Debunking Google’s Propaganda

by Barry Adams on December 7, 2011 · 8 comments

Experienced SEOs know that there’s a huge difference between what Google and its fans declare to be ‘SEO best practices’ and what actually works to get sites to rank.

For those who are still struggling to make sense of this, below I’ve outlined a few SEO myths propagated by the likes of Matt Cutts and his adoring fanbase, and compared that to the real truth of the matter.

Paid Links

Probably the greatest myth in SEO is that buying links – paying a website money to place a link to your website – is a horrendously bad SEO practice and will get your site banned from Google’s SERPs.

The truth is, of course, that paid links are a massive grey area to begin with. Paying for inclusion in an online business directory is, for all intents and purposes, a paid link. Yet you’ll never get penalised for that. Also, many newspapers give extra column space and links to big advertisers, as part of their ongoing patronage. These are essentially paid links, yet you’ll be very hard-pressed to see any site penalised for engaging in such activities.

PropagandaIn fact, Google is so bad at detecting and acting upon paid links, that in some cases it takes enormous mainstream media attention for them to do anything about it. The JC Penney affair was one such case, and while it resulted in a temporary penalty for the site, it didn’t last very long.

So buying links – if you’re being smart about it – is a perfectly valid and relatively low-risk linkbuilding tactic.

  • Google Says: Don’t buy links.
  • The Truth: paid links work and are very hard to detect.
  • What you should do: if you’re in a competitive industry, go for it.

Great Content

Google has been brainwashing encouraging webmasters to produce what they vaguely define as ‘great content’ for years. In fact dare you to find a Google Webmaster video produced in the past year here Matt Cutts does not utter the words ‘great content’.

So what is this ‘great content’ they speak of? Nobody really knows. The good news is, you shouldn’t worry too much about it, because ‘great content’ is just a load of bollocks.

The truth is that Google’s ranking algorithm leans heavily on links. You don’t need great content, you just need a shedload of links to rank for any given term. Links rule Google’s SERPs, and while the big G has been trying to wean themselves off of the link juice for years, so far they’ve been thoroughly unsuccessful.

Sure, having solid content on your site helps – you’d be a fool to build your SEO strategy purely on links alone – but chasing after that ‘great content’ hullabaloo is a pretty pointless exercise. Always deliver what your visitors want, but don’t go chasing after Google’s windmills. Focus on what works.

  • Google Says: Publish great content
  • The Truth: Nobody knows what great content is, and it doesn’t matter that much anyway
  • What you should do: Don’t skip over your on-site optimisation and do make an effort on generating good content, but don’t go chasing after it to the detriment of more effective activities. Like linkbuilding.


Google has been trying to discourage SEO methods it considers ‘cheating’ for almost as long as it has existed. There are a lot of tactics that can be considered cheating, including (but not limited to) cloaking, doorway pages, scraping other people’s content, link networks, and more of such fun.

The truth is, those types of activities are still widely used today because – you guessed it – they still work. Search engines are getting much better at detecting these and penalising sites accordingly, but overall it’s a running battle of search engines versus smart coders. My money is on the coders, because every time Google finds a cure for a specific tactic and burns a couple of sites, the coders just move on and try new approaches.

If your goal is to build a sustainably profitable website, such cheating tactics are probably not the best approach. But if you’re not too worried about losing the occasional website and are fine with the burn & churn approach to making money online, cheating works.

(Note how I avoided using any parlance involving colours and hats. That’s deliberate, because that whole shtick is sooo 2005.)

  • Google Says: Don’t cheat
  • The Truth: Cheating works – albeit often temporarily
  • What you should do: Don’t cheat if you’re building a long-term business. But if you’re OK with disposable websites, by all means go for it. Just don’t break the law, m’kay?

Barry Adams is a seasoned SEO pro whose experience includes consulting for dozens of SMEs, and in-house SEO work for two massive multinational corporations and a large regional newspaper. Currently he’s the Senior SEO guy at Pierce Communications in Belfast, where he deploys his skills in aid of some of the Emerald Isle’s biggest brands.

Google+ Comments

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

James Holden December 7, 2011 at 1:53 pm

Great post, Barry. It puts some much needed perspective into the “real world” of SEO. One of my major bugbears with the community is the holier-than-thou attitude that seems so prevalent.

Yes, we buy links. It’s cost effective and it works.

Yes, we publish great content but not loads of it because it’s expensive and your average client doesn’t simply doesn’t have the budget.

Cheating, well… it depends. We don’t do anything particularly shady because it’s still risky. For my own projects though all bets are off because I’ll only have myself to blame.

The danger is that as an industry, we’re mis-leading those who are new and want to learn. By perpetuating Google’s myths, making the next generation of SEOs fearful and ineffective and it’s a shame.

Barry Adams December 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Thanks James. You hit the nail on the head, we’re doing everyone a disservice by pandering to Google’s party line instead of being open & honest about what works and what doesn’t.

I think this may stem from an innate fear of being struck by Google’s lightning if you step out of line, but that’s a mostly baseless belief. Some high profile companies feel the need to stay chummy with Google, for whatever reasons (access to Matt Cutts, industry events, etc) so they’ll only publish content that toes the party line.

Fortunately there seems to be ever more valid criticism levied against Google and its uncritical fanbase – SEO Book has been doing a superb job at piercing Google’s bubbles for a while now, to name but one – and I’m happy to see this become more commonplace.

After all, openness and honesty can only be good things in the long term, for SEOs and the internet as a whole.

Alex December 8, 2011 at 11:24 am

I’m quite a cynical person and often take Google’s advice with a pinch of salt – they’re a business and only doing it for their own gain afterall. But a lot of what they say is good advice. If you took any advice anyone gave you, you’d be stupid. It’s about taking that advice and adding your own knowledge, beliefs and values to it, and obviously how much you trust the adviser.

I agree with some of what you say, but are you really validating scraping (stealing) other people’s content? Just because something works doesn’t mean you should do it. And reading between the lines (correct me if I’m wrong), creating poor content? I don’t believe in adding anything to the web that doesn’t add any value – there’s enough rubbish to wade through at times as it is. And I’m sure you could point to some examples of what you think is ‘great content’ – you mentioned SEO Book for a start! :)

Barry Adams December 8, 2011 at 11:55 am

Hi Alex. Just to be clear, I’m not condoning any illegal activity, as I made clear in my final sentence. What I am doing is clarifying that what Google is trying to make us believe – i.e. scraping doesn’t work, poor content will never rank, paid links will get you penalised – is basically bullshit. What people decide to do with that information is up to them.

Personally I never build a business on poor or scraped content, nor would I ever do such a thing for a client. My SEO activities are aimed at long term profitability, not short term gains. I’m just pointing out Google’s disinformation.

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