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Friday, December 8, 2023

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Regulating Google Search — A Reality Check


The constant stream of news on legal or legislative initiatives attempting to regulate Google’s organic search results creates a climate of conflict and fosters unrealistic expectations among SEOs. And that diverts attention from what the business should really be all about: managing user experience.

Instead of taking a stand and possibly appealing to common sense, let’s look at the realities of search and how actionable SEO lessons can be drawn from them. One step at a time.

1. Google Is A Public Corporation

As a profit-driven company, Google has a vested interest in, and a track record of, constantly improving its products. It has demonstrated indifference towards the visibility of individual sites in its organic search results and an unrelenting drive to keep search engine users — not webmasters — happy.

2. Google Can’t Be Legally Forced Into Driving Free, Organic Search Traffic To Individual Sites

Many individuals and companies, including even some large organizations, have tried to pursue legal action against Google and failed. (Editor’s note: an example would be Buscapé’s ill-fated suit claiming Google favors its own sites in search results.)

Because of the search giant’s terms of service, I believe legal proceedings against Google  — at least those that claim organic search performance fails to live up to arbitrary expectations or those that dispute manual spam actions applied — cannot succeed in a court.

3. Google Search Has Never Been Static

Neither the ranking of results nor the way results are being displayed to users remains the same over a period of time. They will keep changing in the future.

The objective for Google will remain to provide accurate answers to all queries in the shortest possible time. If that means answering the user query instantly on the SERP page, rather than sending them to another website, Google will likely consider using a OneBox solution.

4. Google Search Isn’t Perfect. Errors, Human Or Otherwise, Are Bound To Happen

Remember when all of Google Search results were labeled with a malware warning for a brief period of time in 2009? That’s just one example of a hiccup that can impact organic traffic from Google.

5. There Are No Double Standards In Google Search

All sites have to abide by the same set of rules. Violations result in spam penalties, even if the site belongs to a business associate or — as has happened repeatedly in the past — to Google itself.

6. Google Is A Dominant Force In Organic Search, But Not The Strongest One

The actual power lies with users, because Google is catering to users’ needs.

7. Google Search Seems To Reward Sites That Are Relevant For Users

Such sites are often initially built with a healthy disregard for search engine visibility. Instead, their founders typically cater to the specific needs of their target audience.

8. The Online Industry Is Similar To The Offline World

Whether online or offline, a business must offer a unique sales proposition — in terms of customer service, brand, features or price — or it will not succeed. Likewise, sites that contribute little more than duplicates of existing content are not likely to be visible in search over time.

9. No Business Can Afford To Rely On A Single Acquisition Source

Online business is no exception to the rule. Counting on a single fluctuating traffic source, such as organic search engine traffic, to deliver all your revenue is gross negligence.

Free organic traffic must be embraced and nurtured if possible, but it should be used merely as a stepping stone to authority building. Any other approach makes organic traffic a business liability.

10. There Are No Legal Or Even Ethical Aspects To Building, Operating & Optimizing Websites

Search engines and website owners alike are equally entitled to conduct their business as they please, with the latter having to choose to abide by search engine TOS (terms of service) or not.

Those who deliberately decide to ignore Google Webmaster Guidelines should do so only after carefully considering the consequences. Yet even if/when the strategy fails, there’s always a way to repent and apply for reconsideration. There is no such thing as a site that cannot be recovered.


If your attention has been waylaid by discussion and hope of legal solutions to your SEO problems, I hope the points I’ve outlined can help you shift focus towards what matters in search engine optimization.

More importantly, understanding these principles will help a site benefit from organic search and avoid making fundamentally counterproductive decisions, such as those made on a massive scale in some European countries not long ago.

It’s high time to take responsibility for search strategies and advise clients on the realities of search. Meanwhile, Google should step up its efforts to educate the public about how search works. It’s time to understand what search is about and focus on the ultimate success factor: users.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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