Five Ways Google Breaks Its Own SEO Rules

kool aid logoDespite the link-baity headline, don’t get me wrong, I friggin’ love Google. I’ve been drinking their Kool-Aid for over ten years. There are only two things I really enjoy in life: SEO and spending time with my family. OK, I like fishing too, but it really isn’t about that.

I am writing this post to point out how complicated and confusing Google guidelines have become. SEO-friendly web design has evolved into its own genre of web coding. Yet, very few web designers have a deep understanding of SEO.

Many of us SEO grunts know from experience that design-driven sites require a lot of tweaking and cleanup work. When you toss in the fact that algorithms have become increasingly punitive in nature, it’s easy to see how small businesses and webmasters can get frustrated with the ever shifting algorithmic sands.

Google reminds me of the IRS in that the tax code in the US has become so complicated that no one really ever knows any more if there are breaking or complying with all of the rules. Google’s policies are becoming so complex that they often have trouble playing by their own rules.

Here are five examples where Google has violated its own webmaster policies and guidelines in the recent past and even now as you read this post:

1. Keyword Rich Anchors

On March 5th 2015 Google announced their auto insurance initiative through this post. SEOs pounced on the article almost immediately, pointing out the keyword rich links embedded in the text content. Since “insurance” is the most expensive keyword this hardly looked like an accident. It’s no surprise that the original post was quickly edited, but here is what it looked like (screenshot from seroundtable.com):

google compare

What I love about this particular example is that “car insurance” is the exact same term they use for their link scheme example:

link schemes

2. Site Credit Footer Links

Google Search, via de facto spokesman John Mueller, recently stated in a Google hangout that web design firms should definitely put a nofollow link in the site credits footer. In a post on this topic, Barry Schwartz estimated that 25% of small web design agencies put site credit footer links. I think Barry grossly underestimated this figure, especially when you consider similar common types of external footer links (i.e. industry affiliations, subsidiary links, “powered by”, etc.). In my opinion, it should be Google’s job to minimize or neutralize the value of legitimate site credit links because of their ubiquity, rather than insinuating a penalty risk. The irony here is that Google puts footer site credits on Google Sites and they do not use a nofollow tag! And guess what, it’s not a scandal. They’re just doing what has become common practice over the last couple decades. Check out this example of from Harvard (sweet .edu link by the way!), and this is not a one-off example, there are thousands of Google Sites websites with these links:

powered by google

Powered By Google Sites

3. Above The Fold

google mobile search

This one is probably the most ironic. People use Google search for organic results. Google launched the Page layout algorithm improvement because they had:

“…heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.”

If you’ve had a chance to do a search on a mobile device lately, you’ll notice that you rarely get to see an organic search result above the fold. Yet if webmasters were to use Google as the model to design a web page, they would likely be subject to the page layout algorithm penalty.

Note the mobile screenshot to the right, where you are served two AdWords ads first, and then scraped data from the Mayo Clinic.

4. Content Scraping

Google defines content scraping in part are as: sites that copy and republish content from other sites without adding any original content or value.

Well, if the above mobile view on a Google scraped definition on diabetes from the Mayo Clinic didn’t make this clear, check out a search on “how to boil eggs”:

google content scrapping

Martha Stewart has great authoritative content on this type of subject matter, perhaps posted for the purpose of drawing visitors to her site, yet I don’t even have to leave Google to access the example content. Hence, Martha loses a coveted page view because Google bypasses her site, and serves the most relevant content from that page right in the search result page. This would seem to fit the definition of content scraping.

5. Guest Blog Posting

matt cutts

We all know that high quality guest blog posting is one of the best things about the Internet. No matter what Google does or says in the future, this is one type of content that will ALWAYS be a big part of the web. On the other hand, low quality posting done solely for the purpose of volume link building is just another form of web spam, and if Google can curb that kind of abuse, more power to ’em.

Yet Matt Cutts, who may be setting the world record for longest vacation, infamously told Netizens of the world last year to “stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done.” Evidently, the rest of Google did not get that memo. Here is a great analysis of Google’s own guest blogging practices by Lou Hoffman from 2014:

google guest blogging practices

The moral of this story is that nobody can follow Google’s guidelines all of the time, not even Google – and they have a $400 billion market cap as of this writing. If one of the richest, most successful companies in the history of capitalism cannot follow its own rules, how do the rest of us stand a chance?

The only comment in a blog post that I have ever remembered, was one left by Danny Sullivan on the Matt Cutt’s stick-a-fork-in-it blog post mentioned above…it’s a detailed comment, but he closes by saying:

…there’s a part of me that feels like enough is enough with the list of prohibited linking activities. I wish you’d just not count the links you don’t think deserve credit.

It’s just getting way too complicated for the average small business or web designer to stay in compliance anymore. I would take that a step further and say that there is not a single website on the planet that is 100% compliant with all of Google’s guidelines. My advice to people is to create and publish the best content you can on your own site and try to get published on other great sites that are relevant to your niche. If you are proud of a particular site linking to you, proud of the content and of the way it got there (i.e. you earned it and didn’t pay for it), it’s inevitably a great link.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Phil Singleton

Phil Singleton is a web designer based in Kansas City and creates websites on Copyblogger’s Rainmaker Platform at Custom Rainmaker. As a Duct Tape Marketing™ Certified Consultant, he also provides online marketing and small business marketing consulting services at: KCMarketingAgency.com. Phil loves reading, writing and speaking about web design and Internet marketing, and is finishing up a book on SEO called New SEO: Search Engine Optimization For Web Designers & Small Business Owners, due for release in 2015 (guest bloggers welcome!).

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13 thoughts on “Five Ways Google Breaks Its Own SEO Rules”

  1. Google does not care about search results, just the perception they are accurate. Google knows the only people who care about being found on Google is business and Google knows the more they change the algorithm, the more likely business will pay for ad space…

  2. Couldn’t agree more with Danny’s statement, but Google will never change. Creating an environment of FUD is perfect for them. Businesses like certainty, so PPC sounds like a much better idea than SEO.

  3. Love the quote from Danny Sullivan. It just sums it all up so nicely and provides a solution too! In my opinion Google is becoming another case of people over-thinking things waaaaaaay to much. As you have aptly shown, Google can’t even follow their own rules. It’s almost becoming a form of censorship 😮

  4. Now let me get this straight. Let’s say I have a web client that’s in car insurance, and I’m running his AdWords campaign to the tune of a grand a day for him (small potatoes to be sure for that niche, but what the hey… he’s still their customer). OK, so Google takes his money, sends him a few leads from his ads, and then determines the rank of his website in their search engine… BUT… oh, I see… Google is advertising there too, as a direct competitor with their “Google Compare” (which is certainly going to affect my client’s ranking, probably knocking him off the first page of search results, lowering his ad position, and maybe even allowing Google to siphon off some traffic). Remember now, he’s Google’s CUSTOMER. That certainly looks like stacking the deck to me, outright fraud or thievery, or maybe even a clear violation of “the Sherman Anti-trust Act” (anybody remember that law?), not to mention the fact that Google now has all the information they need to solicit and sell my client’s leads including the now unavailable keywords, which Google hides from him, that got them to his site to begin with). Could anything be more anti-competitive than this scenario? How ’bout a little Congressional intervention here, folks, before Google and Monsanto take over the world.

  5. “I would take that a step further and say that there is not a single website on the planet that is 100% compliant with all of Google’s guidelines.”

    And if there was, would that site actually rank well for related terms? I suppose this gets at the balance that Google seems to aim for when deciding which penalties to push and which to soften.

  6. I think its time we started to (try!!) and tell Google who’s the boss. We need search engine competition so we are not forced into AdWords. Google’s power is forcing sites to look, sound and behave in the same way forcing little websites and businesses into AdWords when they shouldn’t need it. The pretence that they want good content is evidenced by the number of high ranking sites that spurts out nonsense. The power of Google is debasing the internet. The usefulness of GA is now getting more and more limited with the lack of keyword data lack of social data ……. Lets promote Bing (yes just the same but create competition) and try and lessen the power of Google. Like any environment a monopoly is not good for the customer

  7. Phil – thanks for the article. Great points. I checked out your upcoming book and tried to send you an email to sign up for it but it failed to send and told me to contact you another way. Thought you might like to know. You might be missing out on future sales.

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