Don’t Trust Google for SEO Advice

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Ian Lurie Nov 13 2008

google seo guideAt least, take everything they say with a grain of salt.
Today, they came out with their ‘SEO Starter Guide‘. I downloaded it and took a quick look.
And I’ve finally lost patience. So here I go on a Graywolf-style rant:

Inconsistencies in the SEO Guide: Dynamic URLs

On page 6 they say “Improve the structure of your URLs”. The authors point at URLs that have lots of dross like ‘mysite.com/folder1/1089257/x1/0000002a.htm’ and say that’s not user friendly. They’re right. What they don’t say is that this URL is clearly dynamically generated. No sane human being would create a page address like that.
A professional SEO will always recommend keyword-relevant, clickworthy URLs like ‘mysite.com/bicycles/schwinn/mountain-bikes.htm’ instead.
To create that more friendly URL, you’d have to rewrite the dynamic URL using some kind of URL rewriting tool like mod_rewrite.
So, Google’s recommending you rewrite dynamic URLs. Fine. As an SEO, I’ll always suggest that if it’s possible, and if it won’t kill already strong rankings.
But, this statement is a direct contradiction of their post just 6 weeks ago, though, they were very specific in stating you should not rewrite dynamic URLs.
And of course, that post was a change in their previous policy.
K guys, I’ve tried to stick up for you on this while you flop back and forth on the dynamic URL question like a fish slowly dying on the bottom of a boat. But I’ve had it. Pick a damned policy and stick with it, or stop trying to pretend you have one.

Exclusions from the SEO Guide

Google doesn’t talk about your page’s semantic outline. They mention headings, but ignore paragraph tags, lists and other structural elements that are critical to successful SEO.
They ignore the importance of content clustering and hub pages. Instead they provide a one-paragraph example of a content outline that, if used by any site of reasonable size, will result in 99% of your content being buried deeper than George Bush’s popularity rating.
They also ignore blended search, semantic relationships between different terms, any discussion of pagerank, the potential damage caused by Flash or AJAX, the importance of standards compliance or how to display products on a page.
None of these items are essential to basic SEO. So strictly speaking, I guess Google’s guide is just fine. Sort of like knowing half the flight manual is ‘just fine’.

The Real Problem

Google’s guide doesn’t say anything horrifying (except where they contradict their own policies, but I already covered that). But many beginners will download it, read it and think they’re set. And they aren’t. Implying this guide is an introduction to SEO is dangerous. It might be a very high-level introduction to basic principles of site building. Maybe.
But an intro to SEO? If you believe that, I’ve got a bailout package for ya.

Always Remember

Google is a private entity. They are a large group of brilliant people who’ve made one of the best search engines on earth. They deserve a lot of props for that, which I regularly deliver.
But they do not have your best interests at heart. I’m not implying some kind of conspiracy – Google’s a business. They have their best interests at heart. As they should.
They do offer great advice on selecting an SEO, which makes sense: A good SEO will help them sort out their rankings, which will bring happier searchers. That then generates more clicks they can sell via Adwords.
But SEO advice? I don’t think so…
End of rant.

tags : conversation marketing

18 Comments

  1. What, Google’s SEO guides? So now the Search Engine is teaching us how to game their system – irony.
    Anyway, I gave up trusting Google’s guides long time ago – especially when they say buying links for SE manipulation is forbidden and yet sites that rank top are mostly aggressive link buyers.
    So much for the SEO guide, sgghh.

  2. What Google actually mean about rewriting urls is do not rewrite if you don’t know what you’re doing, just for the sake of removing query parameters.
    I have seen a lot of sites putting a session id in the url and this will confuse google and will get you penalized since Google will spider a lot of different urls with the same content (duplicate content).
    Google understands shop.php?category=cars&session_id=71979227881406 but it will get confused if the url was /shop/cars/71979227881406/
    This isn’t about user friendliness, it’s about logic. A / represents a directory and if you follow the rewriting example you’ll end up with thousands of “session directories”.
    SEO is like SEX, a lot of people think they’re the best, but most don’t know what they’re doing.
    BonsaiJon
    ———
    http://www.BonsaiJon.com

  3. Greg

    If I could be the devil’s advocate here… I think if they did cover those issues that you brought up (“Exclusions from the SEO Guide”), you’d come up with 10 other things that they didn’t include. After all, it’s a “starter” guide. They had to draw the line somewhere.
    Also, regarding dynamic URLs… It seems to me like that post (“Dynamic URLs vs. Static URLs”) is aimed at beginners, because it sympathizes with the reader in saying that “it’s quite hard to correctly create and maintain rewrites…” Further, “we would still discourage you from using this rewrite as it is hard to maintain…”
    So they’re not quite saying you should never do it. They’re just saying that it may be easier for most people to leave it as a dynamic URL. It’s not directed towards people that understand rewrites and do know what they’re doing.

  4. Good review. A resource that I really like is Quirk’s emarketing textbook and they’re apparently coming up with an updated version soon based on feedback from the users: http://www.quirk.biz/emarketingtextbook/
    Cheers,
    Tess

  5. Dana

    I can always count on you for good advice, Ian. I’ve only been in this field for 6 months, so I would definitely follow Google’s advice had you not shared your insight. A lot of people forget that a business is a business and they are out for #1, and Google is certainly no different.
    Thanks.

  6. I think we’re seeing a couple of things with this.
    First, Google is no longer a lean, mean, fighting machine but a bloated corporation where one department/team is in-fighting with another or clueless as to what the other is doing.
    Second, in the document and some other recent postings they sort of acknowledge that link building is going to happen, particularly between blogs, social networks and the like. It’s good to see them shed some of the vintage 1998 statements, such as using directories, that aren’t as applicable today.
    On what you mentioned and speaking of 1998, I don’t think that Google really places that much attention on standards compliance. I frequently see pages that are quite ugly by today’s web standards (tables, frames, animated gifs, etc) rank #1 primarily on the virtue of their age and links.

  7. Ian

    @Greg I agree with most of what you’re saying. My issue here is that Google is perceived as THE authority. They shouldn’t be releasing this kind of incomplete halfassery.

  8. Ian, you crack me up. It IS a beginners guide after all so I am glad they don’t get into Flash, semantics, Ajax, etc.
    Look at it like this. If a webmaster used this document to build search engine friendliness into their site then that would be super. If they still do not get the rankings they had hoped for, then its time to hire a professional!
    I’m glad Google is not giving out too much guidance, keeps us SEOs in business! :-)

  9. I just printed that off to read at the beach this weekend. Thanks for the heads up! :)

  10. I was also surprised with this big contradiction when I read the Seo guide. Pretty strange…

  11. That’s it! They train the new league of SEOs to help making the google search better than they can make it theirselves. The Guide seems to be a part of their self marketing. — One positive Aspect might be, that uninformed people who don’t know much about SEO learn that there is a need to optimize their pages. Or said in better words: To get their sites optimized by paid SEOs ;)

  12. Jason

    While I agree with you, Ian, you are also guilty of the same conclusion you put on Google; you also represent a private company that delivers SEO services.
    It’s in your best interest to point out that Google’s SEO starter’s guide is incomplete, so people come to your company for SEO services.
    Hypocrisy, thy name is civilization.

  13. Ian

    @Jason But I make no bones about that. And when I go to teach folks SEO I make sure I’m not throwing out half-complete misinformation.
    Sorry, but I don’t think I’m being hypocritical. I don’t care if folks hire me or someone else, or no one at all. What I don’t want is an entire population of businesspeople trying Google’s guide and then giving up on SEO altogether.

  14. I read the guide. I don’t see anything that is so crazy as to warrant much of any response. The information the guide has exactly what I disclose to my clients and even my prospects (those that actually know what they are talking about). I think the guide is very sound and helps to raise the technical awareness/understanding of prospects. I don’t see the guide as any threat to SEOs. To me, it’s more like a car dealer opening up a hybrid car hood, showing me the engine and the systems – identifying what this is, what that is – but not telling me how it works other than that a hybrid can get me 40+ mpg.
    Frankly, prospects will sell themselves on what they want. I had one ignorant prospect claim SEO is not that hard- it’s just meta tags. No matter how patient I was with him explaining the process, he was suddenly convinced he knew what it was and that he could dictate to me how much I could charge him. People like that are out there- and they piss me off.
    So if they are suddenly convinced they know how to do SEO, then let these people do it. If they fail, they failed on their own. If you do your own taxes and get audited, you have only yourself to blame.
    I think the guide is perfect for SEOs – now we have documentation from Google supporting what we talk about.

  15. Jayden

    They want to keep all the secrets to themselves!
    Google telling us how to seo is like ebay telling epn affiliates how to not bet banned from the program.
    Jayden

  16. I take most of the SEO advice from Google as just that – Advice. Not guidelines that should be followed to a T. I bet if you looked hard enough you’d find other contradictions as well, and it doesn’t surprise me.

  17. I know i’m very late to the party here, but your post still rings really true. I’ve recently been in conversations on one forum where people are trying to insist that paying any SEO expert is a waste of money, and you can do a better job yourself – because Google has provided their guidelines and that’s all there is to it.
    It’s obviously a load of rubbish, but glad to read your post which was exactly what I was thinking myself!
    Matt

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