as spam, not SEO.
The search engine manipulation backstory
How did the concern over what search engine manipulation means come about? It's from a key document in the lawsuit, a statement by Brandon Falls, the Google search quality analyst who took action against the e-ventures sites. Falls introduces the term search engine manipulation for the first time by anyone within Google's search team. It's not a term that is regularly used by Google when dealing with publishers. There's not a single help document for publishers that mentions the phrase in Google's webmaster support area.
From Falls declaration, the first reference to search engine manipulation is as follows:
An important part of providing valuable search results to users is Google's protection of the integrity of its search results from those who seek to manipulate them for their own gain. As noted, efforts to subvert or game the process by which search engines rank the relevance of websites are called webspam in the search industry.
Such search engine manipulation harms what is most valuable to users about search: the quality (i.e., relevance) of our search results for users.
Accordingly, Google considers search engine manipulation to be extremely serious and expends substantial resources to try to identify and eliminate it. These actions are critical to retain users, trust in Google's search results.
Google opens by saying it tries to protect its search results from those who seek to manipulate them for their own gain. The problem with this is that this statement not only applies to SEO best practices that Google itself encourages, but also to activities that violate Google's guidelines, which it considers spam.
Anyone doing commonly accepted SEO is doing so in hopes of manipulating the search results for their own gain. Google's own guide to SEO acknowledges this in talking about using its advice as a publisher in order to have a noticeable impact on your site's user experience and performance in organic search results.
Google actively encourages and instructs publishers on how to manipulate its search results, and publishers are inherently doing this for their own gain. SEO is manipulation, and the Google declaration suggests that for any search engine manipulation to be a potential cause for action.
Could Google turn against genuine SEO that yields good results beyond the expected? NO! The definition of the new term does not suggest the stick will come against those who genuinely build on their site's user experience and gets a search engine ranking boost. Google certainly wants to push up websites that have become more useful and providing solutions to users and there is nothing suggesting that such websites will come under Google's penalty.
Further reading: Understanding the Google Link Spam Update
Why it's obvious that search engine manipulation means spam
Sophisticated SEOs, of course, wouldn't interpret the declaration statement in that way. Knowing that Google does things like publish a guide to SEO, produces videos on it, speaks on the topic and encourages SEO in many ways makes it blindingly obvious that Google doesn't consider SEO within its guidelines to be bad.
Rather, would say most sophisticated SEOs would interpret this new search engine manipulation as a term to be synonymous with web spam spam for short- activities that fall outside Google accepted guidelines for SEO.
Reading through the rest of the declaration, it becomes pretty clear that search engine manipulation is indeed being used as a synonym for spam and does not include accepted SEO.
For example: Google's online Webmaster Guidelines include a discussion of Quality Guidelines. The Quality Guidelines enumerate numerous manipulation techniques that violate Google's Webmaster Guidelines. So when you try to manipulate the search engine within the guidelines encouraged and recommended by Google, you certainly will be enriching the Google search results and you are rewarded with a search engine boost.
Also read: Useful Tips and Tricks for WordPress Search Engine Optimization
In that statement, Google is acknowledging that there are many search engine manipulation techniques, but only some violate its guidelines. In other words, not all manipulation is bad and an actionable offense. SEO manipulation which is done within its guidelines should be okay. Outside the guidelines - that's spam and potentially gets you into trouble.
Nevertheless, the opening statement in the declaration can be read as including even best practices in SEO can be seen as search engine manipulation. It's a pity Google wasn't much clearer and didn't stay with the commonly used industry terms out there. As a result, it's possible for anyone to fear that doing accepted SEO might be an offense for which a ban could apply.
In reality, anyone who stays within Google's guidelines really should have nothing to fear, as Google's own statement says. In particular, it's important to note that this declaration introducing search engine manipulation as a term was made back in November 2014. It was only just noticed now. If this was a first shot in Google's coming war on accepted SEO, then for over two years now, that's not actually had any impact.
What Google Hates
If you will not be a victim of search engine manipulation and be penalized by Google, you have to avoid what Google considers to be bad SEO. Here is a quick glance at some of the negative SEO practices you need to avoid:
Buying a link: You may have been inundated in your inbox about how you can rank in the top 10 buy getting links from PR5 and so on websites. That was possible some years back and does not work again. Google still values links but those links have to be earned by being links from people who consider your site to be offering quality content and not just links you buy. Google no longer reward those link purchases and could even punish you for buying links.
Google is now concerned about how a link to your site got on that other web site. Was it placed there because you had something interesting on your site that someone wanted to link to. If no, did you pay someone some money to put your link in the footer of their site and it just so happens that the word in the link (anchor text) is a very highly searched term that has a lot of competition? That later practice is bad and Google seriously frowns at it.
Sites full of ads: Websites that display and lot of ads and pp ups does not get Google's reward and you need to avoid that. If you run a web site for a real estate business and it is covered with trash, it is not very welcome by Google. It's not a bad thing to want to make some money by having advertisements on your site but you will also need to separate the ads from the content and if the ads are intrusive enough to provide what Google considers a “bad experience” for the user, your search rankings could be affected.
Hidden text: Google loves text, it loves content. Content is food to Googlebot. It loves to find text, gather it, and add it to its database. There is a bad practice that some site owners and webmasters follow and that is hiding this text so only the search bots can find it. This is done by having white text on a white background or manipulating the code of the web page to hide text from a person visiting the site yet enable a search engine crawler to “see” it without difficulty. Being smart like this could get your site banned from Google's search results.
Small business: Google is becoming more interested in the quality of their search results. Unfortunately this is also making them interested in the big brands. This is one of the reasons to have a search engine optimization specialist work on your site, to use their expertise and knowledge in order to have your site rank up there with the big brands.
Thin content: A common practice among site owners trying to manipulate search results is to create thousands of pages targeting a different keyword search term and having very little useful content for its visitor. If a web page's content consists of a short paragraph of text with a search term used abundantly within the text, it's not very useful to a visitor and is not worthy of a good ranking.
Duplicate content: Google is looking for new and fresh content to add to their huge database. If it finds the same content it found on another web site it's not going to show much interest in what you have to offer. If your site sells a product and has the same exact product description provided by the manufacturer that every other web site selling that product is using, that is considered duplicate content. If you post an article on your blog from one of those free article sites that several other blogs have already posted, that is also considered duplicate content. Make everything on your site original and unique and watch your search results improve.
Flash: As mentioned previously in this article, Google is looking for text. Flash is a technique for building highly animated web sites that go beyond what can be done with standard HTML. The search robot that Google uses is not very good at reading web sites made using Flash. If you right click a web page and choose View Source or View Page Source from the menu you will see a similar version of the web page that Google sees. If your web site is made in Flash it will have very little text displayed when you view the page source. No text equals nothing for the Googlebot to read and no indication as to what your site is about and relevant for.
Slowness: Google now takes website speed as a ranking factor and so your website speed can affect your search engine ranks. Matt Cutts, Google's former head of webspam broke the news. Google is in a hurry and knows you are too. It wants to show the web sites in the search results that give the best user experience. If your web pages load slower than others it will not rank as well as one that is fast. Make sure your web site is optimized for speed with compressed images, streamlined code and a fast web server to ensure that your visitors are not frustrated by a slow web site.