The Truth is Out There: 4 Google Conspiracy Theories Explained
As an SEO pro, you probably already know that search engines can sometimes behave… in mysterious ways. Part of our job as internet marketers is pretty straight-forward: researching keywords, publishing content and creating natural backlinks.
Another part of our job is a little more theoretical. We need to predict where organic search trends are heading. The better we can predict the unknown, the more effective we’ll be at spotting both opportunities and potential problems within a client’s campaign.
Google’s algorithms are notoriously secretive. We basically have to use inductive reasoning to figure out what will help site rankings, revenue and traffic. Dealing with so many unknowns seems to have made more than a few SEO experts a bit, shall we say, conspiracy-minded.
Today we’re going to take a look at some of the more far-fetched theories. Are they totally crazy, or is there something to them after all?
Conspiracy Theory #1: Google Wants to Decide What’s True
We’ll start with one of the more popular “world domination” related theories. Google wants to decide what a true fact is and isn’t. This means accuracy is used as a ranking factor, with Google determining what’s accurate about any given subject.
This theory can be traced to back a Washington Post article titled, “The Huge Implications of Google’s Idea to Rank Sites Based on Their Accuracy.” Basically, Google published a paper discussing a plan to identify the overall level of factual accurateness of a web site. Site with more factual information would rank higher than sites deemed less accurate.
Google doesn’t deny this. But the plan isn’t really what it seems. “This was research,” Google told the Post. “We don’t have any specific plans to implement it in our products. We publish hundreds of research papers every year.”
The problems are very theoretical but, admittedly, pretty scary. An example would be: What if Google Decided the Earth was flat? Every top search result related to the Earth would promote this Flat Earth theory.
While that example is a bit over-the-top, we understand why people aren’t thrilled with this idea. But the good news is this is a completely speculative idea at this point. It’ll be a long time, if ever, before Google will be able to implement such a plan into action.
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We Say: Not a conspiracy yet, but could maybe possibly be one in the future.
Conspiracy Theory #2: Organic Rankings are being De-Prioritized
The origin of this theory is pretty obvious. Google doesn’t profit from organic results. They do profit from selling AdWords, however. If they deprioritize organic results, more and more companies will choose paid listings.
We hate to say it, but there might actually be something to this. The more we talk to other SEO pros, the more we find people who say they’ve never (or rarely) seen an organic listing “above the fold” in mobile listings. With desktop results, we also can’t help but notice how local listings are usually prominent in the top screen view of search results.
To be clear, we’re not suggesting this is an intentional ploy by Google to de-prioritize organic results. After all, all the evidence we have is anecdotal. That’s hardly enough to justify the label of “conspiracy theory.”
The best way to work with this theory is compare your organic results to the paid results of your competitors. If you’re getting buried beneath paid listings, you might want to either buy some listings yourself or find new keywords to insert into your content.
We Say: Probably not an evil conspiracy, but definitely something to pay attention to.
Conspiracy Theory #3: Buying AdWords Improves Your Organic Rankings
This one is an oldie but a goodie. Does Google reward sites who purchase AdWords with an increase in that site’s organic search result ranking?
Google says no way. “ Investment in paid search has no impact on your organic search ranking.”
What do we think? There’s simply no evidence that buying AdWords will boost your organic search results rankings. Google isn’t favoring customers who purchase AdWords in any artificial way.
Even if they did, why would they keep it a secret? Acknowledging that organic search results can be directly improved simply purchasing AdWords would probably cause sales of AdWords to go through the virtual roof.
But like any good conspiracy theory, there is some truth behind the idea. Mainly, AdWords does lead to some organic benefits. These benefits are:
· Users are more likely to spend money when you have both organic and paid listings. These two listings together expose your brand to the widest possible audience.
· Paid ads lead to more searches for your brand later on. If people don’t pay much attention to your ad at the time, they’re still likely to remember your brand later.
· Paid ads can increase your incoming links. This, in turn, will improve your organic search results.
We Say: Not an organized conspiracy, but paid listings should be considered for any SEO campaign.
Conspiracy Theory #4: The U.S. Government has a Backdoor into Google
We can’t really discuss conspiracy theories unless we throw in one which involves the government. The theory here is that the CIA, FBI and other agencies has immediate and unrestricted access to Google through a backdoor.
With Edward Snowden and the revelations of the PRISM surveillance program, this idea is far more plausible than it would’ve been just five years ago. But is there an actual backdoor into Google?
They say – very clearly – no, there isn’t. They published a response which read, in part, “The U.S. government does not have direct access or a ‘back door’ to the information stored in our data centers.”
That’s likely all there is to the issue of a backdoor. But this doesn’t meaning using Google makes you anonymous. Everything you do on Google has the potential to be acquired by the government through a request.
We Say: Unfounded conspiracy, but don’t think your internet activity is completely free from government access.
Most of these “conspiracies” have an element of truth. But that truth usually has a pretty innocent explanation. So, you can probably keep your tin-foil hat on the shelf for now. The good news is that all of these theories are pretty creative. The best way to learn more about how Google operates is to formulate a theory and then test it out. So keep those conspiracy theories coming – even the craziest ideas might have some worthwhile information.