Google, Master Manipulator of the Press
March 06, 2011
Posted in Ken's Blog
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As I look back at the frenzy of activity after Google's Pap/Farmer/Panda release, the overall conclusion is that Google did some good with this algorithm, knocking many content duplicators and paraphrasers out of the Search Engine Results Pages ("SERPs").
That, of course, is good for quality sites of all sizes.
I've been a big fan of Google's for as long as I can remember. But there's a negative buzz lately. I believe it originates, partly from Google's DNA and partly from a conscious manipulation of the press. This post discusses the latter...
What bothers me about this release is how perfectly Google manipulated the agenda from the very beginning. And no one from the mass media really pressed them on it.
Start with Google's announcement of their algorithm.
The Google post can be summarized by these 2 following passages...
"This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites -- sites which are low value-add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful.
"At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites -- sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
"Google depends on the high-quality content created by wonderful websites around the world, and we do have a responsibility to encourage a healthy web ecosystem. Therefore, it is important for high-quality sites to be rewarded, and that's exactly what this change does."
The more effectively Google fulfills the above goals, the more searchers flow to those who create original, usable, value-added content. Searchers are happy. Publishers are happy. Advertisers get their money's worth. And it's all good for Google, rightly so.
Basically, Paradise is restored and we can all look away to something else.
And that's what Google did their best to accomplish here. "Everything's OK... as you were!"
Let's Focus the Light
It's time to interpret Google's pronouncements and compare words to actions under this bright light...
Google's multi-billion dollar (and growing) quarterly profits rely on high public confidence in its search quality.
View Google's public and private utterances and actions through that lens.
Is Google's "Pap algo" announcement and its subsequent management of false-positives (errors of the algorithm that hurt quality sites) motivated by publicity (the need to reassure the masses)?
Was it just a coincidence that an algorithm became available to "fix" what had been brewing for years, but which only recently hit a publicity crescendo?
Analyze the handling of the "false positives" and you will find a staged denial during an interview on WIRED.com (after an obvious manual change to fix a "false-positive" of a former executive editor of WIRED.com). You will also find the necessity for Google to provide a way for sites that felt they were mistakenly downgraded by the algorithm to submit their cases.
Google won't really evaluate those hundreds of cases (a small percentage of actual cases), not if you believe Google and its defenders (in an obvious conflict of interest since they depend on information from Google). After all, the Web is "too big" to analyze all these sites one-by-one.
Instead they provide an outlet for the disheartened and angry. And then they close the issue. All Google has to do is say...
"Thank you. We're working on the next refinement."
There are false-negatives, too (not just false-positives). Why hasn't anyone looked in depth into how ehow.com avoided falling to the algorithm. Any "human read" of pages found there would agree that it's a content farm, as so many "in the know" brought up.
My biggest question?...
Where were the major media? They simply weren't pressing issues and responses that had huge holes in them. With any other company, any other politician, they'd be asking the hard questions.
Google has a remarkable ability to handle the media. Somehow, reporters just don't dig deeper into responses that are motivated by the need to reassure the public, to quieten matters.
It doesn't stop there...
Another fact was the simultaneous release of Google Recipe Search...
... buried in the noise and fallout of the algorithm release. Few noticed, except those who were affected.
This attempt by Google to force quality recipe sites to re-code their entire sites for it, a massive job, so that it can deliver "Recipe Search," which has all sorts of uncertain futures for those very sites...
1) enables Google to provide a more attractive, usable SERP page (a nice thing, but it's the Webmasters who do all the work for Google).
2) enables Google to provide a Recipe Search which keeps the user longer on Google and could very well result in lower AdSense income for publishers (and higher AdWords income for Google). And remember, searchers basically don't use the specialty searches (which is why Google came out with "Universal Search").
And, of course, Rich Snippets may be extended to many other categories if Google can pull this one off, with potentially negative implications for the typical small website owner.
Let me ask on behalf of all small website owners, who are responsible for the incredible diversity and passion of the Web...
"What's in it for me?"
Remember Google Base? What a waste of time. But Google sure was "committed" to that. It's time for Google to be more transparent, fairer, instead of pressuring sites into working for them for what may be nothing, perhaps less than nothing.
They manage to get away from this through their masterful manipulation of the media. They manage the agenda in order to manage the public perception that "Google is the best."
That perception is critical for Google's stock valuation. Google finally closes with a pronouncement of being satisfied with the results. And all is well with the world.
It's time for media like the New York Times to wake up, realize that, and "finish the story" instead of letting Google close with their self-satisfied pronouncement.
Next post... a review of a simple case study... 10 years of Google's DNA (to some degree it can't help itself) and successful press manipulation on a single issue.
All the best,