Google Clarifies: No, Ads Shouldn’t Help Rankings & No, SEO Isn’t Bad

“SEO isn’t good for users” and ”It’s a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug” are two quotes from a Google employee that go directly against things Google’s said before. The real truth emerging? More like a new Google employee who doesn’t seem to know much about his company.

The employee is Jonathan Rockway. Google confirms he’s a new Googler — or Noogler — as new employees are known. He started in early January. Google didn’t explain what his job is, but he doesn’t appear to be involved in Google’s web search listings process.

SEO Isn’t Good?

That didn’t prevent Rockway from making comments about SEO and ads in a discussion on the Hacker News web site. While sticking up for his new employer, and its move to bring more social content and signals into its search results, Rockway said:

If the social features are relevant, though, then users are getting a better experience. And that’s a good thing, even if individual pages get less traffic from Google. Instead of being able to SEO the entire Internet, businesses can now only affect the search results for a tiny percentage of users. That’s a good thing because SEO can’t scale, and SEO isn’t good for users or the Internet at large.

I’ve bolded the key part. SEO isn’t good for users? As you’d expect, that’s got the attention of some SEOs. Aaron Wall highlighted Rockway’s comments on his SEO Book blog. So did Barry Schwartz on Search Engine Roundtable. I’ve also see references to Rockway’s comments making the rounds on social media channels I follow.

Google Says: SEO Isn’t Spam

Google’s official stance is that SEO isn’t bad. The company has repeatedly said this over time. In fact, last October, the head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, did an entire video on how Google doesn’t see SEO as spam. You can watch for yourself:

YouTube Preview Image

Google confirmed to me today that the video above “accurately protrays Google’s position” on SEO, rather than what Rockway said.

Ads For Ranking Well?

Perhaps more worrisome, however, was Rockway’s comments about ads. He said:

If you look at the Google experience from the standpoint of customers, it’s pretty good. Users get relevant search results and ads. Advertisers get their content on top of everything else. It’s a good compromise between advertising and usability, and it works really well. It’s a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug. Manipulating Google results shouldn’t be something you feel entitled to be able to do. If you want to rank highly in Google, be relevant for the user currently searching. Engage him in social media or email, provide relevant information about what you’re selling, and, generally, be a “good match” for what the user wants.

Again, I’ve bolded the key part. That comment suggests that Google is working to change things so that if you want to rank well on Google, you need to be buying ads. That’s pretty loaded stuff.

It’s also not something that seems reasonable. Yes, perhaps this new employee managed to slip-up about the grand master plan. Far more likely, he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Ads Don’t Matter

Three days after his original comment, Rockway made a 180 degree turn:

I shouldn’t have mentioned ads here. Position on the results page should only depend on the quality of your content; if your site has the best content on the Internet for the user’s search terms, you should be the top result. You shouldn’t be able to change your position in the organic results any other way, like by exploiting bugs in Google’s ranking algorithm. The specifics of the ranking algorithm may change, but if your site is the best, you won’t have to worry about it.

That took care of the ads issue; it still left SEO looking like some type of exploit.

For the record, Google told me this:

As always, Google search rankings are completely unrelated to Google’s paid advertising services and other partnerships, and there is absolutely no way for a webmaster to pay money to increase search rankings.

When it comes to SEO, many owners of high-quality sites can and do get their site listed well in Google’s search results without any outside help. Some site owners prefer to have someone else check and optimize their sites, and for these folks we’ve published some guidelines relating to evaluating SEO companies.

Overall, I’d agree with Cutts, who commented on Twitter that it’s nice to see more Googlers communicating. But I’d say I want that communication from Googlers who actually know what they’re talking about. That didn’t seem to be the case here.

Related Topics: Channel: Other | Features: Analysis


About The Author: is a Founding Editor of Search Engine Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search engines and search marketing issues who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.

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  • Broman

    Heheh. I was waiting for that :D Thanks Danny.

  • Babychen

    I think Rockway and Matt Cutts are saying the same thing. We are just falling for the spin by both. Rockway has a way of speaking that I can see is aggressive. Cutts has a gentler touch. But it is the same thing. Let’s see.

    >> It’s a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug. Manipulating Google results shouldn’t be something you feel entitled to be able to do.

    This is an aggressive way of saying that if you really want the top spot, get that top spot in Adwords, not in search results. That is where you pay money to Google to get that spot, and we know that is true.

    The rest? His point really (irrespective of the way he makes it) is that SEO can help you get the top spot in other ways, but that is in the end figuring out what Google does and tweaking your site and links to suit it, to get to the top spot naturally. He believes that this is not how it should be, and what YOU do should have zero effect on Google’s algo thinks. This is an ideal scenario in his mind – he does not say this is the case right now. The G algo will be powerful and mysterious enough to not be affected by any kind of SEO in his ideal world.

    Think about it – that is what Google would like too. They would like to be entirely in charge of deciding which site should come on top, and it should be a blackbox. This is not practical and they know it, but that is what anyone who runs a search engine would naturally want. God-like power, and God-like knowledge.

    His statements do not take anything away from Cutts’, and vice versa. Both are political statements.

  • Chris Kostecki

    I read the ads/ranking comment as meaning: Google is trying to get ads in front of more searches, they should be on the top of every SERP.

    This is reinforced with default AdWords settings to broad match keywords (including suggested keywords) and reflected with the Google Suggest to move diverse searches to a more unified query. Both are examples of users giving Google the control of interpreting the search instead of relying on specifics.

    While, as a marketer the value lies in longtail, for Google the scaling lies in the head terms and streamlining efforts.

  • Bharati

    In fact I think that good SEO contributes to the larger objectives of the web ecosystem and helps the web and the search engines in a very constructive way.

    Would like to share a post on how SEO helps the web and the search engines:

    The problem arises when people who do not what genuine SEO is all about try to manipulate results.

  • Michael Martinez

    I think people overreacted to this. Many new SEOs make cryptic remarks that look like nonsense and no one jumps all over them. If the guy were in a position to determine something significant, that would be different.

    SEOs have to stop being so sensitive to the dumb crap that sometimes come out of search engine employees’ mouths. They’re allowed to be human, too.

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