In the eyes of many SEO industry observers, the start of 2012
has not been great from a PR point of view for Google.
SEO practitioners (particularly in competitive niches) are well
used to seeing the use of underhand tactics in order to gain an
edge in the Google serps - however, it comes as a bit of a shock
when we see the use of similar practices from Google
Firstly, Google was embroiled in a rather messy episode
regarding a campaign to promote its Chrome browser, where the line
as to what constitutes a 'paid' link was blurred by a media
campaign that appeared to contradict its own rules. After an
investigation, a surprised (they thought they were buying
advertisements) Google took the action to demote the Chrome webpage
and lower the PageRank of the site for at least 60 days.
Then, just over a week later, another story emerged that didn't
paint Google in the best light. Google was caught 'scraping'
Mocality (a Kenyan business directory) in order to sell its own
services to Kenyan businesses. The story takes a few rather
unpleasant turns, and, after an investigation (there's a pattern
emerging here) Google was forced to admit that there had been
wrongdoing from its end, releasing a statement that it was
'mortified' to learn that this was happening in its name.
Whilst it is disappointing to see Google using these tactics,
there are wider implications of this behaviour to be considered.
Many webmasters are (rightly) pointing out that if they were caught
in a similar position, their websites would be banned from Google,
possibly losing their businesses and livelihoods in the process.
Also, the fact that Google has been caught contravening its own
guidelines essentially gives licence to unscrupulous SEOs that it
is ok to utilise these manipulative tactics 'because Google did it
and got away with it'.
If these tactics reach as far as Kenya (via India), then is it
not possible that there are other cases where Google has behaved
'inappropriately' and pushed the envelope of what it considers to
be acceptable? What's certain is that many in the search industry
will be watching any Google campaigns very closely in the coming