Google has a PR problem. No, I don’t mean PageRank. I’m talking about the original definition of PR – Public Relations. And, it’s maybe less Public Relations than it is Webmaster Relations.

You see, Google hasn’t done a good job of balancing content about problems with content about successes and improvements. They haven’t really needed to — with 70% market share of search, there wasn’t a competitor in sight.

But, as Bing gains market share (both in general and through their partnerships with FaceBook and Siri), Google is going to need to pay more attention to their communication strategy.

Webmasters' Love/Hate relationship with Google and Bing

Webmasters’ Love/Hate relationship with Google and Bing

Years ago, webmasters had no way to communicate with Google. They could analyze logfiles and write their own little programs to apply fixes to their sites, but there was no opportunity to get data from Google directly.

Enter Webmaster Tools & Matt Cutts

Now, we have Webmaster Tools in all its glory – and with all its flaws.

We have the Google Webmasters YouTube channel, where Matt Cutts (Google’s appointed spokesperson) provides cryptic feedback that we then must analyze and decipher. We can even watch the @mattcutts Twitter feed and attempt to spin anything Matt says into the next big thing. All of this is great, and webmasters and SEOs alike are grateful for the information.

But Google has a content marketing challenge that’s born out of their organizational structure. Their content is significantly skewed toward what webmasters are doing wrong, rather than praising them for what they’re doing right. This is a difficult line to walk, because how do you publicize good? It’s not actionable unless they tell us what we can do better.

Even Matt Cutts, who is frequently (incorrectly) labeled Head of Search Quality is actually Head of Web spam. That’s right, spam – and all the negativity that goes with it.

We don’t get to engage directly with the search quality team. Matt is happy to pass on messages, but that’s really all he can do. We don’t get to hear directly from the people who are trying to improve the algorithm’s recognition of “good sites.” And while there are plenty of examples of sites that have done wrong, there are very few examples of sites that have done right.

Don’t misunderstand; I’m not saying Matt isn’t great at PR, because frankly, he’s amazing.

It’s just that Googlers in general are so well trained to stick to the company line and not give too much away that I think they must be stress-tested internally on a regular basis. But because of this, every time Matt Cutts gives one of his famous non-answers or posts on his Twitter feed about some new tweak to the algorithm, it’s perceived as a negative.

With the last Penguin update, there was a great deal of backlash. People were saying, “Why don’t you stop focusing on those who are in the wrong and start rewarding those who are in the right?” The answer is: that’s not Matt’s job.

There are people at Google who are figuring out ways to reward good sites, but the only one we get to talk to is Matt. And it’s his job to rid the world (or at least the Internet) of spam, not to pat us on the head and say we’re doing a great job. That’s not necessarily the only thing Matt wants to be doing. As you can glean from this Twitter conversation, he has ideas that he wants to act on:

mattcutts-ceoforday

But he does hate spam:

mattcutts-hates-spam

Bing & Duane Forrester

Bing, on the other hand, does a very good job of communicating the positive. Their spokesman, Duane Forrester, is Senior Program Manager and Manager of Bing Webmaster Tools. And while he and Matt are both nice guys who mean well, Duane gets a lot more opportunity to tell us about the good and exciting things Bing is doing.

Bing needs this positive PR a bit more than Google, and their PR strategy is much better balanced in terms of how they communicate with webmasters. Their language is softer and more positively oriented:

We like to give Duane a hard time at conferences, and joke that there actually is another search engine besides Google, but the fact is that Duane is more able to communicate with webmasters on what good search quality means, and Bing Webmaster Tools gives webmasters more data than Google Webmaster Tools does. (If only the sample set were larger!)

A Love/Hate Relationship

All of this contributes to our love/hate relationships with Google and Bing. We love Google because they give us great tools and they drive the majority of our traffic. But, we hate the one-sidedness of the communication.

We love Bing because of the great tools and communication they offer, but wish the sample size was bigger. As Bing grows, Google may have to leave behind their strategy of only communicating in cryptic messages like the one below.

wmt-message

In the future, instead of hearing Matt Cutts give “negative quality” ideas, like this recent one from YouTube

rosshudgens-negative-quality

… maybe he could provide some positive quality signs and even some examples of positive sites to emulate.

CEO For A Day?

If I were to win the Google “CEO for a day” contest, aside from going on a mad shopping spree and giving back not-provided keyword data in some form, I’d change Matt’s title. He obviously has ideas, and while he does hate spam, he also appreciates quality. I’d give him the leeway to communicate in a positive way about Google’s search improvements, instead of having him focus only on spam.

Perhaps a yin to his yang could be Maile Ohye, a little known Googler who is focused on improving Google for developers (her title is Developer Programs Tech Lead). She’s who we have to thank for canonical tags and various other “fixes” for the daily challenges that developers face. She regularly speaks at SMX events, but isn’t visible much beyond that.

Perhaps Matt said it best at SXSW this year (and previously in this video), when he suggested renaming “search engine optimization” to “search experience optimization.” Now that’s a positive message – one that infers that good experiences will be rewarded. But it doesn’t fit with Web spam, so that’s probably all we’ll hear about it from Matt.

Another Googler needs to pick up that torch and run with it. Imagine how positive Google’s communication and results could be if they were able to evangelize that thinking – experience over anything else. I’ve long said that all good SEO tactics are rooted in the principles of usability. Google has the reach and the power to make this new definition of SEO a reality, if only they would publicize the message.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: Industry | Google: Critics | Google: SEO | Google: Webmaster Central | Microsoft: Bing SEO | Microsoft: Bing Webmaster Tools | SEM Industry: General

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About The Author: is the President of an online marketing consulting company offering SEO, PPC, and Web Design services. She's been in search since 2000 and focuses on long term strategies, intuitive user experience and successful customer acquisition. She occasionally offers her personal insights on her blog, JLH Marketing.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • Susan Wenograd

    Great post. This also translates to the paid search side of the house – huge backlash over Enhanced Campaigns, and Bing has done a fantastic job capitalizing on that. They are not requiring EC setups, they added an easy campaign import option awhile to pull in everything from your Google setup, and they’re starting to offer insights on performance that Google doesn’t.

  • Stephen Slater

    The interesting thing about the debate between Bing and Google is that as Bing continues to win over the leading edge of the tech community the rest of the world will follow.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Since this is “all things SEO”, I couldn’t go into the enhanced campaigns debacle. But I absolutely agree with both of you.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    haha, I should have known I’d bring out the Google bashers. I still love Google, but just wish they’d balance their PR a bit more!

  • Tony Adam

    I hate to be the contrarian here, but, has Bing gained marketshare away from Google or is it Yahoo! they are taking marketshare away from? It’s obvious from the article linked here that it’s the later. (seeing as Google Marketshare hasn’t changed since last year.)

    Not saying Bing isn’t doing a great job, it just seems like they aren’t stealing marketshare from Google.

  • Adam Berry

    Totally agree. All you ever here from Google search is negative stuff. Google analytics is getting worse, the more and more people that will be logged into Google accounts eventually you wont see any keywords at all. Lol

  • Mary Howatt

    Bing has been doing some interesting stuff over the past few years. I suggest to all clients that they sign up with the Bing Webmaster tools. And yes market share is small compared to Google but not insignificant.

  • Eric Muhanji

    No matter how much SEM and webmasters complain about big G they will always win by sticking to their core values – giving searchers the best user experience!

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Eric, thanks for the comment! I think a lot of people would argue that the search experience on Google is not always better, and Bing’s “Bing it on” challenge is certainly performing well. I drank the Google kool aid long ago, and I’m an Android user, but I have to say it seems like their recent focus on eliminating spam is not helping the search experience; in fact it seems to be making it a bit worse. I am certain they will work it out eventually, but Bing has a pretty big opportunity here.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Valid point, Tony. I would argue that since the overall search market has been increasing month over month, the fact that Bing’s been gaining and Google has stayed the same indicates that Bing is in fact taking market share overall. Perhaps not from Google per se, but they are gaining. While the gain is very small – .2 to .4%, it’s been consistent over the last 6-12 months.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Thanks for the comment, Hussein! *waves*. I agree, schema.org is a mess – between microformats, RDFa, and schema, there’s just too many options and no consistency. I’d love to see the majors (Google, Yahoo, Bing) collaborate on this. :)

  • Agosto Nuñez

    A lot on Google and a little on Bing, Bing has an even more serious P.R. problem, most come from years old posts that roam (heck, even ”bloat”) the internet with negative reviews of Bing, these are from when Bing used to suck and this is still hurting Bing. Bing is introducing a lot of new features and is innovating a lot, but they can’t unleash their full potential because of the bad P.R. they have from the past.

    This is for example as why people tend to associate Windows with malware (virusses, spyware, worms, Etc.) because Windows XP and Internet Explorer 6 were giant magnets that attracted these things, but Windows 8 and Internet Explorer 10 are argubly the most secure and fastest software around, on some I.E. fora I found suggestions for Microsoft to change Internet Explorer’s name due to many people’s negative associations with it.

    When Bing was introduced in 1998 it was called M.S.N. (the Microsoft Network) Search, later it became Windows Live Search, then Live Search and now Bing.

    Google is a trusted Search Engine, we trust Google more than we do our closest friends, it’s not something Bing can easily take from most people. But Bing is vastly improving and I’ve been using it for over 9 months now, and I love it most of the time, but it still lacks on some of Google’s innovations as uploading an image to the Cloud and search on that and similar images, or Google Books (Microsoft even had Live Search Books a long time ago, but stopped the project).

  • Agosto Nuñez

    Yes, as a Bing-user and Bing-lover I often find myself confessing to the few features Google has that Bing lacks, but then again, Bing has a lot of features Google doesn’t have, and Bing integrates well into other technology, Bing’s power doesn’t come from web-search from how it’s used as a platform, Xbox 360-Owners might know it from their Kinect, it’s built-into Windows & Windows Phone and powers a lot of web-sites.

    The battle of today is who can get the most partners, Bing is taking over all old-school smaller search engines, well Google is winning on web-sites, but the next round could easily be won by Bing if they keep innovating on the speed they’re doing now.

  • Agosto Nuñez

    This has to do with the psychology behind search engines, Google is overall a great search engine, it took a lot to convince me to join the Bing Army and I often feel tempted to Google stuff, but Bing isn’t doing a worse job, being equal to a large opponent doesn’t give you momentum, being better is, and at present I must confess with much pain in my heart that Bing simply isn’t better, it’s equal it wins here and loses there, but overall it doesn’t have any killer features to woo people from their Google.

  • paulpederson

    I might be missing something here, but how can Google give “positive quality signs” without revealing to spammers how to game the Google search system? I don’t see how Google can be forthcoming in any significant detail to bona fide web developers on “what to do” without at the same time telling “search engine spammers” what to do too.
    Right now Bing can give out more “clues” in order to build their system and to attract users. But neither Bing nor Google nor any search engine can ever reveal more than a bit of what moves a search result higher up in their rankings.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    It’s true that it’s a fine line to walk between giving positive quality signals and giving too much away. I think Google is certainly capable of walking this line, and that evangelizing the idea of “search experience optimization” would be a good start.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    Truth. Bing has a lot of ground to make up.

  • http://www.archology.com/ Jenny Halasz

    I agree with you! To be fair, I think that Google is under more scrutiny and is more heavily populated with spam just because the spammers know Google is the leader in market share, but focusing on the bad exclusively is what will ultimately be their death knell, imo.

 

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