Google, SEO, spam, and connecting consumers with businesses

07 January 2011

Marco Arment’s thoughts about Google’s decreasing usefulness are, as usual, very insightful:

I’ve been frustrated as well by Google’s apparent defeat by spam. It’s not a sudden issue — it’s been gradually worsening for a few years.

His analogy of what it’s like to search on Google reminds me of the Bing ads, “What has search overload done to us?”. Until I read his post, I thought the ads were sort of stupid. Now, I see their point.

Without saying it outright, Marco blames spammers and SEOists for the mess of search results. He also concludes that the problem could possibly be fixed by Google altering its algorithms and/or employing human-based filtering.

I agree. Here’s why.

My father recently helped start an SEO and internet strategy company – he’s one of the good guys, though. The problem he saw were small, local businesses getting their mediocre, outdated websites buried in searches behind pages and pages of spam and irrelevant results. His aim is to connect the local consumer with the local business, so when someone types “furnace repair in Kirkland, WA” they get the equivalent of what they’d normally get when looking in the yellow pages.

Right now, the only way he can play the game is by the currently existing rules, which include semantic markup and PageRank – and AdWords, if you want to count advertising. But for a local business to increase their PageRank against spam and content/link farms, even if they’ve worked really hard, they’ve got to get lucky – with, for instance, the user typing the exact keywords, or lots of blogosphere exposure. It’s not that easy. So my dad has to use some (clean) SEO tactics.

You could say my dad is employed because of the problem with Google results spam, but that’s not really true. Actually, what he’s found is that many local businesses need more than just SEO, they need full websites and internet strategies. Even if Google results were fixed tomorrow, they’d still lack many relevant, local results because there are none.

(By the way, this isn’t a new problem (local businesses not having a web presence), but my dad’s company provides a unique solution in that it has a man-on-the-street sales force that most web design firms don’t. He’s reaching a market that’s not previously been reached.)

One thing is clear: barring a major PR misstep, scandal or other unforeseen catastrophe, Google will remain the de-facto standard for searching on the web. So unless we’re comfortable working harder and harder to find the answers we want, we need Google to step in and offer more than just facelifts and live results.