Google Penalty Myths
The secrecy surrounding Google’s new breed of ‘blameless’ penalties, coupled with the stigma attached to any Google penalty, has given rise to several common myths and misunderstandings that, in our view, suppress meaningful debate.
In an attempt to promote productive debate, we have written a summary and rebuttal of what we believe are some of the more common and recurring myths and misunderstandings. The document, “Google Penalty Myths”, can be found on our SearchNeutrality.org site.
Several of the comments above concern what we like to call myth no. 4, “Everybody hates price comparison sites” (though if the above comments are anything to go by, we should probably promote it to no.1). This is our response:
The Myth: It’s great that Google is blocking price comparison site X from its search results because I don’t like price comparison sites. These sites are always cluttering up my search results.
The Rebuttal: This argument generally arises from the false assumption that all searches are vague and open-ended. A search engine cannot read user’s minds to discern their intent when they search on something vague like “canon eos 500d”. So these days, search engines tend to take a pragmatic approach to such open-ended queries by returning a mix of results from a variety of different kinds of sites, such as price comparisons, review sites, forums, stores, and so on.
But many searches are not vague or open-ended. Proponents of the “everybody hates price comparison” argument tend to overlook the vast array of intent-specific queries that users routinely type into search engines, such as “compare prices canon eos 500d” or “best price canon eos 500d”. It clearly makes no sense to exclude price comparison sites from these results, yet, when a site is penalised, this is exactly what Google does. Once penalised, a site’s relevance to a query is effectively ignored for almost everything apart from its brand name.
Besides, even if you believe that all price comparison results are bad in all circumstances, it is clear that Google doesn’t agree with you. Google do not penalise anything like all price comparison sites. On the contrary, at the moment, well established brands (that would be conspicuous if suddenly absent) are effectively granted immunity, while emerging, and possibly highly innovative, brands are discriminated against. Most significantly (and worryingly), Google now routinely features its own price comparison results at or near the top of all product-related search results, no matter how vague or open-ended.
There is perhaps a certain irony in the fact that much of the animosity sometimes directed at price comparison sites may originate from a period, not so long ago, when Google’s ranking algorithms allowed certain price comparison sites to run roughshod over many of Google’s search results. In the UK, for example, it was not uncommon to find a certain European price comparison site utterly dominating the first three or four pages of Google’s search results for most product-related searches.