How Important is Google?
If you’re going to build a Website to make money online, you’re going to need traffic. If you want to get free traffic, you’re going to need help from the search engines. The largest search engine, in terms of number of daily searches, is Google. Therefore, it stands to reason that you should at least give some thought on a regular basis to Google and how your relationship with that particular search engine is going to affect you and your Website.
Obviously, having your site rank highly in Google’s search results for keywords that are important to your business can be helpful. If you’re interested in that, you’ll be able to find thousands of articles on this site and elsewhere that cover that topic. Optimizing your site for Google rankings is a lot of work, especially if you take backlinking into consideration, which involves finding ways to get other sites to link to yours. Google tends to regard backlinks as a “vote” for a site, and the more backlinks you have, the more importance the search engine will assign to your site, at least in theory. That last part is a big problem.
How Much Should You Care About Google?
Once it became known how much Google valued backlinks, people started making attempts to game the system by artificially inflating their backlink count. This was, and can still be, done via paying people to put links to your site on theirs, using automated systems to post links in comments on thousands of blogs, or using other automation to build hundreds or thousands of blogs with links built into them.
For a time, these methods were quite effective, and once Google caught on to what people were doing, they adjusted their algorithm to minimize the effects of such link building. For the most part, they simply ignored links to a site from sites that they regarded as “poor quality.” How they defined poor quality was a bit vague, but sites that feature porn, or illegal software downloads, or sites that have nothing on their pages but links to other sites were quickly ignored. They were there, but Google simply pretended that they weren’t when it came time to evaluate a site in terms of backlinks.
Things have changed, and today, Google now holds site owners responsible for the links that point to their site, regardless of whether the site owner had anything to do with those links or not. If you use Google Webmaster Tools, Google will tell you if there are suspicious links pointing to your site, and they’ll ask you to contact the owner of the site and ask them to remove them. Alternatively, you can ask Google to “disavow” the links – in other words, you can ask them to ignore them in the same way that that they used to. There are differing opinions as to whether asking them to “disavow” a link even works, or whether it has the same effectiveness as having the link removed. Of course, there is no definitive answer to that, as Google, as a matter of policy, does not disclose how they do things.
There was a time when Google seemed legitimately interested in making the Internet a better place. The changes they made early on in the company’s history seemed to be motivated entirely by a desire to create a better search experience. They quickly realized that evaluating a site based on keywords, as most search engines were doing in the late 1990s, was largely a waste of time, because many sites were stuffing their pages with keywords. This was often done by adding selected keywords to the bottom of a page, often hundreds of times, but printing the words in a color that was the same color as the background color of the page. By doing that, the search engines could see the words, but visitors to the site could not.
Since going public in 2004, the search engine’s motives are a bit less clear. Visiting the site without an ad blocker will show you that very little real estate on the page is actually devoted to search results, and that most of what you see when you search for anything is some form of paid ad. In order to optimize that, Google has become a lot more strict about the sort of content that they’ll even list in their search engine. Sites featuring a lot of affiliate content, such as eBay or Amazon listings, are often excluded from the results. I once had three hundred Websites with eBay listings removed from Google index overnight. For people searching for my sites on Google, it was as though the sites simply didn’t exist anymore.
These days, Google seems to be about what’s best for Google, and since companies try to keep their stockholders happy, their approach seems unlikely to change. What is likely to change, as it has been for several years, is what Google wants from Webmasters. Any time the search engine decides to make a change in how they evaluate sites, you run the risk of being penalized by failing to comply. It used to be keywords, and then it was backlinks. Tomorrow, it may be something else.
What can you do about this? Nothing, really. But lots of Webmasters lose sleep over trying to keep Google happy. If they find out that some competitor has paid a spammer to post 10,000 links from bad sites to their blog, they’ll spend days trying to get the links eliminated or in trying to get Google to disavow them. If Google notifies them tomorrow that the color green no longer meets with their approval, they’ll redesign their sites to change the colors.
That, in my opinion, is the wrong approach. Yes, I get some traffic from Google. But it’s not the only search engine and it’s not the only source of traffic. My advice? Try not to do anything dishonest in building your site or in trying to improve your rankings, but don’t bend over backwards to do anything for Google. Try to get links from a few social media sites. Try to keep your content interesting and thorough.
As for me, I try to use Google and their services as little as possible. I’m aware that they harvest everything, so using their search engine or their social network or their Webmaster tools or analytical tools might actually provide them with information that may eventually hurt my site if they decide to make some arbitrary change down the road. I don’t use Gmail, I don’t use Google+ and I do most of my searches on Bing. To the extent that I can, I try to ignore them, and if you’re getting traffic from Bing, or from DuckDuckGo, or from Facebook, or Twitter or Pinterest, then it may not be that big a deal if you rub Google the wrong way and they decide that they don’t like your site anymore.
Google and You Summary
When it comes to search, Google acts as though they own the Internet, but they also have thousands of enablers in the form of Webmasters who drop what they’re doing to make changes whenever Google deems it necessary for them to do so. All in all, it’s probably not worth the effort to concern yourself with whatever it is Google is worried about today. There are better ways to spend your time.
Just build the best Website you can and don’t worry about one search engine.