‘Google Loves You’, ‘Santa’ & Other Myths


Hi there. I’d like to go over a few basics before we start. Some of this is sensitive info, so maybe scoot the kids out of the room to protect their child-like innocence. Ready? Grab a pen.

  1. Life isn’t fair. It doesn’t even pretend to be.
  2. Google doesn’t care about your Web site, your business or your plans.
  3. There is no Santa Claus.

Sorry, just wanted to clear the air.

The Wall Street Journal published a really amusing story this morning, reporting that Rivals Say Google Plays Favorite. The article shows Web sites like TripAdvisor, WebMD, CitySearch, Yelp and others getting just a bit whiny over Google displaying its vertical content above of links to competitor Web sites. According to the whiners, Google is taking away their traffic, and hurting the growth of their sites. They want Google to stop. While Google maintains it’s all about the best answers for users, rivals think Google should make it a bigger priority to send other Web sites traffic.

Personally, I totally agree. I also think SEO consulting companies should give us all their clients. Because that is also good business. And while we’re on the subject, I’ll take all those holiday presents you purchased this weekend. Let me know if you need an address.

As ludicrous as the WSJ article sounds, it’s not nearly the first time competitors have cried foul over Google’s size and influence. And, frankly, it’s time this conversation gets put to bed. It’s not the recession, people. It’s you.

In case there was some confusion, it doesn’t matter if you’re an SEO trying to get your site ranked, if you’re a newbie search engine like DuckDuckGo (I just like writing that) trying to compete or if you’re a business owner looking for traffic – Google doesn’t care about you. They don’t care about your site and they don’t owe you anything. Google is not a non-profit, a government agency, nor the Easter Bunny. Google is a business that makes money by serving users with the best information that they can then place ads on. That is their goal. You don’t even factor into the equation.

I think that’s an important thing for businesses to realize. Not because I want to make you all emo on a rainy Monday, but because if you accept it’s not Google’s job to give you traffic, maybe you’ll stop relying on them to do so. And you’ll create your own. You’ll start to seek out other ways to build your Web site and your brand. Because that’s what you should have been doing from the very start.  Stop using Google as a crutch. Or worse yet, your mommy.

Over at Shoemoney, I recently blogged about 5 lessons affiliates can learn from SEOs. My fourth tip advised sites to stop relying on Google for their traffic.

Here’s a snippet of what I wrote:

By going above Google’s head and connecting directly with our audience, it helps lessen our reliance on Google by creating alternative sources of traffic. As an affiliate marketer, you want to be doing the same for your own sites. Google’s sudden mood swings ranking changes become a lot less scary when you’re creating a defensible site. One that will continue to attract users, convert and engage whether or not it stays in Google’s good graces because it genuinely connects with its audience. Get involved in social, create your own relationships with those influential to your business, and always have your eyes open for new sources of traffic. That’s how you Google-proof your Web site and survive in today’s more competitive era.

You have to lesson your own reliance on Google by building defensible traffic for your Web site. It’s your job. No one else’s. How can you connect users outside of Google?  What avenues have you ignored solely because of search?  How can you use social media to get traffic from other sources?

Google is building defensible traffic by owning its market by simply being better. While I’m no Google loyalist, as a user, I really appreciate the advancements they’ve been making with local. What’s more relevant to me when I’m hungry and looking for pizza in Troy? Yelp or this:

It’s that search results page (DeFazio’s has the best pizza in Troy, NY, BTW).  And it’s only that search results page until someone at Google green lights Place Search and adds that to the mix. It’s not an affront to Yelp or CitySearch, neither is it an example of how Google is stealing your content and hijacking your traffic. It’s simply Google attracting users by giving them what they want. We should all be so sneaky.

You can either learn how to make your business more Google-friendly so Google wants to show your site or you can look for other sources of traffic. What you can’t do is expect them to change their business model because it’s inconvenient for you. We all have to grow up sometimes, kids. Sorry, Virginia.

Your Comments

  • Todd Mintz

    Santa Claus is real and his Birthday is on December 25th.

    Other than that, great post as usual :.)

  • Robert Enriquez

    “….Stop using Google as a crutch. Or worse yet, your mommy.” lol

    Lisa…can’t for you to come out with your own book :)

  • Corey

    Couldn’t agree more. I can’t begin to understand why competing businesses think it’s Google’s moral duty to hand them traffic. It stinks of “Atlas Shrugged.” Did Cleveland complain when LeBron took his money-making talents elsewhere? Oh wait…

  • Matthew Diehl

    Exactly! Google is not your BFF.

    What people forget is that Google is a business. They run Google.com and guess what? they can do what ever the hell they want to with it. That included placing their properties above yours because in the end they are looking out for #1 (and I am not talking about the end user).

    • Lisa Barone

      And that goes for every site. Yes, Google is going to put its content above yours. Facebook is going to use your information to better target you. None of these sites are altruistic and they all have end goals. Don’t look surprised when they put their needs before your own. That’s one of the reasons we tell SMBs not to simply use Facebook in lieu of a Web site. Let’s not forget you don’t own that site either. Facebook could become whatever the heck they want to tomorrow and no one is going to waste a second worry about how that may impact your business.

  • Cindy Lavoie

    Tough medicine for a Monday morning, Lisa. You’re right – we all have to make our own way and not expect Google to make things right for us. That said, I do have to agree with Jeremy Stoppelman that Google “is trying to leverage its distribution power”—the search engine—”to take an inferior product and put it in front of the user.” If users begin to suspect that Google is using its market power to push its own properties rather than deliver unbiased search results, they’ll quickly find other search solutions. So, Google doesn’t “owe” us anything, it’s true, but its latest moves don’t seem to just be “giving users what they want.”

    • Lisa Barone

      Well, what’s the inferior product here – Google Places? I don’t think Google Places is always the inferior product or even that it’s often the inferior product. As a user, I really like the Google Place pages. I like that I get an aggregate of different information. Sometimes, sure, the Yelp listing is better or the TripAdvisor listing is better, but sometimes they’re not. In most situations, I’d probably rather the Place page than the review site listing. But that’s just me.

      Obviously, showing the Place pages is self-serving, but if users really don’t like them and aren’t clicking on them, Google will have to revert back. They’re not going to alienate their users for a product that isn’t taking off. However, I dont think that’s what they’re going to find. I think they’re finding that people DO like these pages. It may not be WHY they show them first, but it’ll be why they keep them there, IMO.

  • netmeg

    There’s an interesting conversation along these lines going on at WebmasterWorld.com

    I always advocate focusing on what you can control, and not on what you can’t. If your business requires Google traffic to survive, and you lose that traffic, that’s a business model failure, not a Google failure.

    • Lisa Barone

      Thanks for the WMW link, I’ll have to check that out in a bit.

      Business owners should definitely focus on what they can control, as opposed to what they can’t. You shouldn’t be relying on Google to run your business any more than you should be relying on Twitter or Facebook. That’s a personal problem, not an issue with Google.

  • Kristin

    My keyboard was almost covered in coffee after the first paragraph… Love the honesty! lol

    I think google has made a ton of advancements in local already and I can’t wait to see what places search has to bring. I very rarely ever use sites such as yelp unless I am really debating on a place and want to read the reviews.

    I am curious to see what other advancements come in 2011 with local search and businesses who might not have a “local” location.

    Great post, and again… thanks for the honesty!

  • Aussiewebmaster

    Yes Lisa Google is a business but it is also a communication medium and as such can be regulated – why do you think it has jumped in to net neutrality and offered opt outs of tracking. Once government regulation comes in how much longer will it take for them to demand equal time and exposure to political candidates in the so called organic rankings?

    They need to keep out of all the other spaces before their dominance is see for what it really is – a monopoly of the communication methods of the future.

    • Lisa Barone

      I fail to see how Google showing its own properties in its search engine is really a monopoly here. I understand the implications with its size and scope, but what’s happening with Google Places doesn’t seem to fall into that category at all.

      • Aussiewebmaster

        That just it – it is a business and can in one respect decide to promote its own products just like RiteAid or grocery stores do with their brand of items against THE brand – BUT it is also a communication device – The New media – and as such once seen as that by the government could be regulated.

        Right now it is just a business and should be able to do what it wants… but for how long.

    • Matthew Diehl

      I really don’t follow your lines on how Google is a communication medium. The Internet is the communication medium that Google uses. Google is a website. A website that has a tool on it called a search engine. That tool is used to locate informational resources across the Web and navigate to them. Google has also created verticals on their website that focus on information pertaining to select niche areas. This organization of information is no different than what Yahoo! has done across their homepage. As the site owner Google have the right to display home-grown niche informational verticals anywhere they choose. Regulation of Google.com should not happen because it is a website.

      • Aussiewebmaster

        Yeah and a radio or tv is just a box of wires and circuits – the website is the method of the message or a broadcast channel – either way they are providing content broadcast to viewers – we count in pageviews – while we are both arguing semantics – the web is fast approaching a major intrusion by the governments of the world – our laissez faire days are soon to be gone.

        Keeping our heads in the sand will not stop it.

        If Outspoken Media and the rest of us are going to be more than a conversation, we must address this – we need to keep in front of how the biggest destination on the web presents information and adapt – something Rae is really good at (no doubt she will be missed).

        So Google forces us to game them – but in a way not to directly break their T&Cs – because realistically the vast majority here are not going to invent the next big thing. We are marketers and have to offer our clients continuing success.

  • Jess

    Wait… Santa uses the internet? Somewhere in my head I never saw him evolving beyond pen and paper… and hey I wonder if Santa can Google? Even if Google doesn’t love me, Google loves Santa right? haha :)

  • TrafficColeman

    My whole thing is to build traffic outside of Google if you want to survive for the long haul..if they are your main source of traffic..all I can say is that I wish you good luck..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Cindy Lavoie

    I still think if you claim to deliver results that users want, but increasingly just serve up your own stuff, that claim will eventually become suspect. I make no judgment about what products are inferior, but I think users currently trust Google to be objective in search results, and trust is a tenuous thing. Yes, Google can revert back if users don’t like their changes – but if word starts spreading that Google’s algorithm is not objective (and WSJ article feeds this) – that’s a tough doubt to erase. You’re right – businesses shouldn’t rely just on Google for their marketing. And Google can do whatever they want to promote their own stuff. But when they do, it runs counter to their claim to ‘serve users.’ Objective results and self promotion don’t mix well.

  • rick

    Isn’t the WSJ article and similar sentiments based on Google’s repeated assertions that they’re just trying to provide the most relevant results, though? I doubt anyone’s naive enough to not understand that Google’s a real business which will look out for itself first, but they have always maintained that they try to show the most relevant results first. It’s been a great defense against people who assert bias – “We’re just trying to give people who use our search engine what they want…” The second they game the results to favor anyone, even themselves, that all disappears. At that point, why should we believe they’re not gaming results to favor partners, etc? I’m not sure this is really different in principle from MSFT bundling things like a browser as part of the OS and biasing choice there.

    None of this invalidates your overal point of having a site that’s not reliant on Google, but I don’t see the people who question their practice of putting their own properties first as being whiny, just as pointing out that it contradicts a longstanding assertion of Google’s.

  • SC

    You’re getting coal this year, Lisa. COAL.

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    That was kinda of a humorous thing to see people complaining about Google stealing their business.
    Reminds me of Apple risking an anti-trust case for not allowing Flash on the iPhone.
    I guess business is made of laughs too.

  • Rebecca L.

    Day one of B-school: Google is a business, and the objective of a business is to make money.

    There’s also a great deal of discussion these days around the notion of corporate social responsibility, and this topic seems more about where to draw that particular line. The thing is, CSR is something that’s just nice to do, not anything that’s required, and only the company employing a CSR initiative gets a say in how they do so. Being visible on Google is a privilege, not a right.

  • Sully

    This comment has nothing to do with the post. I’m trying to prove to Lisa that my comments are still moderated.

  • Jason Spencer Weddings and Entertainment

    This is a great read. I hope my competition never finds it.

    However, one thing that makes it so much more apparent is the way Google has started listing for businesses (at least the non-food type) locally. I am a wedding wedding DJ located in San Jose, California. Geographically, I can hit five major markets within a 60 minute drive, and almost ten if I make it 90 minutes. The problem for me is that Google knows where my business is located. When someone searched any market that my Google Place is not located, I end up stuffed below the top three paid and the top four local results.

    I guess I’m still happy to be on page one results, even if it is the very last and fourth to last on the list. That make me double happy to be listed twice in organic search, but also makes me realize that Google can’t be that constant funnel it once was for my surrounding markets.

  • Chavi

    If Google didn’t start all their blog posts with talk of ‘helping people’ then maybe we wouldn’t feel so patronized when they didn’t.
    Also, if we believe in Too Big To Fail, why can’t we believe in Too Big To Succeed?
    When one company has too much power it ruins the free market version of competition.

  • Kristi

    I gotta keep you away from my Daughter :) She asked for a penguin for Christmas. Santa is hiding one in our closet right now for her.

    Good post. Cracks me up those people who have such a belief that Google is out to get them. I think there are times where Google will go in and change the listings. Case in point, that design eyewear site. But yes, it was done ‘algorithmically’. I think so many people don’t get it though.

  • Doc Sheldon

    Great post, Lisa. Be careful, you’re making it a habit to feed folks the truth, whether they find it palatable or not! ;)

    I think it’s ridiculous to expect that Google should give preference to their competitors, but it really kicks my butt that there are so many folks that seem to think that Google should exclude themselves from the SERPs entirely! I’m no FanBoy, but I do like to see some semblance of reason applied!

    As you say, it’s up to us to take care of our business, and let Google take care of theirs. In the “old days”, if the Yellow Pages had chosen to order results by some sort of relevance, rather than alphabetical order, I suppose there’d have been a good bit of whining going on then, too!

    They certainly have their imperfections, as I’m sure they’ll readily admit. But an objective look will show that what they’ve accomplished in a relatively short period is nothing short of phenomenal.

  • Rufus Dogg

    I used DuckDuckGo to search on some keywords for a brand of ours and they listed a whole bunch of small, regional, unrelated crap before they got to us about 20 listings down the page. Then, I went to my BFF Google and we were third (we’re working on our relationship.. perhaps a Santa Tower from my other BFF Mrs. Beasley would get me to #1. :-) http://www.mrsbeasleys.com/ <– hoping they make it to your Sunday links… shameless, just shameless! )

    Now, tell me why again should I be complaining about Google?

  • Jason

    I wonder how many people here would continue to be so cavalier about this if one day they found out they were losing traffic because Comcast was charging its members extra to visit their site?

    Believe me, no one’s more aware of the fact that life is a full-contact sport than I am, but I think its pretty silly to dismiss the complaints as WebMD, TripAdvisor, and others as whining. As search pros, we should be more concerned because, without any transparency or clear user benefit, this direction by Google strikes at the heart of the integrity of the engine’s search results, not to mention raises a whole host of fair trade and anti-trust issues.

    And to put the cherry on the Sundae, they justify their actions in some sanctimonious, dubious argument about “user benefit”.

    No one is arguing that Google can’t do whatever it wants until enough courts or governments tell it otherwise. Just don’t dismiss the sites that are calling bullshit here because they’ve been fed a mouthful of it

  • Frank Reed

    Hey everyone. You keep speaking as if the general public actually knows the difference between a Google product and any other product. SEO’s do and we tell each all day long which makes the industry sound really stupid at times because we ignore the vast majority of people that use the tool are not SEO’s and could give a hairy rodent’s behind about these ‘issues’. They don’t care about fairness they care about what they want and nothing else.

    Think about the true end user experience (not the SEO or tech savvy end user experience which is not reality). They will not be complaining that Google is using its products and services. They will only complain if those products and services don’t answer their questions. They probably don’t the difference anyway.

    Having said that, if Google is serving up useful information that their users like what in the world do they owe you? That’s right: nothing.

    • Rufus Dogg

      Users don’t know the difference between a Search bar and a URL/location bar in a browser. All they know if they type in the web address into that space up there (mostly the search bar) and it will show up on a list and they click it. Just like my 2 second experiment with DuckDuckGo; I didn’t get anything I needed from them, but got everything I needed right away from Google. As long as stuff shows up that gets users what they are looking for, they don’t give a “furry dog’s behind” :-)

      • Cindy Lavoie

        Users may not know the difference between a Search bar and a URL. But they do know the definition of trust. Right now, they mostly trust that Google is objectively serving up the ‘best results’ . But if enough “knowledgeable” people start pointing out (some call it ‘whining’) that Google’s results are not objective but instead are just promoting their own properties, then the tide will begin to turn and people will start moving to another search engine (yes, there are others) that appears more objective. Just sayin……

    • Jason

      I think this is a really lazy argument.

      No one’so arguing most search consumers don’t care how the search sausage is made. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an issue – there are tons of issues here – integrity of search results, not to mention various FTC, FCC, anti-trust, and net neutrality issues.

      Users may not complain that Google is promoting its products and services over other 3rd party sites, but where is the evidence they are complaining now?

  • Suzanne Vara


    I can partly understand the frustration, I think it is a bit misguided or possibly a decent PR stunt. It is bizarre to think that Google would put another result ahead of theirs as that would not be a very effective business model for them but also um don’t they determine the algorithms and would be able to optimize their sites accordingly? While this may be viewed as “unfair” I would challenge any of those businesses to see if they would do it differently. Google holds the knowledge and the ability to place us where they deem proper.

    While it would be foolish to think that anyone could rank above Google based on the mere fact that they know the ins and outs of every bit of what they determine to be ranked and where, it would be more foolish to think that Google would ever rank someone above them.


  • Santa

    BRUTAL! I’m not going to debate whether I’m real or not, but you’re right that Google and businesses love me, Santa because I am helping them understand how to be a better marketer and use social media and marketing to grow their businesses.

    Merry Christmas!


  • Joe


    I slightly disagree.

    The problem is NOT that Google cares only for itself. The problem lies in someone breaking up with you AFTER they popped your cherry (and lived with you the last couple of years).

    The disconnect is between Google actually cares for you vs Google making you feel they love you (they were totally cool 1998 ’till 2008). Google won’t even be Google without showing good sites in the first place. And for the past ten years they have won people precisely by doing just that. They also won publisher’s hearts by being accessible “Don’t be E-V-I-L” (matt cutts, tools, compounded traffic, etc) and creating an atmosphere of win-win for everyone (through guidelines, ad partnerships etc).

    Now that they own both users and publishers, and in the process having more yearly income than all but 100 Countries in the world — they decide to change strategy –“It’s not you, it’s me” (Now, with billions in their coffers, unprecedented leverage on you.)

    Lisa, with all the respect, for you to talk down to me in your half baked wry wit that “Google is a business, deal with it” …feels kind of like telling Louise Lasser in her face that she deserved to be abandoned by Woody Allen for another younger woman — insulting & rhetorical (tell us something we don’t know) but also speaks of your un-forseen ignorance in preparing this piece.

    The moment G went public, it was just a matter of when they will be evil. You wanted to use the Santa analogy. Fine.

    But Lisa, as you probably well know, in relationships there’s a big difference between a natural break up and someone screwing you over because they’ve seen someone better than you (in this case, stockholder’s thirst for growth).

  • Justin Germino

    One reason why my blog is very vulnerable with 70% of my site traffic coming from search engines I stand to lose a huge amount of traffic should Google adjust algorithms too much where my own indexed content would suffer.

  • Peter Carabot

    You are not FAIR! I’m sure you are an infiltrator from Google and all the others… THEY owe me a LIVING
    Let me know when your first book comes out, you make a trivial subject (Google owes me..) into a very nice piece of comedy .
    Love your style!!

  • Peter Carabot

    and another thing…………..
    yesterday I was reviewing my account with Microsoft Advertising (Bing etc) there is a nice little window in the Bid section, it gives the amount of money you have to spend per click to get to No. spot. Does that mean that Bing charges for top spot on a given search word? Naughty Naughty!!

  • John Blaze

    Now a days referral traffic also increased.. that means webmasters are along with the search engines they are targeting referral site also..

  • Fernley


    Bold statement, no doubt. But is there any way where this information would have more been reported earlier (not talking about you). A lot of publishers still believe this myth even as late as this morning…how can you not be? Google portrays itself great as a ‘giver’ (gmail, free tools, etc)..I have to give it too aaron wall as well, as he has been singing this for a long time (probably 3years ago, I started reading him,). But not really from main stream media ’till this year.

  • Latoya Bridges

    Lisa, Bold statement, no doubt. But is there any way where this information would have more been reported earlier (not talking about you). A lot of publishers still believe this myth even as late as this morning…how can you not be? Google portrays itself great as a ‘giver’ (gmail, free tools, etc)..I have to give it too aaron wall as well, as he has been singing this for a long time (probably 3years ago, I started reading him,). But not really from main stream media ’till this year.