Despite what we think we know about SEO, it’s an industry that’s always going to be shrouded in mystery. And while Google has been known to dispense recommendations on the best practices they’d like to see, those recommendations are often pretty cryptic (even to long-time SEO experts).
One thing true SEO gurus do know? It’s not easy to figure out what Google wants and to combine that knowledge with tactics that actually work.
Back in February, Google released an 11-minute video on the ideal process for hiring an SEO firm or consultant. Google Search’s Maile Ohye touches on some important points, like checking references and conducting a two-way interview to ensure this firm is both interested in helping your business and has the technical know-how to do it. The video is expected to become a go-to reference guide for SEO hiring practices. And this makes sense, as Google is essentially all-powerful in determining whether your SEO campaigns pay off.
But while the overall advice is sound, some members of the industry believe the information is biased and insufficient -- like many of the official statements Google makes on the subject of SEO best practices. Within the video, Ohye notes that any recommendations that a legitimate SEO consultant makes about a strategy need to be backed up by Google’s own declarations. However, that’s easier said than done, considering that Google has often been mute or deliberately vague when responding to questions about their own algorithm updates. And when Google does comment on what SEO consultants should be doing, it’s often necessary to read between the lines.
Of course, it’s important to carefully consider all statements released by Google when determining SEO best practices and ranking factors. However, never forget that Google’s official proclamations are not the be-all and end-all of SEO; there are other factors to consider.
For one, just because Google has recommended the implementation of a certain practice -- or, more often, the abandonment of a certain tool or practice -- that doesn’t mean you always have to follow their advice to maintain or achieve a high search ranking. No, this doesn’t mean that it’s okay to start using bygone spambots or black hat SEO tricks to improve your rankings. But it does mean that you need to contemplate why Google makes these recommendations in the first place. Keep in mind that Google is a for-profit company first, last, and always. Putting aside the “Don’t Be Evil” ethos, Google will always look out for Google’s bottom line, not yours. And while the company says their ultimate goal is to provide a positive experience for users, B2B SEO expert Nate Dame writes in Search Engine Land that “Google is not a public service.”
A 2015 report, “Beyond the FTC Memorandum: Comparing Google’s Internal Discussions with Its Public Claims,” compared Google’s internal policies and practices to their public statements about those policies and practices and found several inconsistencies. The FTC found evidence to question whether Google’s search results:
- are designed to benefit users or Google.
- de-prioritize bad sites or Google competitors.
- use unbiased algorithms or human decisions.
Ultimately, their bottom line is determined by paid ads, and with billions of dollars of paid search revenue on the line, they’re truly not an unbiased source of information.
Google doesn’t consistently enforce their own rules, either. While the company announced an upcoming penalty for websites using interstitials (extra pages, ads, or forms that display before the desired content), websites like Forbes don’t appear to be suffering so far. Even though that change was rolled out at the beginning of the year, sites using these interstitial pages haven’t really seen much of an impact.
Search engine optimization recommendations are changing all the time because they’re based on both user behavior and Google’s own priorities. In addition, the data Google provides to the public is purposely limited. While Google does provide some resources and tools, they won’t hesitate to cut this data off at the source if it’s overly helpful to SEO firms. Case in point: recent changes to Adwords that removed precise keyword data. Some researchers have even started to question whether the data in the Google Search Console is truly reliable. So for the sake of accuracy, SEO companies need to use other third-party tools in addition to Google’s own features.
As long as Google is the world’s most popular search engine, SEO strategists disregard Google’s recommendations at their own risk. That being said, you should take what advice Google does dispense with a grain of salt.