Is It Time for Google to Rollback Search?

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Grasping the enormity of issues Google is currently involved in, should the web’s dominant search engine throw things in reverse? More importantly, will the FTC throw a monkey wrench in Google’s gears? 

While “death and taxes” may be two things that are certain, another is that Americans love powerful stuff. As kids we start craving and savoring all things powerful. Scotty, We Need More Power!, Shelby GT 500s, Saturn V rockets, Intel Quad Core processors, Silicon Valley, Shock and Awe attacks, on the edge Wall Street investments, vastly over-inflated housing markets, maxed-out credit cards, Google’s search engine, even wipeouts – we Americans want our “stuff” bigger than Texas. But wait! Is it possible power idol worship could be detrimental? Much of the love surrounding Google, mirrors these American sentiments.

Is Google headed for a wipeout?

Perils of the big surf – the wipeout cannot be underestimated

I was just reading a very well organized post by Courtney DeWinter of the Denver Business Journal. While the story ends up illustrating how Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates help the overall online business ecosystem, DeWinter’s early points about “collateral damage” strike a chord many interested parties need to understand. That is, the fact that most business people, even most consumers, are not Internet experts. DeWinter brings this home in simplifying how SEO actually impacts businesses – a majority of which have no idea they’ve been “hit” by these algorithmic alterations. I quote from DeWinter’s introduction addressed to non-expert Internet companies:

“But what many of them don’t seem to know is that, in the past 1½ years, Google has introduced massive changes to its search engine algorithm that have huge ramifications for businesses.”

For those who are unaware, Google has rolled out drastic changes to their search algorithms since early 2011, changes which have dramatically altered the way a significant number of search queries end. Now here’s part of my point in brief. When we start seeing explanations that are point to be litigated, rather than discussed in SEO terms, when the rhetoric reaches down into the society of business and consumerism, these are signs akin to spotting icebergs in the North Atlantic. Excuse the metaphor here, but this Bloomberg report yesterday by Sara Forden tells of “sources” within the FTC ready to pounce with an antitrust suit versus Google.

Now that the election is over with, U.S. Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jonathan Leibowitz is pressuring Google for concessions that might forestall a suit claiming that Google is, in fact, a monopoly. While anyone reading this knows Google does monopolize search, being adjudicated one is a whole different ballgame. The FTC thinks Google is “abusing” their search position, and apparently Google is not yet willing to table any conciliatory burnt offerings. The negotiations being private, no news of exactly what allowances Leibowitz and the FTC are seeking have gone public.

Add to this “all powerful Google” equation that  EU regulators are  in upheaval over basically the same “unfairness” issues, and Google could almost claim underdog status if lawsuits are impending. Also, Google shows little or no signs of real concern with regard to how their execs react to these potentialities. This is at least true to the extent that no apparent “dampening” of Panda’s and Penguin’s engagement (attack on links etc.) is readily seen. Finally, the video below of head of Google web SPAM Matt Cutts, just after PubCon in 2011, speaks of Google be reactive, even reflexive of users’ feedback, needs, and so on.

Cutts suggests SEOs be more interested in what end users want than in what Google wants. The way he explains this concept of what was then, the future of search, makes brilliant sense. However, as we sit and watch experts at the FTC question Google’s motives and operands, should we be questioning why servants of the people are not being heeded? I mean, these FTC commissioners represent the people of the United States of America, as do EU officials the hundreds of millions there.

Some may argue here that modifying search to ostensibly drive better quality search results, is a whole separate issue from undermining competitors – but this is not so. “Undermining” in any event, using unfair leverage, could be argued in reality. And on the PR side, collateral damage, if perceived by enough people, is a losing game too. Certainly there’s quite enough contention and at least circumstantial proof there’s more going on in search than meets the eye – at least the uninformed eyes.

Google rewindAll this complicated litigation is pretty simple to break down for the average Intenet user, if not the SEJ readership. The FTC, all the regulators in fact, are tasked with protecting the public, period. Whether or not they do so adequately, this is not the issue here. The question is; “Is Google chasing user wants and needs, or the almighty dollar?” You see the dilemma I hope. Complaints from a lot of decent web publishers keep coming in as this one yesterday. A stickler would point out here, ANY interruption of traffic flow may seem to the site owner an onerous setback.

If it turns out Google’s competitors are being squeezed too tightly, and especially if Google is squeezing little publishers out in favor of “paying search customers”(which some allege), Cutts’ assertions toward SEOs above may need to be applied to the world’s most powerful Internet company.  At the extreme some would cheer if Google rolled back the Internet to before February of 2011.

The possibility of rolling back panda and penguin has to be on the minds of Google top brass?   – That is unless believes Internet users really do detest all forms of regulation –

Image credits: Google wipeout – courtesy © EpicStockMedia –

Phil Butler
Phil Butler is theEditor at Everything PR, Argophilia Travel News,  and Senior Partner at Pamil Visions PR. He’s a widely cited authority on beta startups,... Read Full Bio
Phil Butler
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  • Luke

    “Is Google chasing user wants and needs, or the almighty dollar?”

    The point of any business is to be profitable, so of course Google is making decisions friendly to their monetary goals. Fact is, there’s really no reason Google can’t chase both what’s best for their users and “the almighty dollar”. Given the fact that the average internet user prefers to use Google over any other search engine, I would argue that Google has met the needs of the end user quite well.

    • Ryan

      I like to break things down to black and white: Google is a search portal to “the world”. It is what people use to access, simply put, everything. So if Google is chasing users wants/needs to make more dollars — that is wrong. Plain and simple, wrong. They’ve put themselves into that situation, so they don’t get to play “God” to what we see, because they make $1.75 instead of $1.32 on that search. Unless Google really is trying to play “God” — in which, they’re going to show us whatever they deem fit.

      The problem is, that regardless of how many people (in the know) complain — Google is going to get away with it because the average user, which makes up 90% of Google’s search traffic, simply doesn’t know what is going on. Would that upset some people, sure. But at that scale, the number of upset are trumped by those that simply don’t care.

      It’s a matter of what is right vs. wrong, sans all politics.

      Google sandbagging results is wrong. The FTC (and other government) are around to stop just things like that.

      I don’t like government involvement 99.9% of the time. But this case highlights the .1%.

      • Phil Butler

        @Ryan. I think a lot of people will agree with you in principle. To be honest, when I first became involved at the publisher level with these changes, I was pretty heated about all of the ranking issues, the potential for collateral damage to some sites, businesses, and so on. After the burn wore off though, I find myself just wanting to know the answers. And here is the rub for a lot of people involved I think, it may well take an outside force to ascertain the right and wrong. I don’t think anybody should be so naive as to just “opt in” to what a corporation contends, or the used car salesman for the matter.

        Thanks for taking your time Ryan.


  • Steve Poppe

    One thing that has recently put me off about Google’s revenue focus in search is the across-the-top paid ads that push organic results below the fold. For “Cheer Shoes,” for instance, nfinity comes in #5 and can’t be seen without scrolling. They worked their butts off to get that clean ranking. Any organic search that is impacted by paid results diminishes Google in my opinion. I love that they attempt to chase away companies and cottage industries that attempt to cheese the system. Good content should rise to the top. I always liked that about the Google algo.

    Google and search have changed the world. They should never roll back.

    • Phil Butler

      @Steve. I agree here too Steve, if Google is in fact headed for unleashing wonderful search results (and that is all) I think everyone is willing to pay the freight, so to speak. The whole situation seems like some great experiment at times, one that Google may have been better served to “test” a while longer in the lab. Logic, for me, dictates that a truly responsible search modification would need far fewer, and less frequent updates. This is especially the case the more crucial the “test rabbit” is.

      Maybe this is flawed logic, perhaps search was just too big to predict what would happen – to “do it” right when eliminating bad sites? But then if you were unsure Steve, who would you have handled what would surely end in a paradigm shift? Ten years from now, if all this goes sour, someone will ask; “Where these the right decisions?” Or am I wrong?


  • Bryan Eisenberg

    Let me start by saying Google has the right and responsibility to their share holders to maximize revenues. I think that many of their changes are designed to help those that have larger resources at their disposal. However, let’s also keep in mind that in order to keep there market share the needs of the end user must be met or they will leave just like they have with Excite, Lycos, Alta Vista, Yahoo!, Ask, etc. Google is also doing their best when the ranking algorithm their model was based on basically got completely overwhelmed and disrupted as they could no longer index all the pages and content created on the web. They are making significant changes moving to an author rank model versus page rank but that is going to still take quite a while to get right. It will be interesting if they can avoid legislation long enough to work out all these issues.

    • Phil Butler

      @Bryan. Thanks for stopping in Bryan. What can I add? Spot on. I am at least half sure Google is really trying to patch this search engine up and make it fly right.


  • jnffarrell1

    It is time to give search purists a way to turn back the clock to keyword search if they so choose. BUT……

    Decoupling my search from my stored knowledge of my email, my content attached to my emails, my PDF content searched for words like Shannon and Wilson, my Books and all the stuff stored on my Google Drive to help Google Search (Plus My World) because some Ludites think search ends with keywords is beyond contempt.

    I don’t have forever to search my world just because some SEOs think I’m an iSheep waiting to be shorn by the old methods.

    • Phil Butler

      @jnffarrell1. It is true, there are many wolves waiting to blow our houses down, if you’ll excuse the metaphor. We are all in this boat together, unwitting oarsmen (some of us), seeing that somebody lost (or tossed overboard) the compass. That imagery meant for the good guys out there. As for the Big Bad Wolves? Too well disguised til now.

      Thanks again for your valuable time.


  • John Doe

    Based on my experience, I have no doubt they are a monopoly and are abusing their powers. I’ll lay it all out and you tell me what you think.

    The company tells webmasters to follow various guidelines to get their sites to rank well in SERPS, both organic and paid. However, my research shows that Google Ventures owns (at least partially) the website from an investment in 2011. See the news here:

    As some may already know, Retailmenot is an affiliate coupon site. This type of site violates many of the webmaster guidelines provided by Google. Specifically, this site has thousands of Bridge Pages. Here’s how it works – someone Googles “amazon coupon” and the first two results are for Retailmenot, one paid ad, one organic result. The consumer clicks on retailmenot, goes to the retailmenot Amazon bridge page, clicks a coupon and then is off to buy something on Amazon. Retailmenot then gets a small commission on the Amazon sale.

    You would think these bridge pages would not rank well but over the past year, typing in “[insert store name] + coupon” practically guaranteed retailmenot would be the number 1 result on Google. Has google been favoring this site in the serps? I can’t prove it but many people believe it to be true.

    Worse yet, my bridge page adwords ads are being disapproved by Google Adwords even though they allow retailmenot to advertise using their bridge pages (LOTS of advertising). I believe they’ve even set up red flags because I get an error in adwords saying the ad was rejected because it has the trademarked term “promo code.” ??!?!?!?! I inquired as to why the ad was rejected and they sent me to their guidelines page describing bridge pages:

    “Google AdWords doesn’t allow ads that promote bridge pages. A bridge page, also known as a doorway page, is a web page created for the main purpose of sending visitors to a different site. Bridge pages offer little or no unique content and are considered low value to users. Affiliates that display the same characteristics may also be considered bridge pages. ”

    It’s frustrating because Google tells webmasters to do one thing and then invests in a company that, in my opinion, breaks the rules they tell people to follow. Allowing Retailmenot bridge pages on Adwords but rejecting others inhibits competition. I also wonder how much money, if any, is being paid for those ads.

    If all of this turns out to be true and intentional (my opinion – I am only speculating) then I cannot even imagine the harm caused to the affiliate marketing industry by these anti-competitive practices.

  • Alex Gilmore

    Most businesses do not know but they can file a claim with the FTC if their website has been affected by their algorithm change. Because at the root of their changes is they favor one website over another. I am a SEO professional and I watch Google much like the CIA monitors Iran. Below is what I wrote to a couple of authors for the Wall Street Journal about Google and their updates.
    Let us discus Penguin, Panda, and EMD. I bet the last one you may have not heard of it. It means “Exact Match Domains”. Funny thing is around 2004 you could find in Google Webmaster Guidelines they actually encouraged them, such as, and they even said to use Hyphens instead of underscores, which are the only two items outside of numbers and letters that can be in a URL, as it helps the spiders to truncates the words. So with that knowledge I took my clients down that road since it did perform extremely well in Google not to mention Yahoo and Bing. So the EMD update, in September, penalized websites that followed their rules. Or can I say they favored one business over another; can you say Anti-Trust?

    Your article is very interesting so let’s discuss Panda which is designed to target low quality content. The funny thing is that you cannot have virtually unique content on the internet due to the number of websites out there. In a court of law you have to clear the “reasonable man” statute but Google does not use humans but databases and an algorithm. Here is the problem with that is who wrote the content first. Can a human determine that? Google again uses databases and Algorithms. So here without a judge and jury Google favors one website over another. Again can you say Anti-Trust? Before Panda there was the Farmer update which if you really look at it Panda was an upgrade of Farmer because it caused so many “unintended consequences” that they had to change the name to deflect any criticism. Oh by the way Farmer favored one online merchant, like Amazon, over others that they did not approve of.

    Now we have Penguin which was designed to penalize websites that appeared to have paid for links, low quality links, and linking schemes. Now let’s go back ten years ago and in Google Webmaster they encouraged links because they were a vote for your site. Additionally they said they would never penalize you for inbound links since they view that as a form of cyber-attacks. Now they have gone in the other direction. Right now my whole business is salvaging websites that have Penguin issues by finding these links and threatening the website to bring them down. Your article shows how much damage the approved practices are now not in their best practices. Each business in your article can file an antitrust complaint against Google because their algorithm changes favored one business over another. Additionally they intentionally did it to harm one business over another. Their Panda, Penguin, EMD, Skyscaper, Farmer, Freshness, and Venice updates clearly violate, to me, the Sherman Act. They already have some FTC problems coming but it is just the tip of the iceberg.

  • Kevin

    My Google rankings have only got better under these changes. Saying that we have never paid for links or used under hand tactics and the way search is evolving to paid search this could change.