Should we really follow Google’s SEO recommendations

Should we really follow Google’s SEO recommendations

Over the past couple of years, Google has given website owners a plentitude of opportunities to gain more visibility in the search engine ranking positions (SERPs). A few highlights are:

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): Ditch your rogue HTML/Javascript, and use this very restricted HTML/Javascript framework to deliver insanely fast websites, cached on Googles servers.
  • 16 different SERP features (well shown in this illustration from Moz)

We all care about these opportunities, because it’s a way to grow our companies by getting more traffic from Google. But it comes at a price: Every time Google gets more structured data, it becomes easier for them to keep the users on Google.com, and thus send less, not more, traffic to the rest of us in the long run.

To better understand how to act in this dilemma, we need to look at where Google is heading. As always, it broadens our understand of such a dilemma if we examine three different levels: Leaders, Google and the eco system.

Individual level

Key individuals in Google hold different visions, and to some extend influence the direction of the company.

Give answers, not search results: The recently retired Head Of Google Search, Amit Singhal, often states that his goal was to create a Star Trek like-experience:

“…this transforms the concept of ‘Googling’ from something that happens via a static search bar into a kind of ongoing conversation with an omniscient assistant, ready to step in and fulfill any request — even ones you haven’t thought about yet.”

Note whats not in Amit Singhal’s vision: passing users on to other sites in the digital eco-system. This has been an important individual held vision in Google for a long time, and I suspect it still exists even after Amit Singhal retired in 2016. This means we should expect Google to increasingly try to give more answers to the user while he is on Google.com.

Company level

What does Google as a company care about? And what are their incentives?

Better search results: Naïve or not, I am pretty convinced that Google genuinely wants to create better search experiences. Many of their SEO advices help further this goal. Google getting more data means more accurate search experiences and often less spam.

Speed: For a decade or so, Google has consistently promoted page speed as something valuable and thus as a ranking factor. Fast load time is good for Google as they improve their product — waiting is frustrating, no matter who causes it. And lighter and faster sites benefit all users — especially those with limited data plans in developing countries.

Product company, not a platform company: Google is a product company, not a platform company. Microsoft and Amazon are known for creating ecosystems in which their partners thrive. They are platform companies. Android aside, Google is a product company. They are agnostic to which sites rank in their search results, and don’t care if they kill companies by shifting the search engine results around. It is almost impossible to talk to a human in Google, unless you pay for AdWords. This might be a fair business decision, but it makes it risky to build you company on their platform.

System level

Although extremely powerful, Google is not operating in a vacuum. How the eco-system evolves also influences what Google needs to do in the future.

Voice search: Voice search is winning in quickly, primarily thanks to Amazon Echo. Voice search with no visible interface is unlikely to return more than one answer or result. This basically means that the SERPs become winner takes all. Either you (or your data) ranks number 1, or you are gone.

Walled gardens: The big tech companies are in the midst of a race to build the biggest walled gardens. This affects Google. With initiatives such as Google AMP, we are leaving the open web and are being limited by the design and code opportunities Google deem worthy. This will limit a lot of tech products and sites by hurting innovation, opportunities and monetisation. Static text pages are much more suited for AMP than interactive pages from real tech products. This means that we all get an incentive to create static content as this will rank better. This might be good for Google, but definitely not for everyone else.

(Yes AMP is open source, but Google rejects everything they dont like. And if your AMP code doesnt validate with Google, it defeats the purpose of implementing AMP in the first place).

So, should you help Google, “help you”?

I expect everyone but Google will lose out, when we all start following the practices they recommend. The tricky thing is of course, that this is a prisoners dilemma issue, directly resulting from the fact that Google is the dominant aggregator.

This being said, I think we as an industry should be much more weary adopting and promoting new Google features. We are so busy writing about the opportunities from a tactical perspective that we forget the big picture.

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