We’re doing Google’s job for them

You’ve all heard about the Google +1 button and the recent Schema.org announcement. Big news, both of those, but something is rubbing me the wrong way about all this newfangled stuff Google is pumping out. Namely that Google is getting us to do the hard work for them.

Google, as a search engine, exists to find all the information on the web (crawling), make sense of what it finds (indexing), and serve us with the most relevant content for any given query (ranking). This, in a very simplified nutshell, is Information Retrieval, and it’s what search engines do.

However, it seems search engines are actually quite poor at this. Or at least poor enough that they think they need us – the masses – to do the hard work for them.

XML sitemaps: crawling
First there were XML sitemap files. Google got website owners to provide it with a clear and nicely formatted list of all the documents the owners want crawled. This basically solves any issues Google might have with crawling webpages.

Schema.org: indexing
Now look at Schema.org. This semantic mark-up is basically solving the whole indexing hullabaloo for Google. Webmasters now tag up their content in such a way that search engines no longer have to do any difficult analysis to determine what that content is about. We’re plainly telling Google that content A is this and content B is that.

Google +1: ranking
So with crawling and indexing solved, Google only has to look at the last piece of the search pie: rankings. Since its inception Google has looked at a webpage’s link graph to determine what pages to rank highest. This is an increasingly unreliable signal, with a skewing of the link graph due to SEO linkbuilding and the increasing cannibalisation of links by social media.

Enter Google +1. Why do the hard work, Google thought, if we can just get users to click on nifty buttons and thus tell us which pages are cool and which aren’t? And voilΓ , the ranking problem is solved too.

Crawling: check. Indexing: check. Ranking: check.


So, as webmasters and SEOs, in our continued efforts to please the Google Overlords we’re being recruited in to doing Google’s work. We give Google the webpages it needs to crawl, the content it needs to index, and the signals it needs to rank.

One could argue that this is what SEO has always been about: making websites easier to crawl and index, and providing ranking signals to ensure high positions in SERPs. Now Google is giving us new tools to do that.

But the problem I have with all this is that we’re basically doing Google’s hard work for them. These ‘tools’ Google is giving us hint at an information utopia Google wants to achieve, in which it can lay back and lazily crawl the web with all those countless little webmasters and SEOs scurrying about to ensure all the information being published is crawlable and indexable and have all the right ranking signals.

That way Google doesn’t have to do any of the complicated stuff, like determine context and relevance and filter spam from its SERPs. You know what? I don’t want to do Google’s job for it. Let them struggle and suffer and sweat at it. Let them work for their continued success. After all, we have to.

We used to go to Google because its results were the best. Now we go to Google because we don’t see an alternative. That won’t last. The next Google is the search engine that doesn’t need crutches, the search engine that doesn’t need to rely on others doing its work for it.

The next Google is the search engine that just gets it. Because Google doesn’t, not any more.

About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.

37 thoughts on “We’re doing Google’s job for them

  1. Sorry to say Barry, but I think your article is rather stupid. “You know what? I don’t want to do Google’s job for it. Let them struggle and suffer and sweat at it. Let them work for their continued success. After all, we have to.” -> isn’t that your job as a search consultant?

    Hasn’t that been your job for ‘a while’ now?

    Google continues to make it easier for website owners to add search value to their sites. Nothing wrong with that. I’d rather not have just Google to ‘do the work’, I’m HAPPY to be able to influence it.

    1. No, my job is to get more relevant traffic to my client websites. My job is not to fix Google’s flawed algorithms.

      Google has done a very, VERY good job at manipulating webmasters, and SEOs specifically, in to playing nice and doing what Google tells them to do. Countless webmaster videos, help documents, and handy little tools later and what do we have? A more sanitised web, a nice clean sandbox for Google to play in. We’ve gone from playing alongside Google in that sandbox to cleaning up the dog turds in the sandbox for Google’s benefit.

  2. Have to agree with Richard here, Barry. Google doesn’t demand you do anything, it’s just saying that it favors those who do put a bit of effort in. If you’d rather not, well then don’t, but then if I were your boss I’d seriously start considering another SEO πŸ™‚

    1. Oh I never said I wouldn’t be using Schema.org and the like. Of course I’ll be using it. I may feel like I’m being abused as Google’s sockpuppet with Matt Cutts’ arm so far up my arse I can feel him tickling my tonsils, but I’m not stupid. πŸ˜‰

  3. @Barry,

    Another viewpoint on this would be to look at it from the side that Google still needs the help of Webmasters and search marketers to improve the results and relevance. While we may be at the mercy of mighty Google most of the time, it still ends up being a relationship where we need Google and they still need us…

    1. Point taken Brett, only I don’t think it’s our job to help Google this way. I don’t know about you but I’m not earning billions off of the effort pour in to my SEO work. Google has made a very profitable business on the back of its SERPs, but now that it’s stagnating it wants us to do its dirty work? Sorry, but it’s Google’s responsibility to deliver quality SERPs. My responsibility is solely to my client sites.

      1. It’s a love hate relationship πŸ™‚

        I won’t deny a similar thought going through my head when seeing the author tag announcement and wondering where the +1 rollout is heading. That said, how would we leverage new changes to our benefit is also a question search marketers should be asking. Same with Microsoft and IT vendors relationship. We’ve been helping Google for years, Paid link reporting, even recently with the controversial ousting, like JC Penny etc. Just another item to add to the list?

        So come to the dark side Barry, we have cookies you know (sometimes Whiskey on Fridays) πŸ˜‰

  4. Kind of agree and disagree here Barry, I understand the direction you are coming from and the frustration at the machine but to better index and reach the deeper web and present us with even more info as searchers first the schema proposed is immense.

    As SEO`s we WILL adapt and change, its what we do & its a do or die playground.

    1. Aye there are all sorts of auxiliary benefits to implementing schema.org, but its primary purpose is really to make life easier for search engines. My frustration, at its core, is about being forced to listen to what Google says, instead of being able to do what is cool or interesting. A web fully controlled and regulated by Google is a dead web.

  5. Barry I think you are spot on and while the others are defensive in pointing out their disagreements it seems that they have missed the bigger picture. We have worked hard as SEO consultants to obey the rules and use the tools that Google – and others – have given. Yet, what is going on with Schema and +1 is definitely a clear sign that they are asking for help. While not a reason to “start considering another SEO” I think you are showing us the flaws in the current state of search. Most importantly your rant points out how different clients and such may see the same information and the their definition of what an SEO is supposed to do/perform.

    1. Exactly – it’s as if SEOs nowadays truly believe it’s their job to do whatever Google tells them to do. Google’s propaganda machine has been enormously successful. But that’s not what SEO is about – nor should it be. We’re here to make our client sites successful, not to obey Google’s every command.

  6. It’s obvious Google has difficulty detecting high and low quality results. It’s hard to do this algorithmically because perceived quality is subjective. So Google chose to crowdsource a part of the judgement to the users. Why should this be a bad thing? Users get the means to give feedback on their user experience and Google gets information to improve the results and/or the algorithm. Sounds like a win/win to me.

    1. I’ve noted on other occassions that I feel it’s a bad idea to rely on the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ for judgments on the quality of content. After all, the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ gives us Justin Bieber, the X-Factor, and newspapers like the Daily Mail. Popularity and quality don’t mix very often.

  7. Hey Barry – another point to consider outside of agreeing/disagreeing with your feelings on the subject is actually how much of this work is ‘getting done’ for Google. The theory is good – whether you feel you are being abused by Google or not, you are still helping by implementing these techniques.
    However, how many sites do you know that actually have a correctly formatted up-to-date XML sitemap? Far too few in my experience. Ditto with Schema, and perhaps +1 – the tools are provided and there for us to use. But how many of the many billions of sites that exist on the web actually do so? And thus actively feed into the algorithm at a wide enough scale to ‘replace’ Google?
    I’d love to see these sorts of tools implemented to a wider degree in many respects. But at the moment, even getting a basic up-to-date sitemap is often a challenge!

    1. So far sitemaps haven’t had an impact on rankings – if they had, properly formatted XML sitemaps would be very much more commonplace. Take a look at news sites, for example, where having a properly formatted XML News sitemap is absolutely vital. You’ll have a hard time finding a proper news site without one.

      Now with Google +1 and Schema.org there are strong hints that these will help with rankings. Thus I suspect adoption rates will be stellar. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing.

  8. Barry, Barry, Barry…

    Look – it’s like this. There’s a 900 pound (or is it stone where you live?) Gorilla in the room. It’s job is to gather up all the bananas it can find. Sure, the main reason is the gorilla makes money by hoarding all the bananas. No argument from me there.

    Except that gorilla doesn’t EAT all those bananas. She puts them on display so all the other animals who are looking for bananas can find them. Except the other animals don’t want to find bananas that have gone bad, bananas that have bacteria on them, or bananas that aren’t actually even ripe yet. They want fresh, delicious bananas.

    The problem though, is there are so many banana farmers trying to fool the 900 pound/stone gorilla into thinking they’ve got great bananas when all they have are rotten bananas.

    No matter how big that gorilla is, it’s a monumental job. And since we are MARKETERS, it’s OUR JOB to present our client’s/employers bananas in the right packaging so it’s easier for the big beast to see, with less effort, that our bananas really are the best in all the jungle.

    You think Television studios would accept crappily formatted TV commercials? Or Newspapers would accept completely hacked up news-print ads? Or Radio stations would accept recorded ads that are recorded on tape decks from the 1990s?

    Seriously. get real. It IS our responsibility as banana marketers to do all we can to help ensure that 900 pound/stone gorilla sees our bananas as the best available.

    1. It’s kilos, actually – metric FTW. πŸ™‚

      And I agree, as marketers we need to make sure our bananas look nice & sweet & tasty. The problem is that this 408 kilo gorilla has very specific rules about what consists a good banana. Thole rules may not necessarily be entirely accurate and applicable in all situations. This leads to animals thinking that the only good bananas are those that are approved by the 408 kilo gorilla. And that, in my opinion, is the wrong result.

      1. When I was a dishwasher at a pancake restaurant, I earned $5 an hour for washing dishes. I stayed there an entire 3 days. I was 17.

        Later in life, I was a bank customer service rep. I earned $12 an hour to help idiots realize all they had to do was put their ATM card in the opposite way they had been, and the money would magically fall out of the machine.

        Then I was an office manager at a real estate company. I earned $15 an hour babysitting a bunch of real estate babies.

        When I was a project manager overseeing $2,000,000 web sites, I got $25 an hour to corral a bunch of code monkeys.

        Two years ago I was doing state-of-the-art SEO and earning a respectable $35 an hour for my work.

        I now earn $200 an hour doing SEO audits.

        I have no complaints against Google’s proprietary structure.

        1. I’m sure most $1m/yr hedge fund managers also have no complaints against the practices of their investment bank employers. But I, for one, consider them to be parasitical and morally bankrupt.

      2. Nice use of bananas and gorillas… =)

        The thing is that Google has always wanted the searchers to do some of their work for them. I don’t think that this us an unfair request. I like that they are actually making it more clear that they want the users feedback… Not sure if it is clear enough.

        1. Thomas,

          You’re dead-on accurate in your “not sure” perspective. Schema.org iteration 1.0 is just that – a first iteration. It’s going to grow more and more over the years. And I’ve no doubt that other additional solutions will come along to go even further.

  9. I agree with you Barry, except for the semantic mark-up, which I feel is necessary, because Google’s programs are dumb. And I’m glad it’s this way. I don’t like machines getting too smart and figuring out too many things themselves. Since it’s giving information about the website it’s ok. +1 now, that’s another story. That’s Google trying to get information about what people do, which is why I’ll never use +1 myself.
    It is indeed shocking to see so many people believing it’s their duty to do whatever Google wants. I remember arguing once with a social media girl who wrote an article about “SEO karma”, how Google is like God and how good SEOs must never do anything against search engine guidelines. And this idiocy was on a reputed blog.

    1. Sorry to be so contrarian, but I disagree with you on one point Ioana. πŸ™‚ I think machines should get smarter and more capable. Google should be striving to make its algorithms more intelligent and comprehending. Technological progress should be embedded in their DNA.

      Unfortunately I think this is where the crux of the matter lies. Google isn’t about innovation any more, it’s about profit maximisation. And that means Google wants to get away with as much as possible, using as little effort as possible. Hence its ‘outsourcing’ of crawling, indexing, and ranking to the crowds. For Google this is pure profit.

      1. It’s easy to stand on the side and claim Google isn’t working on improving the quality of the machine. When was the last time you tried to do what they’re doing, on the scale they’re doing it?

        Of course they’re a for-profit business, and as a result, profit margins are of paramount importance. Yet it’s high time the web become a consistently structured environment. Chaos is NOT a rational concept in an evolving society.

        1. The fact I’ve never built a SE is not a valid argument for not criticising Google. I’ve never ruled a country either but I’m quite happy criticising governments.

          Chaos is what made the internet what it is today. And chaos is what will keep it going. Regulation of any kind, be it the silken glove of Google’s ‘best practices’ or the stick of government/media regulation and copyright-management, is a dangerous development that undermines the very essence of the web.

          1. Barry,

            I <3 your passion for a free society rule. I live in the real world. I get paid to help clients adapt to real world reality. It doesn't stop me from ranting either. It just allows me to see the difference between my idea of utopia and that real world.

  10. Stirring the pot, Barry? πŸ˜‰
    I see your point, but I think the same argument could be made of most of Google’s signals and factors… as we learn what they’re looking for, we try to provide that to our clients’ benefit.

    I don’t like it much, either, but it is what it is. We can only hope that the “crowd” will have learned something from Beiber-folly.

    1. I’m always stirring the pot, Doc. πŸ™‚ I’m afraid the collective intelligence of the crowd is on a downward slope, not upward…. That might be one of the Internet’s negative side-effects: it provides ignorami with echo-chambers that enhance and proliferate their ignorance.

  11. *so much agree*
    There really isn’t anything more to say. Time to stop being a ‘Google employee for free’ people.

Comments are closed.