SEOs Debate Google's Ethics & Morals

May 5, 2014 • 7:54 am | comments (52) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Other Google Topics

debateFive days ago I reported on a post where a personality in our industry questions the ethics and morals of Google after he posted the private conversation he had with Google's Matt Cutts while at SMX West.

I am not going to go into what he said here, you can read it on my post from last week for the short version or read his long argument at There are plenty of comments on both his site and my story covering it for you to have fun.

On Friday, during a weekly Webmaster Hangout that we try to do every week at 2pm EST. I invited Josh Bachynski, the one calling Google's ethics into question, into the hangout. He came in around 25 minutes into our discussion and from there, he summed up his problems and the debate began.

You can start watching at about 25 minutes in, here is the video:

I am sorry, my mic quality was off today, so you may need to listen carefully.

Sasch, a Google Top Contributor, was really fun to watch debate with Josh. But I had fun just playing devils advocate and trying to exploit the holes, if any, in the logic used to call out Google's ethics as immoral for penalizing sites. Sasch also wrote his own post named Clearing up some misconceptions... related to Josh's arguments.

For me, it was more about can, should, etc Google do this but is it really unethical, immoral, evil and so on.

I find these conversations enjoyable, although not directly related to ranking higher in Google.

Matt Cutts himself has yet to respond to the questions laid out in Josh's post but he did tweet that he liked the hangout:

After reading Josh's post, seeing the video and other comments, what do you think? Are Google penalties unethical and immoral?

Forum discussion at Google+, Google+ and Twitter.

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05/05/2014 01:19 pm

Seeing as 99% of the people who hang out here are SEO´s on the run I would guess that the result of your poll is more fun than science. What gets me big time about Googles ethics and morals or should I say complete lack of is that they pretend they are fighting spammers with Matt as the mouthpiece at the helm. Matt loves the glory of the fight and shouts loud about one success after another. If all you saw was Matt you would think, google really does hat spammers. The reality alas is a lot different. All you need to do is put a simple search in to the google search box for buy backlinks and you will be flooded by offers to buy spam generating backlinks. Not only in the natural serps but right up top in the paid glory spots. So all the time Matt calls a spam network out and champions his glory, I think why not just have a word with the adwords team and you can clear up 90% of it in one hit. What are the chances of that happening folks? I won´t go in to small businesses paying their fair share of tax whilst google employs an army of tax avoidance consultants to make sure they contribute as less as possible to society because I think we can debate that moral and ethical issue another day.

Steve H.

05/05/2014 02:01 pm

First off, morally, Google must protect their customers, let alone for business reasons. However: A) If, to achieve that, they deliberately create processes to hurt people, to systematically break their spirits, then the overall principle is lost. No company can intentionally bankrupt others to protect their products. B) If, to achieve that, certain websites are promoted since they provide better quality signals, thrust or relevancy, etc., and as consequence others are demoted...It is what it is, and some companies may go bankrupt, yes. That is the right path. Now: The argument: The reality is that to sustain good quality results it is required to penalize in a large scale, target and destroy certain companies (never mind that concept leads democracies to fascism), well, If that is the argument then: The algorithmic value proposition of Google becomes highly questionable to sustain current market share, and Google Monopoly is a privilege given to reward their algorithmic value proposition…Ultimately that’s what it is. To conclude, Negative Seo, if it is indeed allowed, this is an incredible immoral issue. For example, in criminal Law, we have Blackstone's formulation: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” It was later absorbed into American common law, and cited repeatedly by the country's Founding Fathers: "It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer" Benjamin Franklin. To empathize how accurate that principle is, Franklin expanded from 10 to 100!! Never mind that right? The fact of the matter is that ultimately the best results would never appear in the Negative Seo atmosphere; another aspect that would make future algorithmic value proposition very questionable, with tremendous impact in small businesses. I never witness, and that includes the military industry, such a clear acceptance of penalties of a company to another as “normal” – let alone the scale of it. I don’t know if the term “White” or “Black” mess up things in your heads, if it is the competition creates a lot of hate... Have no idea, a company intentionally hurts others is not “normal”, it happens, sure, mostly, surreptitiously, Why? Because it’s Immoral, that’s why! What’s a Matter with You Guys?


05/05/2014 03:23 pm

This discussion, specifically the ability for arguments proposed by folks like Josh to be taken seriously at all by anyone, is one of the myriad reasons I often ponder other career paths.


05/05/2014 03:26 pm

If Google's penalty's continue to hurt small business, & spammers are able to find new ways to continue on the same path.... Also the negative SEO environment that has been created is about to create a immoral shit storm soon. I feel like we are close to seeing agencies telling their clients that they sell penalty proof SEO services, when they are really just attacking their competitors by outsourcing Negative SEO to India. Is all this immoral..... I don't know we will see.


05/05/2014 04:13 pm

Ay ay ay, Sasch. 1. Sasch says Google is a private company and Google can do whatever they want. With power comes great responsibility. I see Google like a credit card. Both instruments are deeply rooted into our society. Internet has become the network of our minds. We must use a search engine to search this mind. So no visibility on google equals minds cannot reach a website. It is just how we use the internet. We need search engines as badly as we need credit cards. Credit cards are regulated to protect a) the consumer b) the competition c) businesses d) the government. All four points can easily be hit with Google and especially point b), c) and d) with penalties by Google. Visa and Mastercard cannot simply say "We're a private company and we can do whatever we want". So no Sasch, Google can not do whatever they want. They're a part of our society and bear a huge responsibility. 2. Sasch says Google serves the searcher and not the webmaster. I do a blind guess that 99% of Google's content is scraped from other websites. Not just the knowledge graph but also search results and image results itself. We web masters allow Google's bot to scrape our content in order to serve us with visitors. So google serves both, web masters and searchers.


05/05/2014 04:29 pm

Barry, your link to is broken. I just don't see the spam penalties as even remotely necessary or particularly effective in fighting spam. Really the question is does the punishment fit the crime? And in a lot of cases the answer is absolutely not. However, I think the other side of this coin is a sense of entitlement that webmasters and business owners often have. Google does not owe you anything. Google can display whatever websites they want, and they can remove whatever websites they want. If you want to be included in the search results then you have to play by their rules. Further, it's in your best interest to build your business in a way that the inevitable downfall of a single search engine ultimately doesn't matter. If success or failure of your company hinges entirely on your rankings on Google then that's a problem. But in any case, educate yourself and market your website the right way and you have nothing to worry about. I don't feel bad for the small business owner who was dumb enough to buy a snake oil SEO package completely unaware of what they were getting and how it might affect their website in the long run. That said, instead of hammering websites out of the SERPs when they make mistakes, why can't Google simply just NOT count bad links? Say the algo or a manual reviewer identifies x number of spammy links that are manipulating search results. Why not just isolate and ignore them? Parse out the good and the bad and only count the good ones. Is that not possible? I get that they're trying to combat spam with FUD but they're never going to eradicate it, especially not when links play such a hugely important role in the algo. The real problem is not whether Google is immoral or unethical, it's that they have a monopoly on search. That will continue to be problematic until there are more viable competitors offering users a comparable or better search experience.


05/05/2014 05:47 pm

I want to know how many disenfranchised Sach counted.

Marie Haynes

05/05/2014 05:49 pm

Oh my goodness...I love Sasch's laugh.


05/05/2014 06:36 pm

google is unethical and immoral evil.


05/05/2014 06:43 pm

i think more good term to explain google is evil. It still a monopolist, and every their benefit comes from only from it. Hope, not for long.


05/05/2014 06:58 pm

Matt Cutts said he wants to financially ruin black hats... He said it. He meant it. Josh is right in saying that Google does not have the moral authority...


05/05/2014 07:02 pm

woah man... no sarcasm? i want to hear from That Guy!


05/05/2014 07:16 pm

They don't have to punish as much as they do... they can equally manage the rankings by rewarding the good. Rewarding the good is harder to manipulate because good site rewards don't create negative SEO attack vectors or disenfranchise sites they simply don't agree with...

Mark Warner

05/05/2014 07:28 pm

I agree with the sentiment that Google is a private company and can do whatever they want, however, they deal in interstate commerce and in the United States that subjects them to regulation by congress and the United States Government. This is why congress is allowed to slap Barry Bonds around among other things. Regards to Josh's comments, same as last time, your logic is flawed. You obviously know what you are talking about in this realm, but your argument here is all based upon wrong assumptions and a one-sided conspiracy mentality.


05/05/2014 07:31 pm


Nick Ker

05/05/2014 08:22 pm

Someone who has been a proponent of lying to people on a massive scale (yes, that is what spamming your way to the top of search results is) claiming a moral high ground is just ridiculous. Not to mention that Google is not attempting to take away anyone's livelihood. They are trying to take spam away from the search results. The people who did that are free to try to do business elsewhere. I tried to bring some other points up in the comments on Josh't article, but I was disenfranchised.


05/05/2014 08:28 pm

They aren't only "trying to take spam away from search results"... "fish tank water pump" with window sized to full screen on my laptop... one organic result above the fold. Caffeine, mayday, and instant killed long tail organic traffic and drove up CPCs in AdWords… It’s not just black hats being disenfranchised… Its to a point where if you are not in the top two results of page one then it might as well stop there and start being page 2… This is what fuels black hat tactics. Because the people who are driven to use them are picking the lesser of two evils too… roll the dice or lay people off. Google MADE blackhat and continues to do so.

Nick Ker

05/05/2014 08:47 pm

You seem to think Google is the only source of website traffic. It is not. Nobody held a gun to anyone's head and said "you must violate the terms of service in order to rank well on Google". People chose to break the rules, and the consequence is not getting all that wonderful free traffic. Not to mention there are thousands of sites that rank very well - even at number one - without trying to cheat. "Google made me do it because it was so tempting" doesn't really work any better than a rapist claiming the victim was asking for it based on her short skirt. If someone can't get a job that pays well enough to buy all the things he wants and he decides to start stealing from other people - whose fault is it when he gets arrested? The police? The government for not making employers hire all who apply?


05/05/2014 08:59 pm

Never said that. In fact all organic traffic combined makes less than 7% of my revenue. The debate is "Google's moral authority to punish"... Fact of the matter is that if you are an online retailer then Google is not your friend. If you are an affiliate marketer then Google is not your friend. If you are a dropshipper or reseller then you are probably feeling it too.. Google is not your friend. People paint the problem with extremes but that vast majority of the damage impacts small and midsized businesses... not just collateral incidents... MOST google's gains in the past 5 years have come at the cost of small to midsized businesses.


05/05/2014 09:36 pm come across as a right self righteous prick. You might not be one but that´s how you carry yourself. How do you feel about google being an affiliate to link sellers? Do you think that is OK? You know, the buy backlinks search is riddled with adwords as well as organic for link sellers. Tell me Nick, in your self righteous prick of an attitude way, what do you think about that?

Nick Ker

05/05/2014 09:59 pm

OK so at least you aren't among the "Google is attacking the livelihood of businesses" crowd, since you acknowledge that Google does not prevent anyone from doing business. Google has not only the authority, but the responsibility to enforce the rules it set forth which are there to protect its product and its users (the searchers as well as advertisers). If you violate those terms, it is no different than if you did not get the retail space you wanted at the local mall. You can't just go to the mall with a megaphone claiming you have a better store than the others, put posters up in front of the stores who did get that space and generally be a nuisance to all shoppers without the mall calling security. Google does not have some obligation to allow people to use their search engine as a vehicle to deceive the public. That is really what spamming your way to the top of the SERPs is - a series of lies and attempts to defraud consumers (or trick the search engine into doing it for you). Google is not under any obligation to be anyone's friend. Maybe you just don't know any, but there are plenty of online retailers who do very well without spam. Drop shippers and resellers, too. If there are any affiliate marketers who actually know the difference between spam and legitimate marketing, they are probably doing OK too. I am going to take one more shot at presenting some rational thought before getting back to being a productive member of society: In search, for every loser, there is a winner. If Google really was destroying all small to mid sized businesses, the serps would soon be nearly empty, nobody would use the search engine, and advertising revenues would plummet. Maybe that's how you might try to make more money if it was your search engine, but I hear Google has some people working there who are smart enough to know better.

Durant Imboden

05/05/2014 10:08 pm

A federal court has already ruled that Google's rankings are protected speech under the First Amendment.

Nick Ker

05/05/2014 10:09 pm

Oh, I am a totally self-righteous prick when it comes to not having a tolerance for hypocritical whining that is based on lies and misinformation. I am also a prick when anonymous people ask me irrelevant questions while calling me names, but while I am here: I think link selling ads should fall under the same scrutiny from Adwords as any other fraudulent or deceptive business practice. If I had to make the judgement call on how to handle such ads, I would say run the ads, but if those ads say anything that is clearly not true - drop them. People can buy and sell links all they want, nothing illegal about that. But that doesn't mean the buyers will rank well in Google forever, if at all. If these ads say otherwise, they need to go. Like most other questionable ads, Google is too damned slow at pulling the ads offline. Just like they are too damned slow at penalizing organic spam. Prickly enough for you?


05/05/2014 10:14 pm

not the moral authority.


05/05/2014 10:17 pm

Too slow? More like not interested in removing them. When you go up against small pricks like yourself and big pricks like Matt Cutts and Google, it´s best to be anonymous. You might be a prick nick but I don´t think you are thick. Comprehend!

Mark Warner

05/05/2014 10:21 pm

Sure, it's the Commerce Clause, part of the constitution, basically just allows Congress to step in and regulate businesses or industries that have a measurable effect on interstate commerce (sorry I don't remember exact language of all this it has been a while, I had to Google it just to remember the name). If you are asking with regards to the second half of what I wrote, I'll refrain from really diving into it again. The only specific thing I remember from this video is the first 1-2 examples Barry gave to him where he said some things that I didn't think were correct.

Mark Warner

05/05/2014 11:05 pm

A fair point. I think that most of the lawsuits that are relevant here deal with types of defamation etc which is also one of the exceptions to freedom of speech:) In either case, thanks for pointing that out.

F1 Steve

05/05/2014 11:10 pm

That sir is hilarious, bravo! It's easy to kiss up to the big bad who doesn't need or care for your defence nick, please find something worthwhile to support online like a child's charity or abused puppies!


05/06/2014 01:50 am

2 questions: Why would Google not ban those ads, in your opinion? Why were you looking to buy backlinks? Just kidding, but really, anyone looking for "backlinks" knows what they want to do and will find them somewhere. Maybe google figures they may as well take a cut of the black hat pie from the ads. Maybe selling ads to backlink sellers is how Google funds the webspam team. When I search for "buy links" I see no ads at all. "Buy SEO links showed SEO ads but nothing outrageous. "Buy baclinks" shows the shadier results.


05/06/2014 02:59 am

Right! This kind of shady "do as I say not as I do to make money" policy has been going on for far to long. If you want to go after porn, pills, casino, pay day loans, & retarded affiliate scams fine, but leave the brick & mortar businesses out of this.


05/06/2014 08:50 am

These sorts of organic and ad sites that sell backlinks could be removed manually in about an hour if not quicker. Its like going after a drug user while turning a blind eye to the dealer. Why mat doesn't go upstream and deal with the suppliers first is a mystery to me!

Craig Hamilton-Parker

05/06/2014 11:57 am

Fine when Google goes for obvious spammers and link builders but when you build a genuine site with good quality content and a supportive community and then find out you are collateral damage and that now independent forums and communities come second Google Plus and Facebook it all gets rather infuriating. Clearly this must be morally wrong. It's like nuking everyone in the Iraq war and saying to the British troops in the line of fire - 'Sorry guys you were collateral damage'. Of course we all think we are as white as white but I do think that Google really has no interest whatsoever in small sites that are genuinely trying to create good content - particularly the 'ever green' content that is not about news or kittens being catapulted through the air. grrrr. The Internet could have been such a force for good in the world - a place to share ideas, uphold democracy, challenge the status quo, have fun....... now it is just another hunting ground for evil corporate brands. (rant over)

Miguel Rodrigues

05/06/2014 12:49 pm

Regardless of Google's opinion Vs SEO's opinion, Google just opened a door that it self will have to figure out how to close soon. The door they opened it's called Negative SEO: or By deciding to penalize websites instead of simply discarding the links that don't matter in the overall equation, Google started another business opportunity for the same people that used to sell cheap SEO link's packages. If Google does not intervene fast enough, this might escalate into a wild wild west where the SERPS will suffer too. These negative SEO services are growing and growing as we discuss this. Would love to hear Google say something about this, before many of us who take SEO seriously and have a hard time promoting our websites adding great value to the web, get caught in a 5$ negative SEO package that some competitor felt it was easier to deal with than build himself an honest brand PR campaign.

Ben Guest

05/06/2014 01:13 pm

You are very correct in your statement. I just think Google is not in charge of our sites nor responsible for the links they receive. We are. What they did to help us where you even mention they need to intervene is the disavow tool. That's about as far as they'll take it. We just need to be on top of that "Links to site" section in GWT a whole heck of a lot more. It's just another added responsibility as a SEO while Google continues or at least tries to combat spam.

Ben Guest

05/06/2014 01:21 pm

Hey Josh Bachynski, have you been penalized by the Google before? It seems to me the people that have received the Google slap cry morals and ethics. While the rest of us continue to work on our sites. Was this done just to generate clicks or are you truly onto something? I personally use to do some black hat stuff but when we went legit, we haven't sniffed a Google penalty. I simply can't row your boat because I personally haven't seen this immoral or unethical behavior by Google's part. And now you are really in their cross hairs. Hope they don't dig up some back hat techniques on your part. Good luck bro.

Nick The Anon

05/06/2014 01:29 pm

Why is everyone (almost everyone) missing Josh's point? His point is about the morality of Google, not about what specifically should be done. The good thing is that it is causing people to get off their fat mental backsides and think about it.

Art L

05/06/2014 01:31 pm

People have been trying negative SEO for a few years now, especially on Fiverr. Just because someone is selling it does not mean it works. Most of the claims of negative SEO come from people who spammed their own sites out of the search results or SEOs who want people to be afraid. The real problem with negative SEO is that the people who think it will work generate even more more useless spam sites, articles, comment spam and other clutter.

Art L

05/06/2014 01:38 pm

Ran out of puppies and wants to save SEO now?

Art L

05/06/2014 01:40 pm

Good question. I think the point has been lost in the fog of exaggerations surrounding the effects of what Google does.

Miguel Rodrigues

05/06/2014 01:44 pm

You are right Ben! However...what about all those webmasters who do not care about SEO or not even know what that mean? On Google's eyes in a perfect world there shouldn't be any link monitoring, or disavow tool needs. Most people ranking on first page naturally without any SEO done might get hit without even understanding why. I'm not talking about bad and good guys here, just facts. Google is obviously trying to fight spam, but in that fight they opened a window that no one knows how to close...


05/06/2014 03:02 pm

Because he doesn't really have one. There is no moral or ethical dilemma here. We don't have time to read "600 pages," he couldn't establish even a viable argument over the course of 20 minutes of's time to move on to something else.


05/06/2014 05:19 pm

There is much more to Negative SEO than just comment spam and articles. At that point you are barely getting your toes wet.

Todd Foster

05/06/2014 05:30 pm

Negative SEO can be done my friend. I have seen someone do it on a very large scale. I had to disavow over 150,000 links. The links were duplicate content, porn sites, porn keywords, anchor text spam, even hacked websites. It got the site a manual penalty. Once I removed all the spam and bad links. The penalty was removed but the site has under performed since. Consider this as well, the site that got hit had over 40% returning uses and bounce rate of 20%.

David DuVal

05/06/2014 05:42 pm

I think the question is deeper and it goes something like "Are mega corporations moral?". I would argue there are some deficiencies with the structure of how Boards of Directors are organized, and their relationship with stockholders. The consumer doesn't have a "seat" on the board, and often has no "share" of the profits/benefits. That doesn't mean all the people that work at Google are immoral, but there may very well be structural deficiencies that create moral dilemmas.

Art L

05/06/2014 05:47 pm

I am curious about what kind of links you had before that happened. Squeaky clean, spammy or somewhere in between? I am pretty certain that sort of link blasting would work if the site's links were already shaky. The blast could push it over the edge into penalty. On all the blogs & forums, each time someone says they have a negative SEO victim site, it turns out that there was already bad linking to it. Even a recent negative SEO case study on Moz was quickly debunked by Marie Haynes who pointed out the bad links from before that alleged attack.

Art L

05/06/2014 05:48 pm

Do tell! Would love to know how it is done. Can't find any breakdowns of it ever working.

Todd Foster

05/06/2014 05:55 pm

Barely any links, most of the traffic is shared and it was niche that never really required linkbuilding. The link profile was not strong but the rankings were good. It was 4 - 5 month process of getting top spot because we never spammed links to it. We also left the links out that we had before the negative SEO in which we the action was revoked. The only links we disavowed were the thousands of negative links. Understand that whoever did it, did not just buy fiverr gig, they did something large scale.

Art L

05/06/2014 06:03 pm

You should publish the details of the site, links before & after, traffic before & after. You would be the first confirmed clean site hit by negative seo if you did that, as far as I know. You'd also get a pile of links from the publicity. All the other reports of negative SEO leave out enough details that they are not credible.

Ben Guest

05/06/2014 08:48 pm

Unfortunately for business owners, they need a technical expert now and the gap in knowledge in the SEO industry has left business owners as a source for easy prey. However, Google offers plenty of red flags if they would just educate themselves instead of buying the moon that is being sold to them:


05/08/2014 11:28 am

Ben i couldn't agree with you more. Most people often like to blame the authorities for they own incompetence, if everyone just stick to creating good websites then we would never have thei discussion because then even google wouldn't be penalizing websites, think about this for a moment who is really conducting themselves immorally here, is it the guys who are creating badlinks to other websites so that their own websites gets ranked better or is it google?

aaron wall

05/09/2014 09:12 am

The difference between the mall and Google is that the local mall is not a global monopoly. Look at the marketshare of the Chrome web browser then look into the flash bundling updates that install Chrome as your default web browser. Then look at how Google reset searcher settings in Chrome. If Google were to stop buying marketshare by buying default search placement in other web browsers, using illegal secret bundling agreements in Android, and then using security patches for plugins to buy marketshare for their own browser ... they wouldn't have 75% to 85% search marketshare ... and then what they did with their own site would be up to them, but they are spending money to buy marketshare & extend their monopoly when they are already a monopoly. Should a de facto monopoly be able to buy marketshare from security plugins in other web browsers? If the answer to that is yes, at what marketshare should we consider anti-competitive behaviors inappropriate? Do we wait for 99.9% marketshare, or must it get to 100% first? And the "not only the authority, but the responsibility to enforce" line sounds incredibly ignorant given the recent leaked Google emails about the stuff they were doing with their pharma ads. “We are the only player in our industry still accepting these ads” Sheryl Sandberg, 2003 “We do not make these decisions based on revenue, but as background, [redacted].” "the 15 year-old who became addicted to Hydrocodone will also be reflected in this article – & as we all know, the father blames AdWords" "I understand that we should not let other companies, press, etc. influence our decision-making around policy" "As with all of our policies, we do not verify what these sites actually do, only what they claim to do." When it is Google's own income on the line, they have "the authority & responsibility" to "look the other way."

Gracious Store

05/15/2014 01:27 am

Before anyone can question the ethical or morality of Google's penalty on sites that do dubious things to rank high on search results. There should be a consensus on what is wrong and right about what webmasters are supposed to do or not do and who has the authority to check or call to order any webmaster who defaults from the norm.

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