Google: SEO Isn't Good For Users Or The Internet

Feb 7, 2012 • 8:33 am | comments (39) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

ooops moment Jonathan Rockway, a Googler who is active on Hacker News slipped up on a comment he posted on Hacker News. Aaron Wall spotted it and wrote about it.

Let me quote the comment, then the "clarification" from Jon:

Instead of being able to SEO the entire Internet, businesses can now only affect the search results for a tiny percentage of users. That's a good thing because SEO can't scale, and SEO isn't good for users or the Internet at large.

If you look at the Google experience from the standpoint of customers, it's pretty good. Users get relevant search results and ads. Advertisers get their content on top of everything else. It's a good compromise between advertising and usability, and it works really well. It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug. Manipulating Google results shouldn't be something you feel entitled to be able to do. If you want to rank highly in Google, be relevant for the user currently searching. Engage him in social media or email, provide relevant information about what you're selling, and, generally, be a "good match" for what the user wants.

Jon then retracts not that SEO isn't good for users but that he meant to write ads versus search results:

Since people are taking what I've said out of context, I thought I'd clarify this statement:

"It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads"

I shouldn't have mentioned ads here. Position on the results page should only depend on the quality of your content; if your site has the best content on the Internet for the user's search terms, you should be the top result. You shouldn't be able to change your position in the organic results any other way, like by exploiting bugs in Google's ranking algorithm. The specifics of the ranking algorithm may change, but if your site is the best, you won't have to worry about it.

Okay, so he retracted the buying ads thing and meant buying positions.

But SEO isn't good for users? Really? I thought SEOs helped Google find great content, make it more indexable and provide rich snippets for the markup all over Google's results today?

Forum discussion at Hacker News.

Image credit to ShutterStock for oops moment.

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02/07/2012 01:54 pm

Google's Domination is the real bad thing for the Internet !


02/07/2012 02:25 pm

Clearly this guy doesn't know what he is talking did he get a job at Google??

Tad Chef

02/07/2012 02:38 pm

This guy not only hates SEO, he hates web design as well. Just look up his website. Judging from the profile image he even hates photography: It's just another proof that being an ubergeek at Google doesn't make you smarter as a human being. Also if I had been working for Bank of America I would shut up altogether.

Jeff Downer Indianapolis IN

02/07/2012 03:02 pm

Gee, I thought white hat SEO was all about giving the user what they are looking for using search. What exactly goes this "googley" do at Google?

Locally Searched

02/07/2012 03:16 pm

So let me get this right, Google now prefers sites with great content, irrespective of the amount of links and other off site attributes for the site, everyone this way to adwords please! 


02/07/2012 03:39 pm

He retracted the truthful comments after Matt Cutts told him too. But he said exactly what we see from Google, buy ads if you want to rank.

Adam Westbrook

02/07/2012 03:51 pm

I'm almost 100% sure he's talking about black hat SEO. While not as obvious as it used to be in years previous, he's likely talking about the use of spammy blogs, link building services, 'reputation management' and other 'optimisation' techniques that don't actually benefit the end user in any way...


02/07/2012 03:56 pm

Surly even a Googler is entitled to his own opinions.


02/07/2012 03:58 pm

Surly even a Googler is entitled to his own opinions.

Thomas Schmitz

02/07/2012 06:35 pm

So which is it, the best content should rank highest or the most engaged relationships who happen to have relevant content should rank highest. I know I'm splitting hairs, but Google needs to update its mantra and elevator speeches.

Bob Gladstein

02/07/2012 06:39 pm

I think he misunderstands what "out of context" means.

Joe Youngblood

02/07/2012 06:40 pm

Amit Singhal said this in an interview: " Then we take a tiny slice, one per cent of our users, and expose them to this change. We measure things such as where on the page they click, when they click higher - that's good for us." clicking "higher" = clicking ads in most queries, and that is good for google. 

Michael Martinez

02/07/2012 06:52 pm

And on top of all that he opposes SOPA, too. Sheesh!


02/07/2012 07:04 pm

Matt Cutts says like this:!/mattcutts/status/165500665118982145!/mattcutts/status/165500822577352704


02/07/2012 08:33 pm

One can only hit the +1 button and like a website if and only if they can find it in the first place. So how on earth are you to be found, even if you have the best content and the most relevant answer to the Googler's question - if you don't rank at the top of the G'serps. I mean come on, this is a circular argument that Google throw up and one they can't even adhere to themselves - ah cough, cough, Chrome, sponsorship.

Matt Catts

02/07/2012 09:21 pm

Amit is a an amazing scientist: even before an algorithm change is written he already knows what's better (in terms of increasing ad clicks, our bread and butter.) P.S. 2012 has a very more enhancements on tap.  


02/07/2012 10:42 pm

I think he's right, because lets face. 90% of SEO is snake oil. SEOs fill the internet with crap to get their site to rank. So many sites that rank high are junk with junk back links. Is that the SEOs fault? Not really, its Googles for allowing it, but most SEOs are willing participants in the spamming of the internet. I won't shed a tear when the SEO industries shady practices no longer work any more and all those crumby SEOs are out of work. *Edit* Lets see how big of a flame war I just started.


02/07/2012 11:45 pm

He is, but spammy techniques are still hugely prevalent, even from some of the most established "white hat" agencies. They simply don't do the big sell on it, they do the big sell on shiny content strategy and prop it up with crap. Check out any link profile and you'll find crappy article links . One can't deny that it's Googles fault that they work, and continue to be so common.


02/08/2012 02:34 am

Too often people in the SEO business think that the goal of SEO is to make a page/site rank higher than it should.

Jill Whalen

02/08/2012 03:30 am

If he just would have said web spam instead of SEO he would have been onto something.

Avinash r

02/08/2012 05:35 am

 I am not completely agree everything has a pros & cons. if Rockway says ". It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug" , 80%  google adsense service used by SEO. Google main source of  revenue comes from Adsense.  you can't say that google algorithm shows 100% best site results.  there can also be a bug in reasults. 


02/08/2012 07:29 am

My feeling tells me that those statements were intentional.  A very clever AdWords baiting strategy.

John Britsios

02/08/2012 07:37 am

Joe I assume you are most probably missing something there. Amit is not talking about ads. What I can tell is, he is talking about the "Frequency of Selection" algorithm: Document Scoring Based on Query Analysis (US Patent Application 20120016874)             "This patent application looks at the frequency of selection of specific pages for specific queries. How frequently a certain page is selected in search results over one period of time might be compared to how frequently that page might be selected in search results over a later period. If the page is selected less, it might be lowered in search results. If it is selected more frequently, it might be increased in rankings."

John Britsios

02/08/2012 07:48 am

Are you telling us here that Amit has something to do with the CTR of AdWords customers? Can you be more specific? Am I missing a huge secret here?.

John Britsios

02/08/2012 08:03 am

 Greg, they did adhere to themselves. That was just a fatal mistake. Have a look at this video from Andy Beard to understand what really happened:

John Britsios

02/08/2012 08:04 am

 Too late "Matt Cutts". Their target have been achieved already.


02/08/2012 09:43 am


Sonia Sharma

02/08/2012 10:12 am

I think Google changed every bad thing, its a really good for users.

Pervez Alam

02/08/2012 12:24 pm

SEO help google to find data in managed way with effective results, so lets see....  

Dewaldt Huysamen

02/08/2012 12:33 pm

I feel Google made a lot of money out of some of the websites I know about that was quality latest information on businesses, like a business directory in every niche. Now since the layout update and even when Panda hit because of ads above the fold rankings dropped etc. I still do not understand this as we help Google to make more money, with SEO being there it motivates more businesses to spend more money to ensure they are optimised in all aspects to comply with Google quality guide lines and make profit. Google is approaching more and more end users directly, trying to cut out the SEO agencies.


02/08/2012 12:40 pm

A while back, on a very popular SEO forum,  I mentioned that logically, buying ads can only help with organic ranking because it 'wakes up' Google to the fact that you are willing to pay them to get their customers. I was poopooed by other people in the forum - well, it appears that I was right!


02/08/2012 03:26 pm

Matt Cutts says SEO is good thing, but it can be abused.

Michael Martinez

02/08/2012 06:26 pm

" I was poopooed by other people in the forum - well, it appears that I was right!" No it doesn't.


02/09/2012 11:44 am

There is nothing to worry about what actually Google thinks that way. Obviously as a financial corporation they will do whatever they can for their survival. Personally I can feel what they are trying to do their best for promoting Google Plus against Facebook & Twitter. Lets see what happened next but people are sure Orkut memory could be revised. What you boys think ?  


02/09/2012 11:49 am

Is it not an open contradiction ?

Kids World

02/11/2012 06:29 pm

SEO has an important role for promoting websites.

anuch lee

03/22/2012 02:31 pm

Would you help your customer to be in your free service rather than the paid one? Don't think so. You deserved the poopooed.

anuch lee

03/22/2012 02:33 pm

For an SEO expert point of view, I wouldn't believe everything he says. He only says stuff that is best for the company. But at least he always say make good useful content. And that is better for everyone. But technically that's not how to rank well. It can be abused, yes, using SEO.


05/10/2014 07:54 am

SEO is Googles unplanned bastard child.

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