A vocal contingent of search engine optimizers is up in arms today, saying Google is “offering SEO consulting services.” There are posts on Sphinn here and here, not to mention plenty of related tweets.
Only thing is, Google isn’t doing anything they haven’t done for years and to say the company is “offering SEO services” seems like a real stretch of the imagination.
The uproar started with this blog post on Google’s Norwegian Inside AdWords blog, which was written about in English on the Qualité Search Marketing blog. John Andrews also picked up the conversation on his blog.
According to a translation of the original post (via Google Translate, of course), here’s what Google says it’s providing:
A site clinic is where we go through the website you submit, provide feedback on them and share tips on how they can improve. This could make them better geared toward search engines, which will give better results in such as Google search. Hopefully, the work could lead to increased visibility for their website.
Google isn’t charging site owners for this, but the site does have to be registered with Google Webmaster Tools. Google says it will choose a few sites to review and then publish blog posts “where we share our findings and make recommendations.” That hardly seems like the definition of “consulting services.”
Granted, it’s somewhat odd that the most recent clinic would be offered via an AdWords-related blog, but that’s possibly because, as best I can tell, Google doesn’t appear to have a Webmaster Central blog in the Nordic market.
(Update, February 12: A Google spokesperson confirms that the post was written on an AdWords blog “because there is no webmaster-focused blog in that language. Otherwise they would have posted on a webmaster focused blog.”)
Most importantly, the reality is that Google has been offering advice to webmasters for years. Indeed, Google cofounder Sergey Brin himself offered advice as part of a panel appearance at the very first search marketing conference in 1999. Since then, Google has provided SEO advice by:
- sending reps to site clinics and “Ask the Search Engines” sessions at conferences
- participating in various forums, going back to “GoogleGuy” helping on WebmasterWorld
- having Matt Cutts offer SEO info and advice via his blog
- offering SEO tips and answers via dozens of videos on the Webmaster Central channel on YouTube
- offering SEO help on the Webmaster Central blog
- offering advice and tips in the Webmaster Central Help Forum, where many Googlers offer specific advice to individual site owners
- offering its own guide to SEO (PDF format here) in 2008
Back in 2005, there was some outcry that Google was getting into SEO when it emerged that some AdWords reps were providing advice to Google advertisers. However, those AdWords reps had no real inside knowledge.
Since then, there’s been very little major outcry that Google was getting into the SEO game. Indeed, there was no outcry when Google offered to make more housecalls to audiences “that would benefit from our discussing building search-engine friendly sites.” Nor were there complaints when Google’s Adam Lasnik gave SEO advice at a $30 seminar geared toward government webmasters in 2006. That seems a lot more questionable than doing a few site reviews in order to get good blog content.
What’s most interesting here is the way this idea of online SEO clinics seems to be spreading — from Google Spain to Google India, and now to Norway. We have an email in to Google to find out if there’s a plan in place to do this in other countries. We’ll update this post as we learn more.