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

Danny Sullivan on
  • Categories: Channel: SEO, Features: Analysis
  • “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:

    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.


    About The Author

    Danny Sullivan
    Danny Sullivan was a journalist and analyst who covered the digital and search marketing space from 1996 through 2017. He was also a cofounder of Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo and MarTech events. He retired from journalism and Third Door Media in June 2017. You can learn more about him on his personal site & blog He can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.