Google Turns To Bullying As Innovation Slows

February 2, 2011
By Lisa Barone in SEO

Yesterday was an emotional day. We woke up to strong accusations from Google (via Danny Sullivan) that Bing was cheating, we then moved into the Farsight event where we watched Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Harry Chum wail on each other in public. When that was done, we moved to watching Google and Bing’s official blogs (and micro-blogs) to see them continue the public punches. When that was finished, SEOs decided to pick up their own mitts and go at it amongst themselves on Twitter. I don’t know about you, but even I could use a cigarette. And I don’t even smoke.

The turn of events that unfolded on Tuesday was enough to give anyone a serious search-fueled headache. But more importantly, it was enough for many people to take a hard look at Google and ask, “what the hell are you doing?

It has to be an interesting time to be a Googler right now. Your controversial CEO, the proclaimed “adult in the room“, has removed himself right as the company is getting pounded over search quality issues. Everyone is watching and waiting to see what you’re going to do and how you’re going to handle things. So what do you do? Do you throw everything you have into improving search quality and quietly moving the conversation forward OR do you start in on a distraction campaign, planting seeds and calling out the guy sitting next to you?

Well, we know what Google chose to do.

Don’t get me wrong – do I think Google is working its ass off right now to increase search quality and prove to the world they’re still the best? Yeah I do. Or at least when they’re not organizing sting operations. But yesterday’s antics were the move of an arrogant brand and it certainly hasn’t done them any favors with the tech community. Your strongest cards are the ones you haven’t played yet. You get yourself in trouble when you show your cards and they reveal you for being a whining hypocrite.

I think Matt Cutts is worth his weight in gold in terms of being a face and a voice for Google’s spam team. But not even Matt could help Google save face yesterday. For the search giant to call out Microsoft for ‘copying’ its results is ridiculous. Not after Google has made a fortune copying and stealing from everyone else.

I didn’t see Google having a moral crisis when it stole Google Universal from Ask 3D. I haven’t seen them show regret over creating product clones for startups they couldn’t simply buy. I haven’t seen them show too much sympathy when they steal content from artists, authors, bloggers and anyone else they want to include it in their search results and ‘organize the world’s information’. I guess it’s only offensive when it happens to them.

For a decade, Google has been walking the fine line between innovation and infringement. They’re in no position to be throwing stones when others get behind them. Planting a story that Bing was “copying”, to me, is almost worthy of an apology. Bing is doing exactly what you’d expect them to be doing. They’re using a wide range of signals in their algorithm, one of them happens to be SERP clickthrough data.  Perhaps not 100 percent kosher to Google, but probably nothing any one of us wouldn’t do in the same situation. I might even be concerned about Bing if they weren’t doing it.

And Google knows that. So why the accusations and why yesterday?

  • To hijack the Farsight event?
  • To put negative attention on someone else and remove itself from the hot seat?
  • To show they’re not the only ones struggling in search?
  • Because bullying is the natural follow up when innovation ends?

I don’t know. Maybe you can fill me in. To me, it looked like Google wasn’t ready to publicly confront its own spam issues so they planted the story to give everyone something else to talk about. This wasn’t information that came to light for Google yesterday. They planned their sting, planted their honeypot and then sat on the information until it was convenient to release – when Google and Microsoft would be in the same room and when Google would have questions they didn’t want to answer. There’s not much honor in that. I would have hoped someone of Google’s size and share would be open to taking responsibility and criticism. Yesterday wasn’t just emotional, it was kind of a sad dethroning.

My mother always told me that my time was better spent focusing on myself and improving upon what I was doing instead of tattling on the person next to me. Google could stand to take some of my mother’s advice. Also, keeping blekko’ing, Blekko. As the only engine with the balls to make a hard stand, you came out looking like a champ yesterday.

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