Written by Roger Montti –
There are many contradictory ideas about the best way to approach SEO.
For every idea proposed, there are others in the SEO industry who disagree.
Turning to Google for help isn’t always helpful because Google ranks information about SEO that Googlers themselves are on record saying is wrong.
There is a way to cut through the noise and figure out which information is likely valid and which information is smoke and mirrors.
Googlers Statements On SEO Information
What Googlers say about SEO is generally limited to four topics:
- Actions to avoid a negative outcome.
- How to increase indexing.
- How to help Google better understand your webpages.
- Confirmation that site promotion is important.
Googlers don’t offer loopholes for how to influence rankings, of course. But the information they do provide is useful and consistent.
For example, a Googler can’t necessarily say that Google has an algorithm that’s specifically for hunting down and killing guest posts for SEO links.
But they can advise that guest posting for SEO is done and that publishers should stick a fork in it.
By doing that, the Googler is helping publishers avoid a possible penalty or spending money on a service that won’t produce the desired results.
It makes sense to seek out what Googlers say. What Googlers say is literally the most authoritative statement about how Google works.
Why Google Has A Webmaster Outreach
The whole reason why there is a Webmaster outreach is that former Googler Matt Cutts sees value in communicating with the search community to help them avoid mistakes and misinformation.
So, he began communicating with publishers at various SEO forums under the nickname, GoogleGuy.
Here’s a post from 2004 where GoogleGuy introduced himself and explained the origin of Google’s outreach and his motivation:
“About three years ago, I was waiting for a program to finish compiling, and I was reading what people online were saying about Google.
I remember seeing a question from a site owner about how to structure his site for better crawling, and thinking it would be great if a Googler could just pop by to answer technical questions like that.
And then I thought, I’m a Google engineer. I can answer technical questions like that. So, I did.
Since then, I’ve managed to post around 2,000 messages in various web forums, setting the record straight whenever possible.”
Are Googlers Inconsistent?
It’s common to hear people complain that Google is contradictory. If that’s true, how can you trust what Googlers say is not SEO misinformation?
But, the reason for the contradictions is usually not the Googler’s fault. It’s consistently the fault of the person who is writing about what the Googler said.
In my experience of several years of listening to the Google office-hours hangouts, Googlers are very consistent about what they say, even when you backtrack 10 or more years to previous statements, what they advise is consistent and not contradictory.
Paying attention to what Googlers say has always been a good practice. And if what a publication reports seem to contradict a previous statement, listen to the statement itself.
For example, there are some sites that post about ranking factors based on what an ex-Googler says in a video.
But when you listen to the video, the ex-Googler never said what people say that he said.
Even so, the erroneous statement about a false ranking factor keeps proliferating on the internet because no one stops to listen to the video.
Don’t take what someone writes for granted.
Always check the video, blog post, or podcast for yourself.
Google Search Engine Is A Source Of SEO Misinformation?
While Googlers are a trusted source of SEO information, Google itself can be an unreliable source of SEO information.
Here’s an example of Google’s John Mueller debunking LSI Keywords in a tweet:
Searching Google for SEO information yields inconsistent search results.
- Searching for LSI keywords (which Mueller above says doesn’t exist) shows several websites that say that LSI keywords do exist.
- Searching PBN links (links on blogs) yields a top-ranked page that sells PBN links.
- Searches for “Link Wheels” (building blogs and linking to your own content) yields results that recommend the practice.
In general, the top search results about SEO topics tend to be fairly reliable nowadays.
Google tends to show search results that promote risky strategies if you search for risky strategies (like link wheels or PBN links).
Sometimes it might be more helpful to find an SEO forum or Facebook Group and ask a real person (instead of an algorithm) for information about SEO.
Should You Ignore What Googlers Say?
Googlers are on their side of the search engine and publishers/SEOs are on the other side. We both experience search differently.
So, it makes sense that there are differences in opinions about some topics, particularly about what is fair and what is relevant.
However, there are some areas of the internet where it is commonly held that it’s best to not listen to what Googlers say.
Some consistently advise others to literally do the opposite of what Googlers say.
Others appear to have a grudge and offer consistently negative opinions on the topic of Google.
Then, there are news stories about Google AI researchers who were fired after raising ethical concerns.
Should Google Be Believed?
It’s helpful to focus on the Googlers who liaison with the search marketing community.
Googlers like Gary Illyes and John Mueller have a long history of sharing high-quality information with the search marketing community.
The record of all the information they shared is on YouTube, Twitter, and on Google blog posts.
When John Mueller is uncertain about an answer to a question, he says so. When he is certain, his answer is unambiguous.
Danny Sullivan used to be a search marketing reporter before joining Google.
He is on our side, and he, too, has a solid track record of answering questions, passing along concerns, and responding to concerns in the search community, like publishing an article about Core Algorithm Updates in response to questions about what they are and how publishers should deal with them.
In general, be wary of anyone who consistently advises people to ignore what Google says.
Discern Between Opinion And Fact-Based Insight
It’s important to verify if the writer is citing and linking to an authoritative source or is simply offering an opinion.
When someone writes about Google and then links to supporting evidence like a Googler statement, a patent, or research paper, their statement becomes better than an opinion because now it’s a fact-based insight with supporting evidence.
What they write might still not be true about Google, but at least there is supporting evidence that it could be true.
Unless a Googler says something is true, we can’t really know.
So, the best anyone can do is to point to a Googler statement, a research paper, or a patent as supporting evidence that something might be true.
For centuries, common sense dictated that the earth was at the center of the universe. Common sense is not a substitute for evidence and data.
Opinions without supporting evidence, regardless of how much “sense” it makes, are unreliable.
Googler Statements Must Be In Context
Some people have agendas. When that happens, they tend to cite Googler statements out of context in order to push their agendas.
The typical agenda consists of sowing fear and uncertainty for the purpose of creating more business.
It’s not uncommon for search marketers to say that Googlers contradict themselves.
I find that Googlers are remarkably consistent, especially John Mueller.
What is inconsistent is how some people interpret what he says.
Google’s John Mueller lamented in a podcast that “two-thirds of what he is quoted as saying is misquoted or quoted out of context.”
Correlation Studies Are Not Reliable
Articles featuring correlation data tend to attract a lot of attention, which makes them useful for clickbait.
Data obtained from studying any number of search results, even millions of search results, will always show patterns.
But the patterns are meaningless because… correlation does not imply causation.
Correlation studies often look at one or a handful of factors in isolation, ignoring all the other more than 200 ranking factors that influence search rankings.
Correlation studies also tend to ignore non-ranking factors that influence the search results such as:
- Prior searches.
- Query reformulation.
- User intent.
- Multiple intents in the search results.
The above are just factors that can muddy up any attempt to correlate what ranks in the search results with any one particular quality of a webpage.
If you want to avoid SEO misinformation, consider avoiding most, if not all, correlation-based SEO research.
Can You Trust What’s In A Patent?
The problem with articles written about patents is that some people don’t know how to interpret them – and that can result in SEO misinformation.
The way a patent can result in misinformation is that the person making claims about it uses just one section of a patent, in isolation, pulled out of the context of the rest of the patent.
If you read an article about a patent and the author does not discuss the context of the entire patent and is only using one passage from the patent, it’s highly likely that the conclusions drawn from the patent are misinformed.
A patent or research paper should always be discussed within the context of the entire patent.
It’s a common mistake to pull one section of the patent and derive conclusions from that section taken out of context.
It can be tough discerning between good SEO information, outright lies, and pure misinformation.
Some misinformation happens because the information was not double-checked, and it ends up spreading across the internet.
Some misinformation happens because some people put too much trust in common sense (which is unreliable).
Ultimately, we can’t know for certain what’s in Google’s algorithm.
The best we can do is understand that SEO information has tiers of validity, beginning at the top with publications from Google that offer confirmation about what’s in Google’s algorithm, then statements from Googlers. This is information that can be trusted.
After that, we get into a sort of gray zone with patents and research papers that are unconfirmed by Google whether or not they’re being used.
The least trustworthy tier of information is the one based on correlation studies and pure opinions.
When I am in doubt, what I do is seek a reality check from people I trust.
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