Be Afraid: Google’s Rules for Search Are About To Change

Time to dredge up that old “Is Google a Monopoly?” issue again.

I don’t like this topic, because as a free-enterprise guy and a keen observer of Google and how they do business I’m mostly inclined to scoff at the idea that Google is a monopoly. The argument usually comes down to whether the definition of monopoly skews toward its literal meaning or one that’s more metaphorical; at 65-70% of search traffic, isn’t “a monopoly” the de facto reality of what Google has become?

Google has announced that they’re planning to change the way their search results work, shifting from what’s always been a fairly literal, brute-force method of indexing the Internet to what’s being called “semantic search”. Semantic search relies on elements of Artificial Intelligence to guess at what you’re asking when you pose a question. It’s kind of like what Apple’s Siri on the iPhone 4S does; and when it works, it’s a better search.

I emphasize the “when it work” part because reliable, adaptive, semantic Artificial Intelligence is still a ways off. I also tell you about this because as a Search Engine Optimization consultant I’m concerned for what this shift means.

Last week, Google’s Matt Cutts let slip that Google is also taking a look at what he’s calling “over optimization”. Again, speaking from the I do Search Engine Optimization perspective, this worries me plenty, along the lines of “geez, how will I adapt to that?”, but it also scares me at a much higher level.

Google and Mr. Cutts have previously and continuously stated that doing SEO is OK as long as you follow Google’s rules for Search Engine Optimization. And in giving you that link and many of the other links here I’m both pointing you at related content and practicing Search Engine Optimization in exactly the way Google’s always said is “correct”.

My concern is that Google isn’t providing a definition for “over optimization”, nor are they saying what the penalty will be if you get caught in the “Google thinks you’re over optimizing” trap. So now, if you write something on your web site and Google thinks you’ve been naughty, you’re … well, you’re screwed.

I’m rethinking my stance that the FTC should leave Google alone.

Matt Cutts has previously revealed a few things that are useful in deconstructing Google’s Secret Sauce. For example, we know that PageRank is Finite. But if they insist on changing the rules of search such that you can be penalized for doing things that A) used to be allowed and B) haven’t actually been defined, Google needs to first come clean about their search ranking algorithms. That revelation will be so dense that almost nobody will be able to really glean anything new from it, anyway—especially if Google holds onto that “because we said so” wild card.

Google’s software is frequently a mess of misdirects; Google+, for example, isn’t really Social Networking at all; it’s social control. And Google has shown some weakness on the Anti-Trust/Monopoly issue before. It’s all pretty complicated, and I suspect is headed toward a showdown of monumental proportions between Google and the US Congress.

Before that happens, I have a simple recommendation: Contact Me about Search Engine Optimization.