Thursday, July 17, 2014

Google, Free Speech, and the Complexity of Search

Part of our goal in writing the Organic SEO Blog is to help people understand the elegant simplicity  at the heart of SEO. By demystifying the practice, we hope to persuade website owners that SEO is the most efficient and effective online marketing strategy. However, we also readily acknowledge that the intricacies of SEO are best left to a professional SEO specialist.

SEO is a specialized talent. As we've written before:

"The success of organic SEO depends on complex search engine algorithms—and the world’s largest search engines, like Google, Yahoo, and Bing, change their algorithms about 500-700 times a year. The work of understanding and utilizing these ever-evolving algorithms is time-consuming and tedious. A high-quality SEO company understands how to do this work without wasting time."

To understand the complexity of search, then, is to understand the complexity of the work organic SEO. This complexity is befuddling even to Google itself, and it certainly explains the overwhelming challenge that now faces Google as the company tries to respond to a recent European Union Court ruling.

In May, the EU Court of of Justice ruled that Google (and other search engines like Yahoo and Bing) must receive requests from individuals who feel that a specific search result is "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive" in relation to the person. Google opposed this potential ruling as a form of censorship, but now it must comply with the law.

As WebProNews recently reported:

"The whole 'right to be forgotten' thing is an absolute mess, and Google knows it...The company is still being vocal in its opposition, while also trying to make people understand the difficult job it’s faced with, and why it’s going to make mistakes. From the sound of it, Google seems to be acknowledging that mistakes will continue to be made as it struggles with figuring out what it should be censoring from search results and what it should not."

Regardless of your opinions on the ruling and whether or not it infringes upon free speech, most people can easily agree that that task before Google is daunting. The search engine is tasked with deciding if any number (they've already received 70,000 "take-down requests") of search result are "inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive."

The WebProNews article linked above extensively quotes David Drummond, Google's Chief Legal Officer and Senior Vice President of Corporate Development.

“When it comes to determining what’s in the public interest, we’re taking into account a number of factors,” Drummond says. “These include whether the information relates to a politician, celebrity or other public figure; if the material comes from a reputable news source, and how recent it is; whether it involves political speech; questions of professional conduct that might be relevant to consumers; the involvement of criminal convictions that are not yet ‘spent’; and if the information is being published by a government. But these will always be difficult and debatable judgments.”

The challenge of decoding what is and what is not "free speech" might seem foreign to a search engine, but the work itself seems eerily similar to the work Google performs each and every day in perfecting its algorithm. In reality, Google has been deciding what people should and should not read since its inception. It's the nature of search: perfecting the results for relevancy and efficiency, yes, but also for other nebulous factors that few seem to know.

Only a few SEO specialists understand these nebulous factors and the complexity that they reveal; only a few SEO specialists have scrutinized the algorithm over a period of years and developed a system for success; only a few SEO specialists understand the complexity of search.

On the one hand, SEO is about quality content, design, development. On the other hand, it is about understanding the algorithm. The latter might reliably be practiced by any number of internet marketing firms (with varying success). But to truly succeed you need an SEO specialist who understands a basic truth. As Alex Stepman, of Stepmans PC, has written elsewhere on this blog:

"A website can never be fully optimized because Google constantly changes their algorithm for ranking sites. But I have learned the most crucial aspects of website optimization. Today, I am proud to say that all of my clients are visible on the first page of Google at most times. SEO has become my prime talent, and I love helping clients optimize their websites. Unlike computer repair and maintenance, the world of SEO is dynamic and constantly evolving. The desire to confront the SEO challenge has transformed me into a true SEO professional. Each day, I wake inspired to develop new marketing strategies for my clients."