Is SEO killing search engines, and Google in particular?

In the blue corner… Google! In the red corner… SEO! … aaaaaaand, FIGHT!

Is it just us, or are the results from search engines getting out of control? Often several of the top ten search results will contain websites that seem to have received their position mainly through SEO efforts, not by being truly great resources (at least not great enough to be in the top ten).

One of a thousand examples

Just take a look at the top results on Google for “web hosting.” With a few exceptions, how many of those results are actually so relevant that they should be in the top ten results of over 200 million pages? (The estimated number of results when we performed this search was 233 million web pages.)

For example, of only three web hosting services represented in the top results, Yahoo’s business web hosting is ranked as the most relevant. We also get a few web hosting review sites of varying quality (one of them even claiming the top spot) and the pretty much mandatory, but usually justified, Wikipedia entry.

Again, these are the results related to “web hosting” that Google considers the most relevant of millions and millions of web pages.

There are plenty of other search queries that illustrate the inconsistent quality of search results. Do searches within any industry where there is a high degree of competitiveness (and therefore strong SEO efforts), and you will find a similar mix of results.

SEO vs. search quality

We’re not the only ones who have been annoyed by the inconsistent and sometimes completely irrelevant search results you can get from Google and search engines in general and how that is affected by SEO. For example, last year technology columnist John C. Dvorak wrote a rather angry article for PC Magazine with the not-so-subtle title Why Google Must Die, which he started like this:

It’s called SEO—search engine optimization—and it’s pretty much all anyone working with Web sites ever talks about nowadays. You may think it consists of ways to trick the search engines, Google in particular, into giving you higher than usual page rankings. But in fact, it centers around the idea that Google sucks so much that companies think they need to use SEO to get the results they deserve.

When you think about it, this whole thing is basically a variation of the classic problem of the chicken and the egg:

Do we need SEO because search engines aren’t reliable enough in the first place, or is SEO making search engines unreliable?

What is the main problem here?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Any SEO experts out there who care to give us their perspective on this?


  1. Okay I`ll bite 🙂

    First of all, I disagree that wikipedia is an autoinclude, I’ve seen far too many results where the wikipedia entry is a stub and gives no decent information for the user.

    It gets to me when people say that SEO is all about tricking Google, they have a handy guide to it and a downloadable PDF ( following these guidelines would be considered SEO.

    The term “web hosting” is an interesting one because there are so many avenues available, are you looking for a new web host? are you looking for a review? do you want to know what it is?

    By adding a more definite search term like “cheap web hosting” or “dedicated web hosting” the results become a lot clearer as there is a clear intention.

  2. The problem is neither SEO nor Google, it’s the publisher!

    If all websites were search engine friendly with relevant content Google would deliver much better results and manipulative SEO with useless content would be much harder. Especially a lot of company websites are far away from a good search engine performance – so poor sites with good SEO can Rank for their terms.

    SEO nowadays is more about making Google and company sites talk the same language.

    Although, I have to admit, that there are and there always will be methods to get an “undeserved” ranking – but hey, isn’t marketing always trying to get more attention than the competitor? Organic Google Traffic is for free and for all – who deserves ranking?

  3. Well the real problem is how Google view the importance of in-links to sites in their algorithm.

    A company that can afford to hire a SEO company to constantly create and buy sites with custom made in-links will always have a better ranking than sites with useful resources as long as the current system remains the same.
    But… we are witnessing a schism between “content seo” and “linking seo” in the making.

    Unfortunately it will take a long time before Google completely change their view on in-links and their current “PR”(page rank) system. Although a little change has already taken place, now the bounce rate of the site and the amount of in-links together creates a big part of how a site will rank on Google in the long run.

    My opinion is that the new SEO will be focused on web copywriting and replace the old way of spamming sites with loads of worthless in-links.

    This will spur the evolution of better content on sites and more correct and useful rankings on Google.

    Hope I shed some new light on the subject?

  4. In response to the question posed: “Do we need SEO because search engines aren’t reliable enough in the first place, or is SEO making search engines unreliable?”

    My answer is NO to the first part and NO to the second part. It’s an unfair question to search engines and to the importance of search engine optimization. Additionally, John Dvorak’s article is a bit whiny but never mind that. Let’s stick to the issue at hand.

    Pick a topic someone might search for … let’s say
    “chinese restaurants san francisco”

    There are hundreds, possibly thousands of choices for a search engine to discover and rank in answer to this search query. But of course most people will ever only look at ten. So the ten that gets presented better be good.

    To provide the best possible search experience, the search engine is motivated to collect as much evidence as possible to help sort the search results in a manner that users will find useful. SEO is primarily the act of feeding the evidence to the search engines they so desperately need. It is my assertion that SEO greatly contributes to the overall quality of the search result set.

    How? The more serious a business is to ensure it ranks well for search queries relevant to its business, the more steps it will take in the realm of SEO to boost its rank. The businesses most motivated to succeed naturally move up the list. From a consumer’s perspective, this is generally a very desirable outcome. Who wants to eat at a restaurant that isn’t motivated to have a successful business?

    The caveat to this statement is the website publisher that completely punts on SEO either through ignorance or a lack of motivation to attract new customers from search engines. They do themselves and their would-be customers a disservice. But it is incredibly unfair to hold search engines or SEO culpable for a publisher’s inaction and missteps. It would be like holding the Yellow Pages responsible for a business that chose not to list itself … or did purchase a listing but mis-categorized itself.

  5. No,you can’t say that SEO is killing search engines,in fact its hard to comment on that and on other hand i think Google is behaving very professional and i think they are managing it quite nicely.

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