It's not the first time I've heard this logic, but Greg's done a better job than most by putting it in simple terms:

Weíll be allowed to take cuts because search engines want our sites to show up. They want them to show up because their users expect to see them. And those users donít give a shit about whatís contained in the source code. All they care about is whether or not they land on a page that matches their search.
Until that fact changes, there will be virtually no risk associated with aggressive SEO for big brands. And as long as the risks are low, managers of big brands would be foolish not to explore potential strategies that will ultimately improve the visibility of their brands simply because a search engine has said they disapprove.

Is he right? Are the big brands (IBM, BMW, Apple, Toyota, Playboy, etc.) so important to search engines (or their users), that they should "optimize" first and worry about being discovered later?

Put another way, what if every one of the Fortune 500 decided to follow BMW's lead and spam Google? Who win?

Sure, it's an extreme case. But most fun thought experiments are. :-)

Posted by jzawodn at February 08, 2006 09:21 PM

Reader Comments
# grumpY! said:

would it really hurt ibm to not appear in google indexes? bmw? are you really not going to buy a bmw because it is not in google? i doubt it. these firms, plus many other moderately important sites on the web may come to a collective realization - they are not powerless before google, in fact a google (or yahoo, or msn) boycott by a quorum of moderately important sites could turn the bargaining around. google is basically useless without other people's content. so far 'other people' have no collective voice. perhaps one day the search engines will have to negotiate with the blogger's union for content.

the issue is particularly germane with regards to google news - many of these news sites must pay for reuters and ap content (for example) that google is effectively manipulating for free, enriching the google brand. i wonder why more news agencies have not cracked down on google news, which currently presents a de facto free republishing of this content (and not even just de facto should you just choose to get your news from the blurbs on the google news site and not click through).

google is not a public utility, their index is a privately controlled product. that said, standard oil was private too. regulation is often about popular politics and who is contributing to who, and how much.

on February 8, 2006 10:09 PM
# Joe Hunkins said:

Excellent points by GrumpY - who the HELL is in charge of the internet anyway? NOBODY/EVERYBODY is in charge and that's a major part of the power that is getting ceded to Google by many without even a whisper of dissent.

I don't follow Greg's logic because the "perfect storm" for Google is spam from a big brand that allows them to kick them out and force them to use aggressive PPC "while we sort out your problems".

I'm sure this type of "extortion" is NOT practiced directly (though I saw evidence of something like this by Inktomi before Yahoo cleaned up the practice) However there is considerable monetary incentive to leave SOME of the big sites OUT (though not all or relevancy is too compromised).

Over time I think they'll actually crack down MORE, not less, on spammy practices because they compromise the index AND cracking down creates the most revenue positive environment for them which is me ONLY finding BMW at the TOP of the PAID listings. Where's the down side for Google?

on February 8, 2006 11:00 PM
# grumpY! said:

>> who the HELL is in charge of the internet anyway? NOBODY/EVERYBODY

this is only a temporary condition in my opinion. corporations use regulation to control outcomes (in favor of the incumbent, natch). we see this in markets like healthcare, finance, insurance, and now potentially in telco (verizon/pacbell vs search engines etc). as patently ridiculous as it may seem, there are senators and congressfolk actively speaking out on behalf of the telcos. google is a US company, they can certainly be regulated while they choose to stay a US company. follow the dollars...

in fact i would not be suprised to see verizon/pacbell counterpoint that if they are required to be a common carrier, google and other search engines must also 'open up' (whatever that would mean) since they are really just a virtual cache of the network itself. specious to be sure, but enough campaign contributions and i could see any firm seeking to cache the whole network considered a virtual common carrier.

on February 8, 2006 11:25 PM
# Tim Converse said:

(Heh. Not to think it's all about me or anything, Jeremy, but ... sometimes I wonder if you're actually _trying_ to make my job harder. :) )

Anyway, large companies can opt out anytime - there's a lot of handwringing to the press lately about search engines exploiting content providers, but I'm not seeing corresponding robots.txt files (the standard method, respected by all major engines, to tell the crawlers to stay away).

Search engines are in general happy to index that portion of the web that wants to be indexed, and I'm not personally worried about that portion declining suddenly.

on February 8, 2006 11:34 PM
# Varun said:

His logic is flawed.

Assume that a 'big brand' adopted blackhat SEO tactics to list better on SERPs. For some time it does well because lot of people searching for particular words land up on its site. However after some time the tactics are discovered by search engine algorithms or by a blogger and the search engine decides to delist that site.

If the site wants to be reincluded in their index it has to remove the blackhat tricks. It does so. Then what? It cannot use the blackhat tactics again. And the 'big brand' has to fall back on whitehat changes to their site to make sure it ranks well in SERPs. So why not do it in the first place?

In any case if everybody were to spam search engines then the value of search would quickly come down.

on February 9, 2006 12:19 AM
# Nigel said:

**Spam*** Google?

Let me just translate that text on that BMW page with my few German words:
"You are searching for a New BMW?... You are looking for a new dealership.... for the name address and telephone of a BMW garage, ... for BMW partners...for any BMW Model...."

That's HAM, thats what BMW.de is all about. Just because its off the page doesn't make it spam, if it was in links to the page, it would be off page but still ham.

Those words ARE on the page too, just not in Google friendly way. Matt complained about 'neuwagen' (new car). BMW have big factories that make what again? Tofu, Ketchup..erm? I don't know what they make but there's lots of pictures of them on every page in a non Google friendly way.

The problem is, Google has a definition of Spam which isn't a definition of spam, its a definition of what their search engine is capable of detecting as spam.

Instead of saying thank you for the keywords, Google then treated BMW like a Viagra spyware spammer and applied a ban.

Great, so now when I search for [bmw autohaus finden] instead of bmw.de's dealership finder, pure-honey-glazed-ham, I will get what?


on February 9, 2006 12:27 AM
# Andrew Ducker said:

Imagine the same policy offline:
"It makes sense to spraypaint the name/logo of your brain on any wall that you see. This will remind users of your brand, and if we all do it then what are they going to do - ban us from advertising?"

It's clearly nonsense. I use Google because I trust it. As soon as I think that they're being manipulated I'll be trying out Yahoo (or whoever) instead.

on February 9, 2006 01:02 AM
# soxiam said:

I can't help but share my sentiments with greg. It's pretty much the same thing as that whole wordpress hidden link selling fiasco as far as we "the small fish" are concerned. Why should 'authority sites' and 'white list' have anything to do with the how (and how long) they should be penalized for being involved in black-hat SEO? Does that make sense to anyone (including those within search engines who write these hidden policies)? How does this pratice reflect to small site owners who are banned from the indices for 6 months or more for doing something far less sneaky or for being unjustly flagged as a 'thin affiliate site', etc? We need clarity and fair play in what consequences EVERYONE can expect before even talking about search engine relevancy.

on February 9, 2006 04:01 AM
# Martin said:

"would it really hurt ibm to not appear in google indexes? bmw? are you really not going to buy a bmw because it is not in google?"

The question is not whether you buy a BMW or not, it is who you buy it from. Suppose a customer finds an Independant dealer or a nearly new second hand dealer instead? That could be one lost sale for BMW's main dealers.

If I don't find IBM when searching for a computer I'll probably buy a Dell or HP.

So yes it does matter to big companies if they get banned from Google.

"Put another way, what if every one of the Fortune 500 decided to follow BMW's lead and spam Google? Who win?"
The small guy that's who.

on February 9, 2006 04:18 AM
# Robert Oschler said:

grumpY! make several key points. I wonder if a webmaster union is even possible, especially to the level that they could hold "strikes" by having mass search engine boycotts.

Jeremy, did the SourceForge/Yahoo issue ever get resolved? Also, what software do you use for this blog? I like the layout.

on February 9, 2006 05:07 AM
# Anjan said:

Yes, there are some valid comments but the gamut needs to be wider. For example, when Google submits to censorship to please a communist regime or when Yahoo repeatedly submits information to the Chinese government to help arrest democratic activists. Yahoo provided evidence to police that identified Chinese Internet user Li Zhi. Liís case echoes that of Shi, a Chinese journalist who was jailed for 10 years after Yahoo provided authorities with evidence from his personal e-mail account.

No one has taken a higher ground on this issue and everyone succumbs to corporate greed - Google, Yahoo, MSN....So, I agree with the action. Let's spam Yahoo, Google, and MSN until they start developing morality and stop sending their PR teams out after they've helped dictatorial regimes around the world curb dissent. Honestly, I don't think the hearing on Feb 15th will be any use. Google, Yahoo, MSN lawyers will dance around the issue and show how they're better than the other two 8-|

on February 9, 2006 08:09 AM
# Bubba said:

So, what kind of user uses Google or Yahoo to visit www.ibm.com, or www.bmw.it for that matter?

Personally, I could care less about the google indexing of large companies. Strip them all from the index! I want the edge content. I can find www.hp.com without using Yahoo or Google, thanks.

on February 9, 2006 01:19 PM
# Utills said:

I think people are missing the point here about big companies being included in the index. Its not the homepage that matters, or direct selling to customers.

Its about presenting information to anyone even slightly interested in a product. For example, if I see a cool new phone from Nokia, I would type in Nokia xxxx into google and the nokia site showing off the features, a 3D view, accessories etc would come up.

Now i'm not actually going to buy from nokia directly but when I go and get my new phone from Orange or Vodafone then that phone will stick in my mind.

However, if the site that comes up for Nokia xxxx is just some average review since Nokia has been delisted from the google index then that is ultimately going to change my views about the phone.

Lastly for those who mentioned that the words that BMW used were fine, the issue is not about what words are used, but the fact that doorway pages or hiding content directly contravenes the whole organic growth of search engines. Results need to be fostered organically so that everyone's chance of getting into the results is based on relevance. If BMW are getting into the results for used cars, surely that means that someone is missing out. That someone could be a relevant medium sized firm who can't afford SEO or a really good web site management system.

All in all its about providing a correct sales pitch for the user in your own back garden.

on February 9, 2006 05:26 PM
# trevor said:

wow this is great. on the above remark about "organic" growth of search engines, i claim that bots and spiders cannot really deliver an "organic" result.

as someone earlier stated, google is not defining SPAM, they are just defining their OWN meaning, and then if the offending site delivers what their machine calls spam, they get kicked. no human interaction really occurs, other than the premeditated business decisions of google and co, to support their biggest ...er, supporters.

i think that social bookmarking like del.icio.us and the about to happen ma.gnolia.com are the real answer here, in that they make google irrelevant, and fast. what good is 8,063,014 results? i mean really?

social bookmarking, and subsequent RANKING of results by ACTUAL people, will instantly be seen to outweigh some corporate doctrine that google decided in 2003 in a backroom of their highrise. it will spell the end for bot based search engines - i believe.

on February 10, 2006 02:06 PM
# ragga said:

No one has taken a higher ground on this issue and everyone succumbs to corporate greed - Google, Yahoo, MSN....So, I agree with the action. Let's spam Yahoo, Google, and MSN until they start developing morality and stop sending their PR teams out after they've helped dictatorial regimes around the world curb dissent. Honestly, I don't think the hearing on Feb 15th will be any use. Google, Yahoo, MSN lawyers will dance around the issue and show how they're better than the other two.

on February 14, 2006 05:53 PM
# rasta said:

social bookmarking, and subsequent RANKING of results by ACTUAL people, will instantly be seen to outweigh some corporate doctrine that google decided in 2003 in a backroom of their highrise. it will spell the end for bot based search engines - i believe.

on February 15, 2006 01:02 PM
# rasta said:
on February 15, 2006 01:03 PM
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