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The Guardian’s Jack Schofield has written a thought-provoking piece on the power of Google, specifically referring to the case of a website called sprayonmud.co.uk which was delisted from the almighty search engine in December 2005.
Jack asks whether it is ‘fair’ for Google to act as judge and jury in these cases, even suggesting that it should finance an ‘independent ombudsman’ to address complaints. He warns: “If Google’s management don’t find a way to temper the company’s power, legislators will eventually do it for them.”
The whole article seems based around the weird notion that Google owes you something. The fact is that Google owes you nothing, and everything you get from it is a bonus (either by accident or design).
I think people often forget that Google is a company that has its own policies and practices, and that if your website has been delisted then 99.9% of the time it is for a very valid reason, not because Googlebot wants to bully you out of existence. It then works on the same basis as Hotmail, whenever ‘spam’ is identified: it doesn’t tell you that you have been delisted nor the reasons why.
Hotmail forces ‘spammers’ to pay for Bonded Sender status before removing them from its blacklist, while Google offers free tools like Google Sitemaps to help you see where you might be going wrong. However it is understandable that both Hotmail and Google need to remain black boxes, if they are to prevent the spammers from messing up the user experience.
The sprayonmud site was delisted in December, so it could have been dropped as part of the Big Daddy update. Matt Cutts has more information on Big Daddy. In a nut it penalises sites with “very low trust in the inlinks or the outlinks of that site”. It also looks for examples of “excessive reciprocal links, linking to spammy neighborhoods on the web, or link buying/selling”. Since we didn’t look at the sprayonmud site in December it is difficult to figure out why it was dropped, but the site currently has no PageRank rating, despite achieving links from some top sites (eg: BBC, Guardian, Independent), which is indicative of ongoing problems.
It is not the birthright of every website to be featured on Google. Search engines index your website at no cost, so you aren’t a ‘client’ unless you spend some ad budget with them (and even then it isn’t linked, although the lame three-day penalty BMW received suggests that Google may have been unduly lenient due to commercial factors). Sure, if you’re crazy you can pay for inclusion on Yahoo (even then there’s no guarantee you’ll be included, hence the ‘crazy’), but a top ten listing on Google – or any other search engine - is a bonus. A high ranking can even be a threat / risk if your company is too reliant on Google for referring visitors.
There are plenty of resources to help you implement your search engine optimisation strategy, not least our own rather joyous SEO Best Practice Guide. You have to work at indexing, starting off with a solid standards-based website before you submit it to Google Sitemaps, or Dmoz, or start building links on other sites (which Googlebot will follow, leading to indexation for your website, all being well). It is rarely as straightforward as you want it to be.
Hopefully your search strategy will underpin your business plan / web strategy, rather than being left to chance (design, rather than happy accident). But you can never bank on achieving and / or retaining a number top listing on Google.
Some web companies are suing Google after their sites fell in the rankings, something that is about as random as me suing Jack Schofield for not writing about E-consultancy three times a week / month / year. It ain’t fair, mister! Let’s hope these ridiculous cases are kicked into touch.
As to the idea of an ombudsman, well, it is an interesting one but would only be feasible if it wasn’t exclusive to Google. What about Yahoo, MSN, Ask? Don’t these search engines matter? Many consumer brands focus mainly on MSN, for demographic reasons, so a ban on MSN could be more costly than a Google ban for these companies. Would the ombudsman get involved in that? Not if it was a Google-only ombudsman. Is MSN any better at responding to complaints than Google? Or any more transparent? I doubt it.
An ombudsman seems rather unworkable, especially if other search engines come into play. I don't see how a Google-only ombudsman is different to Google's existing set-up for dealing with complaints.
Final question: should search be regulated by government? Ye Gods, let's hope not...
*** If your site is suffering at the hands of Google you should follow instructions from Matt Cutts on how to apply for reinclusion .