We need a Google court!

Google CourtImagine this (and no this is not based at all on any of my clients, just for the sake of this argument): you have a client who has a pitch black history in search engine optimization, his tactics ranging from “simple” cloaking to using negative links to push his competitors sites down. At one point, Google get’s on to him, and send him to the deepest possible hell: the “you sure ain’t gettin’ no traffic from us” one.

He’s always been risking this, and he’ll take the punishment with a smile, respecting his “enemy” for his cleverness in finding him.

Now imagine a second client, who’s bought links all across the globe, with only one single purpose: increasing his PageRank. At one point in time, some 4 years ago, an SEO told him that’s what he should be doing and he hasn’t changed his tactic since, unaware of the search world, and the changing ethics within it, and thus unaware of the fact that he’s doing something wrong.

If the first one decided to do a reconsideration request, and Google decides to let him wait for a while before they reinclude him, that sounds fair, right? But if the second one finally finds out what went wrong, and decides to do a reconsideration request, they shouldn’t make him wait too long, right? Or is it perhaps not so simple?

Now you’ll hear people say that it all boils down to one thing: intent.


They both did what they did with the intent of increasing their search engine rankings and traffic, knowing full well, that what they did was game the search engines. The important thing here is whether they knew that they were breaking rules or not and how Google treats that. After all, under most governments, breaking a law that you didn’t know about is still breaking a law (ignorantia juris non excusat).

The other important thing to know is: did they do the buying before or after Google had said that buying links to increase your PageRank was wrong, and how does Google treat that. In a lot of countries only very specific laws can be applied to you if you did something to break them before the law was invented (ex post facto laws).

All this then boils down to: what is Google’s reason for punishing anyone? Well, they’re probably the same reasons as sanctions are used within criminal law: retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation and restitution. The question is though whether retribution is any good in this case, as most people will never openly tell that they’ve got this problem…

While Michael Gray was very right in saying that Google is not the government, they do have the right to “do as they please” within their own search engine. If Google were a government though, you’d probably have a court of some sorts, deciding on how to deal with issues like this and creating openly available jurisprudence in the process.

Now that’s what we’re missing here, and that’s what makes decisions on whether to reinclude people or not and how long you will “punish” them, seem arbitrary. So what we need is openness, jurisprudence to go by, and a judge. Basically, what we need is a Google court!

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25 Responses

  1. SlightlyShadySEOBy SlightlyShadySEO on 7 November, 2007

    Haha Google Court would be terrible!
    I’d hate to have to sit and watch while Google gave my site a lethal injection! Getting banned is bad enough!

  2. Eduard BlacquièreBy Eduard Blacquière on 7 November, 2007

    Nice write up, Joost! I don’t think there will be a Google court anytime soon, but there sure is a need for more openness and I think this will come sooner or later.

  3. Will CritchlowBy Will Critchlow on 7 November, 2007

    Thanks Joost – this is a really insightful post. Many of the analogies are very strong.

    Regardless of the intent in the case studies you talked about, the ex post facto and jurisprudence elements are crucial, I think.

  4. AlistairBy Alistair on 7 November, 2007

    I just happen to stumble by your blog by chances and I must say, I m Impress! You got yourself an extra loyal reader now!

  5. ProsecutionBy Prosecution on 7 November, 2007

    As bail, prosecution demands the defendant, one Mister Joost de valk, must leave behind his AdSense-checks. Also, all his links must be redirected to prosecutor and members of the jury.
    Thank-you, your honor. Prosecution rests. :P

  6. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 7 November, 2007

    @Alistair: good to hear :) thx :)

    Prosecution: I’ll gladly give you my adsense checks, as I do NO adsense whatsoever :P

  7. fantomasterBy fantomaster on 7 November, 2007

    In view of all their hypocritical antics, wouldn’t a Google Court Martial (with Google as the sole defendant) be more appropriate? Indictments for mass scale copyright infringement, pirate publishing, violation of TOS, anti-trust law violations, click-fraud abettment, etc. etc. come to mind…

  8. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 7 November, 2007

    Hey Fantomaster, nice to see you drop by :)

    And well… I do agree, but I guess a Google court will happen even earlier than what you propose :)

  9. fantomasterBy fantomaster on 7 November, 2007

    Not if we can help it LOL.

  10. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 7 November, 2007

    Agreed, but can we? :)

  11. fantomasterBy fantomaster on 7 November, 2007

    Well, if nothing else, we can go down trying, can’t we? :)
    But seriously: While it’s way too early yet to open the champagne, Google is continuously progressing into pretty deep water left, right and center: Politically and socially, getting flak from the big boy business community (vide Forbes, The Times, etc.) – and while their current profit balance certainly doesn’t seem to reflect it, personally I really wouldn’t adopt a bullish investor’s attitude even for the mid term.

    So maybe they’ll prove me wrong, but we’ll see. (It’s happened before, you know…)

  12. SeocracyBy Seocracy on 7 November, 2007

    I’d like to leave an intelligent comment, but all those words with more then three syllables have my head spinning…..

    Fact is, Google’s ‘punishments’ meted out against errant webmaster run amuck are moot point in so much as Google does not (and can not) truly govern the internet. There are too many viable alternatives to Google, and therefore these supercilious punishments have no real bite, and will continue to fail at dissuading webmaster from misbehaving……maybe Google would have more success with something like water boarding…..but I digress……Getting slapped by Google just means that you have to slap them back (and next time you see the slap coming? duck.)

  13. KayBy Kay on 8 November, 2007

    A Google court, sounds hilarious :-)

  14. RobertBy Robert on 10 November, 2007

    @fantomaster, Racketeering seems to fit.

  15. MarcelBy Marcel on 11 November, 2007

    I Think it would be a great idea if there was some sort of indepent organisation that could mediate is such mathers.

    Some companies rely for a great deal on Google (and other search engines), so a ban for something stupid can mean the end for that company. And nothing you can do about it…

  16. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 11 November, 2007

    @Marcel: well if only Google were a bit more transparent that would solve a lot already. Any business model that relies totally on Google is a wrong one btw.

  17. MarcelBy Marcel on 11 November, 2007

    I totally agree, but with more than 80% of the internetters using Google as their search engine almost every site relies for a great part on visitors finding the site using Google…

  18. Joost de ValkBy Joost de Valk on 11 November, 2007

    World wide it’s lower than that. In Europe, in almost all countries, monopoly laws apply though.

  19. MarcelBy Marcel on 11 November, 2007

    I Know Google is a lot smaller in other countries, but i’m talking about the Netherlands and countries like Germany and France…


    But what im trying to say is that many sites rely for a great deal on Google and a penalty without some notice can lead to a huge amount of damage.

    So I totally agree that Google should be more transparant…

  20. RokasBy Rokas on 18 November, 2007

    google prosecutors SEO engineers :)

  21. Rapidshare BloggersBy Rapidshare Bloggers on 13 January, 2008

    LOL! That will be somethin !
    Nice read

  22. BillinDetroitBy BillinDetroit on 1 February, 2008

    I think it would be appropriate for Google to give a ‘problem child’ perhaps 30 days notice to clean up their act. The site would be re-reviewed at the end of that time and the trigger squeezed if the site was still acting naughty. Otherwise, lower the hammer and re-review again in 6 months or a year to see if they are still compliant. If not, shoot first, ask questions later.

    I think that any ‘large enough’ company wields considerable clout in any market. In some cases, like food production, news dissemination, fuel distribution, there is tremendous profit in harming the consumer … keeping them alive, but bleeding, as long as possible. So long as Google does not block ads running back to e-commerce sites on pages that do not use ad-sense, I don’t see them doing a lot of harm to most ‘honest’ sites.

    But, considering that, in ANY war, more civilians die than combatants, I could be very wrong.

    There is money ‘out here’ … lots of it. Since Google is the source of much of the traffic that generates that money, they get to make a lot of the rules (which are also likely to work just as well for their search engine competitors) for how websites and blogs present and code themselves. In web search, they have out ‘Microsofted’ even Microsoft. Even if a ‘search Linux’ should show up, Google will continue to swing a big stick for a long time.

    What is wanted is reasonableness, clarity and uniformity of application of those rules. Post them on the wall and enforce them uniformly JUST THE WAY THEY ARE POSTED … with new ‘rules’ being given a long lead-time before enforcement to allow the sites time to comply.

    I, like many others, am focusing on creating useful content and trying to make a few pennies every so often. I find that, despite several hundred unique visitors a day (when I am actively posting / marketing / commenting) reading several fresh articles a week, I have never had an Amazon hit nor have I yet seen an Adsense check. Not one. In fact, Amazon has sent me email about that.

    Since I make a product, I am thinking of ditching the affiliate links and just featuring my own products in the sidebars. I can’t do worse, and I might do better.

  23. JarnoBy Jarno on 15 May, 2008

    It’s a hard world. And thats how google acts! I really do a hard job to make myself more popular, and i try to make custommers come to my site (www.q-5.nl) So yes I post on blogs, and submit my site to directories. But I try to do it legally with normal reply’s and marketing strategies. I hope Google does not ban me for this!

  24. AnaBy Ana on 15 May, 2008

    It’s true. Google doesn’t need to be so hard!

  25. JurgenBy Jurgen on 20 May, 2008

    Is Google that hard? It’s worth staying on the right path.