Open Letter To Google: Do The Right Thing, Divest Yourself Of Performics
At long last, Google
owns DoubleClick. In doing so, the company has done something else that many
people would have never believed possible. Become an SEO. That’s right —
Google’s in the SEO business now, selling services through DoubleClick’s
Performics to people who want to rank
well on — um — Google. Conflict of interest? You bet. And worse from an image
perspective, the purchase puts Google in the paid inclusion business, something
it dissed as evil back in 2004, when it went public. Don’t get me wrong, I have
absolutely no problem with Performics as a company and have good friends that
work there. But Google shouldn’t own it. The Google
announcement yesterday should have said that Performics was being quickly
spun off. Larry, Sergey, Eric, Google! Please do the right thing and make this a
priority. Below, more on why this should be done, plus the official Google
stance, so far.
Performics is a long-time leader in the SEO and search marketing space. It
provides paid search services (getting you listed on search engines like
Google itself through ads),
as well as "natural search" or search engine optimization work:
Using robust technology, the DoubleClick Performics’ team scientifically
optimizes existing client sites to create new, dynamic, crawler-friendly sites
highlighting brand, nonbrand and long-tail keywords. Our experts methodically
optimize copy and content for each page to boost page rankings. DoubleClick
Performics understands the importance of creating an NSO culture at your
company, and one that is not necessarily dependent on the bandwidth of your IT
department. Our customized solutions combat existing issues and leverage Web
2.0 technology to boost rankings:
There’s nothing wrong with SEO. Even Google
tells you this. But on that same page, Google also says:
While Google doesn’t have relationships with any SEOs…
Now it does — it owns an SEO. And therein lies the problem. Even if
Performics is kept completely separate from the Google search team, there’s the
impression that Performics might have some special "in" with Google’s non-paid
search results. After all, Google owns it! It’s also not hard to imagine that
despite all the best intentions, some new sales rep might pitch that Performics
has some type of in. That a bad thing. FYI, Performics
already touts its relationship on the paid side, as do many other search
It just doesn’t feel right. To me, it’s the same thing as if the New York
Times owned a PR company, where much of that company’s main work focused on
getting articles to show up in the New York Times. It’s a conflict that will
hurt Google’s trust. It’s a conflict that’s going to cause many in the SEO
community to constantly poke at Google. If you think the
paid links debate over
the past year has gotten rough or mean at times, I don’t think you’ve seen
anything yet, as SEOs digest that Google is both competing with them and
harboring such a conflict.
It’s not like Google didn’t see this coming. The issue was
raised way back when
the DoubleClick purchase plans were first announced. But the response then that
it would be "business as usual" made me feel that the conflict simply was being
lost in the main focus on the DoubleClick ad serving business. The suits doing
the deal, if you will, to me simply didn’t get that Google’s core trust was
being put at stake.
Let me bring it home to the suits using a financial document they should be
familiar with. That’s the
Google IPO registration document of April 2004. In it, Google addresses the
issue of paid inclusion several times.
Back then, paid inclusion was a big deal. Big deal. All the major search
engines but Google practiced it. Paid inclusion is where someone can pay to get
their pages listed in the "natural" or "free" results. Unlike paid placement
(AdWords, Yahoo Search Marketing ads, Microsoft adCenter), you are not
guaranteed that your listing will show up for any given term. Instead, it’s like
a lottery. You can buy your way into the main search index where you hope that
your number will come up. Supposedly, paid inclusion is not supposed to provide
any ranking benefit, though with the
remaining search engine
that runs such a program — Yahoo — it is a way for you to cloak optimized
content within the rules and assure that your content automatically is given a
quality score rating boost.
Google was the lone hold-out against paid inclusion at the time and often
used this as a marketing point to help promote itself. Not only was it used for
marketing, but Google’s co-founders strongly believed the practice was wrong.
That’s why in the letter from the founders that formed part of the IPO filing,
they called it out several times. Below, key sections where this was done, with
the parts about paid inclusion bolded:
DON’T BE EVIL
Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be
better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does
good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an
important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company.
Google users trust our systems to help them with important decisions:
medical, financial and many others. Our search results are the best we know
how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept
payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.
We will do our best to provide the most relevant and useful search results
possible, independent of financial incentives. Our search results will be
objective and we will not accept payment for inclusion or ranking in them.
Objectivity. We believe it is very important that the results users get
from Google are produced with only their interests in mind. We do not
accept money for search result ranking or inclusion. We do accept fees for
advertising, but it does not influence how we generate our search results. The
advertising is clearly marked and separated. This is similar to a newspaper,
where the articles are independent of the advertising. Some of our
competitors charge web sites for inclusion in their indices or for more
frequent updating of pages. Inclusion and frequent updating in our index are
open to all sites free of charge. We apply these principles to each of our
products and services. We believe it is important for users to have access to
the best available information and research, not just the information that
someone pays for them to see.
Froogle enables people to easily find products for sale online. By focusing
entirely on product search, Froogle applies the power of our search technology
to a very specific task—locating stores that sell the items users seek and
pointing them directly to the web sites where they can shop. Froogle users can
sort results by price, specify a desired price range and view product photos.
Froogle accepts data feeds directly from merchants to ensure that product
information is up-to-date and accurate. Most online merchants are also
automatically included in Froogle’s index of shopping sites. Because we do
not charge merchants for inclusion in Froogle, our users can browse product
categories or conduct product searches with confidence that the results we
provide are relevant and unbiased. As with many of our products, Froogle
displays relevant advertising separately from search results.
Paid inclusion bad. Not just bad, but evil. It’s listed in the second
sentence of the Don’t Be Evil section! And Performics? It’s a big business for
them — and now Google.
From the Performics site:
Using superior technology and experienced practitioners, DoubleClick
Performics’ Paid Inclusion tool seamlessly integrates content into Yahoo!’s
natural search results to improve site visibility. Our copywriters prepare
listings that maximize rank and clickability for brand and nonbrand terms,
eliminating reliance on a spider to index site pages.
Online shoppers who visit a comparison shopping engine (CSE) spend 24
percent more than the average online consumer. DoubleClick Performics has
superior relationships with the top CSEs, enabling advertisers to expand
reach, improve relevancy and cost effectively connect with more consumers.
Working together, DoubleClick Performics will distribute your single feed
to multiple sites, facilitating quick and simultaneous updates across
properties. Today, we manage programs for more than 150 clients across 18
CSEs. Our vertical experts utilize advanced technology to enhance program
development through a proven methodology: DoubleClick Performics is
thinking forward about data feed distribution and optimization:
OK, so we’re not talking paid inclusion on Google itself. We’re talking
selling inclusion into Google’s competitors, both in general search and against
Froogle/Google Product Search. But does that make it less evil? If Google was so
against paid inclusion in 2004, should it in 2008 now be in the business of
selling it to anyone?
The debate about paid inclusion has largely died down, and former Ask.com CEO
Jim Lanzone got no real traction
trying to revive it last
year. Maybe this part of the Performics purchase may not matter except
for those who want to call Google hypocritical on the count.
But to me, the conflict of owning an SEO firm remains. Yes, I know that
Microsoft owns one, gaining Avenue
A/Razorfish as part of its AQuantive purchase. That never sat right with me,
and I wish like Google, Microsoft would divest themselves of it. At the same
time, yes, stop selling branded SEO
services through other companies. You own the pie; do you really need to
sell the pie cutters too?
And the Google official stance? Here’s what I received yesterday:
We intend to spend the next several months assessing all of DoubleClick’s
products and services including those offered by Performics. In the near term,
we intend to operate Performics as a stand-alone business unit consistent with
its past practices. Upon the completion of our integration planning with
respect to Performics, we will be in a better position to announce our future
plans for this business.
A purchase initially worth more than $3 billion, and Google still hasn’t
assessed that Performics poses such a huge conflict to own? Disappointing.
Google should have announced a spin-off yesterday. I’d hope they’ll rapidly move
forward with doing that.