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Techcrunch has just published an article called: “The Time Has Come To Regulate Search Engine Marketing And SEO.” The author requested anonymity for fear of a Google blackout (OR WORSE) and “doesn’t want his company associated with the post”. Fair enough – you wouldn’t want those men in green, red, yellow and blue suits to come a-knockin’.
The upshot of the article is basically that the government should step in and smite these bastards until they are sore. Too much power! We’ll show you! “The industry can’t be left to its own devices…”
Now that Google is properly grown up and employs a vast number of staff, it has undoubtedly moved into the world of ‘being a corporate’. Corporate practices do not sit easily with Google’s founders, nor many of its staff, but a company of that size needs to be run a certain way. And with scale comes responsibility, as well as the ‘corporate’ tag. And corporates are clearly a major threat to the world as we know it.
So the downside of achieving scale extends far beyond the realms of the business itself. Now that Google is king of search, almighty and powerful, questions are being asked about whether it is good, as per the company motto, or evil. Some people think it is too much of a force to be left alone...
Enter, The Man
Government regulation then, is surely the answer? It couldn't be done any other way, right? (actually, I'm not convinced it could)
But wait, a ‘secret’ relationship between the government and the search engines isn’t the answer, according to the post. Instead, something far more crazy is proposed:
“The only real solution is disclosure. Transparency. Those traffic generators that use rule-based algorithms to determine result sets must publicly disclose their methodologies.”
This is totally, utterly nuts.
It would completely destroy any search engine that complied by allowing the spammers to bastardize the results. And by spammers I do not mean ‘SEOs’, who are unfairly castigated in the article. Visibility is all fine and well, but opening up the algorithm - or any part of it - would greatly reduce quality on the search engines, and searchers would look elsewhere. And that would be deeply unfair on Google itself.
So look, this is a bunch of hot air if you ask me, and I personally believe that government regulation is in most circumstances abhorrent. As such here are 10 reasons why I think the idea of regulation totally sucks (and is completely unworkable):
1. It’s a free market. For God’s sake, the minute you start inviting government to start calling the shots is the minute things go wrong. Why are we calling for regulation? Because people like to use search engines? Or because Google is ‘too’ big? It’s a complete nonsense. If Google is abusing its power then let’s hear it from people who are prepared to raise their heads above the parapet (otherwise are we to assume that Mr S. Ballmer of Redmond is writing all the comments and articles?).
2. Trust. Ask yourself one question: Who do you trust more, Google, or The Man? Well, which is it to be?
3. Google is winning, but it hasn’t won. A decade ago Google had no revenue model, and – if you believe this data – it wasn’t in the top 10 search engines. Microsoft is currently about five years into a serious 25-year search strategy. It’s a long game. And it certainly isn’t over.
4. People choose Google, not the other way around. A decade ago they chose Yahoo, which accounted for more than one in two visitors referred by all search engines. Nowadays Yahoo has fallen by the wayside, but noises are being made about Bing and Microsoft has deep pockets. Would you completely bet that it couldn’t usurp Google, given time? The point here is that people like to search, and while Yahoo and Microsoft were developing portals and media businesses (and sucking up all those display ad and sponsorship revenues), Google was simply providing fast search results.
5. Don’t hate something simply because it works! Google has become synonymous with search for a reason: it works. And because of that you stick with Google. The moment it stops working you look elsewhere. For me it has worked since 1998, and apart from the real time joy of Twitter Search, or tag-based search (Delicious) or news-based search (Google News / Digg), I see no reason to change. If it doesn’t work for your website then I reckon that says more about your website, your strategies (past and present), and about what your competitors are doing. Without knowing who the author's company is I can't comment further, but isn't this a big bunch of sour grapes?
6. It’s a brand battle. Google is a brand. It is known for doing one thing well: search. But it is a brand. People visit Google.com to search. Tesco is a brand. People visit Tesco to shop. British Airways is a brand. CNN is a brand. Etc etc. At this point Google is beating all other search players in the brand battle. In the future, if Google’s search results turn to shit (e.g. in the event of opening up its algorithm and being all transparent) then people will bail. Yahoo or Bing will once again rise. Is this a reason to regulate? No, Warren G, NO!
7. The internet is not all about search. You do not need to visit Yahoo or Bing to search for Google! Instead, try typing ‘Google.com’ directly into the URL bar. Amazing, huh? Google, Yahoo, Bing, and all of the brands mentioned above are destination sites in their own right. People can visit these sites directly, without going to a search engine to ‘find’ them (even though many do exactly that: brand terms are some of the top search queries, proving that people use search engines as a navigation aid). Is it right to regulate search engines simply because people use them to navigate their way around the web? No!
8. Why so late to the party? The companies that tend to do the best on Google embraced the internet – and search engines - early. They understood that good quality content is the lifeblood of the majority of well-ranked sites. They know that blogging works, or that adding user reviews and reader comments to a website can help boost engagement, rankings, links, trust, and conversion rates. Is there any problem with this? Sure, I want to be top of the tree for ‘online poker’ or ‘mousetrap’ for that matter, but is it right that a market newcomer is able to usurp a veteran 10-year old internet brand to claim first place? The rich get richer in the search results - that’s a fact, and it can be annoying - but does that mean we need regulation? No!
9. Personal and local search. This is coming, and it may mean that one day all of our search results will be different, and possibly unique. What you see in first place, I see in 20th place. It could be due to personal factors, historical factors, or local factors (or more probably a combination of the three). As such the playing field levels out, and becomes more localised. Regulation is unnecessary, despite what Nate Dogg has to say on the matter.
10. Doh! The algorithms are secret for a reason. Have you worked out what that reason is yet? If not, please contact Dr Mariam Abacha and claim your $9m US dollars.
Do you think the government should wade into this area? Is Google too big for its boots? Or do you agree that it's a bunch of pinko nonsense and that governments should keep their noses as far away from free markets as possible...?
[Wonderful Banksy pic expertly taken by JapanBlack on Flickr, various rights reserved]