Short answer is yes. They are.

In fact, looking at the arc of algorithmic updates over the last 10+ years, it becomes clear who they’re working for. But don’t take it from me, here’s what Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, had to say about it.

Internet is a “cesspool,” a festering sea of bad information. Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is clearly hard wired. It is so fundamental to human existence that it’s not going away. –Source

What Mr. Schmidt is saying here is that big brands is what people want to find online, and that the rest is garbage. And he’s probably correct, except that in his fight to highlight big brands and burry “shitty” content; small, new, and often amazing bloggers get caught in the crossfire.

So fine….thats the CEO of Google spouting off at the mouth, you might say. That kind of elitist thinking and preferential treatment doesn’t trickle down to the Engineers. Does it? It does.

Here’s what Google Oracle, Matt Cuts said about it:

…we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side. –Source.

Guess which “category” your blog and mine falls under?

Highlighting the Highlighted

Let’s take a look into several updates that either explicitly or implicitly buried small blogs and gave a boost to big brands.

Timeline curtesy of SEOBook Infograpic.

2004 – Google Sandbox

Google rolls out an algorithm that places new blogs into a purgatory, somewhere deep on the search results page that is in double digits. This implicitly makes the first results page more “stable” thereby giving big, established brands a preferred treatment over new blogs.

2006 – Cloak and Dagger Scandal

A common Black Hat SEO tactic is to keyword stuff white text on a white page thereby showing humans one thing whilst showing Google bots something entirely different.

Google’s policy on this is firm. They will shut you down for doing something like this, and many small sites have been permanently punished by Google. So what happened to BMW when they got discovered using this Black Hat SEO technique?

BMW got de-indexed for few days only to come back to the first page after a swift back-room intervention.

2009 – D’you Know Vince?

Google Vince update did something really tricky.

If you search for keyword “oil spill”, and then search for keyword “BP”, bp.com gets a boost in ranking. Add to that the fact that Google had rolled out “Extended Results” by this time, and non-BP controlled content gets further buried “below the fold”.

That same year, AdWords allows brands to add additional links (see above).

BP.com has 3 additional links in the paid results area (Learn About BP’s Commitment on FB – BP YouTube – BP Twitter Feed), which further places our content below the fold.

2011 – Panda Ate Your Page

This is another magic hat trick Google pulled to give big brands a preferential treatment.

Panda update de-ranked blogs that didn’t fit Google’s “brand signals”. As Matt Cuts sais it, if your blog didn’t fit the brand classifier, you got de-ranked. When you got de-ranked, guess who floated to the top? That’s right. Big brands.

2011 – 1

Google crowd-sources part of their algorithm to you. Every time you +1 something, it increases the likelihood of it ranking higher. And now you know why brands are desparate to get your Likes, tweets, and +1s.

2011 – Been Caught Spamming

In May, 2001, NYTimes reports that large online retailers (1-800-Flowers and ProFlowers) engaged in Black Hat SEO techniques and knowingly violated Google’s Terms of Service.

Google takes no active action to de-rank these large retailers. Meanwhile, Google has been known to de-rank small blogs for perceived attempt alone.

Who’s Your Daddy?

While speaking at BlogWorld2012, I asked my audience “what business is Google in?”, and many cheerfully proclaimed “SEARCH!” You can hear the audio of this here.

Alas, Google is not in the business of Search. They are in business of selling ads. This is an important distinction because it instructs us of the money flow, and ultimately, it tells us who Google works for. And it’s not us.

  • Does your business rely on Google search-results placement?
  • Have you ever been de-ranked?
  • How does it make you feel to know that your business can live or die based on Google whims alone?