On the internet, few companies receive more attention than Google. And for good reason: Google touches so many individuals and businesses. From search to its ‘side projects’, just about everything Google does creates interest.

Google’s prominence, not surprisingly, has led to the creation of many myths. Here are my top five.

If you buy or sell links, Google will punish you. If Google catches you buying or selling links, it might punish you. But the more I see, the more I believe the chances of that happening are slim to none. In my opinion, if you get smacked down by Google for paid links, you can look on the bright side: you’re bound to win the lottery next.

If you cloak, Google will punish you. As with paid links, everything I’ve seen tells me that Google isn’t very good at detecting cloaking either. Obviously, I’m not recommending that you go out and cloak, because, except in specific situations, I don’t think it provides much benefit, and I’d expect ridiculously abusive (and poorly-implemented) cloaking to have far greater risk.

Google = PageRank. PageRank is important but there are a few caveats. First, it’s important to note that the PageRank you see in your Google toolbar is not the ‘real‘ PageRank. And second, while the ‘real‘ PageRank that you can’t see is important, it’s not the only thing Google is looking at. So if you’re measuring your SEO efforts by the PageRank you see in your toolbar and not your actual performance in the SERPs, you’re missing the point.

Google will save [insert industry]. From the agency to newspapers, if you had $1 for every industry Google was supposed to save, you’d probably have a few hundred dollars by now. While I think it’s true that Google has the potential to help certain companies and industries that have struggled, the track record is clear: Google is no industry’s knight in shining armor.

Google has a plan. A lot of observers seem to believe that Google has some sort of grand plan. That every project somehow ties into something larger. It’s the tech industry equivalent of the Grand Unified Theory. In reality, however, it’s pretty clear that Google doesn’t really have a plan as much as it has a strategy of trying lots of things and seeing what sticks. Right now, this strategy hasn’t really paid off, as the company’s primary cash cow (paid search) is really its only cash cow. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t call the strategy smart, even if it’s not elegant.

On the SEO side of things, I mention Google’s relative inability to detect paid links and cloaking not as encouragement to engage in these tactics (which are hopefully unnecessary for you in the first place) or as an insult to Google, but rather as a demonstration of something that should be made more obvious: both Google and uber-SEOs have every incentive to spread myths about Google’s capabilities. After all, if fewer people believed that paid links, for instance, were likely to result in a Google ban, more people would use them. And that wouldn’t be good for those who are profiting from the top SERPs they’ve obtained using paid links.

On the business side of things, Google is one of the most incredible companies in the past century. That doesn’t, however, mean that it’s capable of superhuman feats or that it has everything figured out. Which, when you think about it, is probably all the better.

There are my five biggest Google myths as I see them. What are yours?

Photo credit: clevercupcakes via Flickr.