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Google Is Not A Charity

May 14, 2012 · 6 comments

in SEO

Google Panda Penguin updatesOne of the problems with any “free” service is the fact that people tend to forget how much it really costs to maintain. Google is no exception. In my opinion, it’s about time SEOs started thinking about Google like a business.

At heart, Google is a company that runs a search engine. In the past few years, they’ve made this painfully obvious and shown the world that they don’t mind upsetting the entire inbound marketing community if they need to make a business decision (hello, blocking all logged in referral keywords).

If you understand this simple fact, then Google’s recent algorithm changes and search engine decisions will make more sense, and give you insight into how Google thinks. As one of the world’s most successful businesses, it’s not a surprise that they make algorithm decisions based on their business goals. That said, let’s get specific about what those goals are and how they’re influencing some of Google’s recent changes:

Why does Google care about duplicate content, and why did they release the Panda update? 

Last year, Google made 37.9 billion (mostly in PPC ads). Of that, they spent an estimated 24 million dollars just powering their servers, and that doesn’t include the cost of buying the servers, or any employee expenses for the people who work on Google’s search algorithm. Like any business, Google is looking for ways to save money, and one of the best ways is for them to reduce the workload on their servers and their employees: thus, the Panda update.

Panda was a business decision designed to save Google money. Low quality websites are everywhere, ranging from intentional black hat spammy sites to sites run by lazy web masters who create “thin content” web sites. What they have in common is that they are expensive for Google to crawl/index. By removing duplicate content from its index, Google is able to avoid the expense of having to crawl these poorly made sites and save millions of dollars in storage alone.

SEO companies (mine included) have spent a good part of this last year helping companies remove duplicate content from their websites (for example: The Decal Guru is in the process of completely rewriting their product descriptions to remove all duplicate content from its site.) A lot of e-commerce sites have been hit pretty hard, but companies like Zappos and Amazon are leading the e-commerce industry because they’ve invested in high quality content.

Why do some 301 redirects still work, and others don’t? 

Before you throw out a broad generalization, stop hard and think about the statement from a business perspective. How many times have you heard an SEO say, “Google is going to devalue 301 redirects because black hatters abuse them?”  Businesses have been changing their names and re-branding themselves for thousands of years. If Google suddenly decided that companies could no longer change their business name, they would break the internet.

Remember when Quantum Computer Services changed their name to America Online, and then to AOL Time Warner and then back to AOL?  A search engine can’t penalize companies who legitimately change their corporate identity. It’s true that you won’t retain 100% of your link juice, but non-spammy 301 redirects still pass most of their link authority.

Why does Google care about “search query intent?” 

There has been a lot written on search intent and semantic keyword research, so I’m not going to cover it in depth. The basic idea of intent is this: when you search for “apple,” Google determines whether you’re looking for the fruit or the technology company. For a user, this is extremely convenient because it provides more relevant search results. But search intent is more than just a move toward A.I. and search innovation; it is also a savvy business decision.

Going back to the bottom line – Google makes its money off of advertising. The click-through rate on relevant ads is higher then the CTR on irrelevant ads, so Google knows that displaying ads that are related to the searcher’s intent will ultimately make the search tycoon more money. If you search for “apple,” and Google knows that you mean the technology company, then it will display ads for Macbooks, iPads, and iPhones – and you will be much more likely to click those ads than if it had displayed the ones for local organic produce. Each click is more money in the bank for Google, so it literally pays for them to understand your intent.

Just as it pays Google to understand your intent, it pays you to understand theirs. The above are just a few examples of how Google’s business goals affect their search engine development. Once you understand Google’s motivations as a money-making company, you’ll be able to see why they structure their search algorithms the way they do, and start to use that knowledge to your advantage. I’d love to hear what you think about this article. You can tweet me 🙂 @brewseo

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Pete Goumas May 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm

Hi Bryant,
Great insight on google startegies. I haven’t known that google has a hugh expenditure that cause it to think about duplicate content and google could earn good money by stopping any duplicate content. Thanks for the information.
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Amrik May 18, 2012 at 3:33 pm

What i feel is that there is absolutely no penicillin yet invented to deal with Panda or blah blah algo. What we need to do is too keep experimenting with our sites according to Webmaster Guidelines provided by Google.
Bcoz if you’re manipulating your content today bcoz of present algo, then in future what if google starts considering your previous manipulated content as content created for “SE’s”??
The simple point is to try and stick to basics and write content for readers without caring for SE’s.
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Bryant Jaquez May 18, 2012 at 10:23 pm

I don’t think manipulating your site is ever a good idea. But, there’s no reason not to optimize your site. Good SEO is like an interior decorator. If you want to sell a house, you’ll make a better impression on potential buyers if it’s well “staged.” Yeah, you can still get people to buy a house that is messy, but it’s not going to get as much intrest.

A good SEO makes your site “search friendly” and helps promote it on the web. You don’t have to manipulate algorithms to accomplish that.

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Richard Robbins October 13, 2016 at 1:04 am

Since the 2011-2012 updates from Google, I keep hearing people talk about a “duplicate content penalty” as if Google is “catching” websites and putting them in a penalty box. It seems like most people still don’t know what that actually means.

Rather than being a specific penalty in the sense that Google manually penalizes websites for having a copy of another body of content, it simply makes sense that Google doesn’t show the same (or nearly the same) 10 results for any particular search, so if you plagiarize or syndicate something from someone else’s site, you can expect that your copy isn’t going to get much traffic unless you do some serious promotion through social media or link building.

However, I have seen situations in which Google marks a whole domain or major portions of it as simply providers of duplicate content, which seems to weighs down anything published there.

I wouldn’t be afraid to re-publish an article on my site if it would benefit my readers even at the risk of publishing something that’s duplicate. I would likely preface the article with enough text to somewhat differentiate it from other versions of the article so that it at least has a chance to get search traffic.
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