Beyond PR

Nov 14, 2012

Can Google Slay the Dragon It Spawned?

Google is believed to make something like 500 changes to their search algorithms a year.  In August and September there were 65 updates.  The widely discussed Panda update has been supplemented another 21 times and the more recent Penguin update has already had two follow-ups.

(Related: Algo Hunters)

All this is to improve the user experience.  To deliver to the user through Google search the best quality, most authoritative and most extensively researched answer to their query.

If you think all the way back to Web 1.0, that’s pretty much what we went for.  We went to sites that we trusted, that were widely known and popular.  We used our computers quite literally as if they were electronic libraries or newsstands, choosing the publication and then looking for what we wanted.

It is really the search engines that changed all this by offering a path directly to the information we sought, an answer to the question we asked.   Leave the browsing to Google!

But some funny things happened along the way.

Our query about a medical condition was not always answered by a doctor or a reputable medical organization, but rather might have prompted a couple shallow graphs from a freelance writer who got paid a few bucks by one of the so called content farms.

Our keyword query might in fact yield some document that was full of instances of that keyword but had no real information about the subject being asked.

We might get an answer that is written by a journalist who works for a reputable news organization but maybe we only see a couple graphs of that story that were extracted and “curated” onto a different organization’s site.

All of these are symptoms of SEO (search engine optimization), which might also be called GG (Gaming Google).  It is the promise of SEO and its widespread adaptation that in fact screwed up the viability of the search engines and produced the need for Google’s 500+ tweaks a year.

Because while Google was offering the user a shortcut to the information it was indirectly offering the diverse world of content providers shortcuts as well.

It certainly seemed a lot easier to game your way to the top of search engine results than it did to build a reputation as an authoritative source.  And some code to capture trending keywords and tag content with them seemed a quicker solution than finding great writers and giving them the resources to do extensive research.

So Google is now all about fixing the mess it was at least partly responsible for making.  The search giant is now talking about good content, good sites, good sources.

I hope they’re successful.

Need some ideas on how to make the content you publish really work for your organization – across traditional media, social networks and search engines?  We’ve collected a raft of posts focusing on content optimization and strategy.  Here you go:

Author Ken Dowell is an executive vice president with PR Newswire, and oversees audience development and multimedia services.

Image courtesy of Flickr user  Go Local Search.

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