Friday, November 16, 2007

A Slippery Slope: Google Owns a Search Engine Optimization Company


If you own or work with a search engine optimization company, or even if you're just hoping to better your search engine placement, then you are probably aware of the recent acquisition frenzy that took hold among the major search engines. Google paid $3.1 billion for DoubleClick, Microsoft paid $6 billion for Aquantive, and Yahoo paid $680 million for the 80 percent of Right Media that it did not already own and another $300 million for BlueLithium. The companies purchased are all intended to help widen the advertising range of each of the engines in question, and to take advantage of increasingly sophisticated behavioral-based ad-serving technologies that the acquired companies owned.

What many people failed to realize was that when Google purchased DoubleClick, it now was also the owner of a very large search engine optimization company called Performics, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of DoubleClick.

This fact is of course raising some eyebrows in the industry. Google has consistently maintained that there is no way that people can pay for better search engine placement in the organic index, a stance that the company still claims applies despite this recent purchase. In fact, a portion of Google's published guidelines about SEO says, "While Google doesn't have relationships with any SEOs and doesn't offer recommendations..." In another portion, Google says "While Google nevër sells better ranking in our search results..." However, anyone who hires search engine optimization company Performics is of course now paying Google for better search engine placement. It seems like a pretty black and white issue, but Google would obviously prefer that it was kept delightfully blurry.

A Serious Conflict of Interest

One would think that Google, aware of the controversy that would come from the fact that it now owned a search engine optimization company, would be eager to spin Performics off quickly in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety and of selling search engine placement. Not so, says the official Google/ Doubleclick acquisition FAQ:

Q. What will Google do with Performics?

A. Performics is part of DoubleClick, and we are acquiring it as part of the transaction. We have no plans to dispose of it at this time

All right, so Google owns a search engine optimization company and seems prepared to hold onto it for a little while at least. Yes, there seems to be a huge conflict of interest. Yes, there appears to be a large double standard. Yes, Google appears to have abandoned its long-standing principles regarding organic search engine placement in the interests of profít. But surely, the search engine optimization company that it bought will quickly be forced to follow the guidelines that Google has published for companies that are looking for a search engine optimization company. Right? Well, no.

Here is a verbatim quote from the guidelines that Google provides to people thinking about hiring a search engine optimization company:

Make sure you're protected legally. For your öwn safety, you should insist on a full and unconditional money-back guarantëe. Don't be afraid to request a refund if you're unsatisfied for any reason...[2]

On the surface, this advice seems solid enough, but as an owner of a search engine optimization company, I can tell you how impractical it is. What would prevent a company that achieved fantastic search engine placement using my service from asking for its monëy back, claiming that it is unsatisfied? "For any reason" is a very slippery slope, and apparently Google agrees – Performics does not provide a guarantëe of any kind. How do I know? Simple -- one of my employees called and asked. We also have it in writing from an email we received from one of their sales reps.

What Are Google's Options?

Let's be charitable and assume that in the heat of the acquisition Google has forgotten to update the page of advice that it has created for website owners. This leaves only four things that can happen:

1. Status Quo: Google keeps this advice up on the page and Performics continues to provide no guarantëe regarding search engine placement. We'll call this the "hypocritical" scenario.

2. Performics gets in line: Google leaves the advice up as is and forces Performics to provide an unconditional money-back guarantëe. We'll call this the "free SEO from Performics" scenario.

3. Guidelines change: Performics maintains zero guarantees for search engine placement but Google modifies the advice to remove the inconsistencies pointed out in this article from its advice section. We'll call this the "shareholder's delight moneygrubber special" scenario.

4. Google spins off Performics and removes itself from the search engine optimization industry. We'll call this the "sanity over dollars" scenario.

Google owning a search engine optimization company -- a slippery slope, indeed. What does this mean for those hiring other companies and looking for great search engine placement? We will just have to wait and see.

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