Google is treading in dangerous waters right now. The prolific company will inherit its own search engine optimization (SEO) company called Performics after purchasing the online advertising giant DoubleClick on April 13th (takeover due to complete at the end of the year) and so far there is no sure indication of the company’s future. Unfortunately, since the purchase it (outwardly) appears business is as usual at Performics and the prospect of that continuing does not sit well with many people. The fact of the matter is a leading search engine like Google who claims to highly value its “don’t be evil” mantra will rapidly lose any remaining credibility if it continues to operate a SEO/SEM company.
The Basics: Why is this a conflict?
According to Wikipedia, search engine optimization (SEO) is “the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results.” Algorithmic results are supposed to be unbiased and highly relevant which is why Google keeps its proprietary algorithm so closely guarded. With the purchase of a search engine marketing company such as Performics, Google is put into the conflicted position of trying to generate profits by providing result-oriented organic ranking services for its own “unbiased” organic search results.
In addition, Performics provides other services within the realm of search engine marketing that add another dimension of conflict. For example, it provides paid ranking campaigns (pay per click, banners, etc.) that are designed to provide quality returns on investment. In their own words, Performics claims to “know which paid keywords convert to sales and optimize ROI on advertising investments with Yahoo!, Google and other paid search engines.” Now, this is not an uncommon claim within the paid advertising industry, however, with Google behind the wheel the claim is likely to be perceived as having merit within Google’s paid search results.
So What is Next for Google and Performics?
Google could run Performics completely above board and without any advantage whatsoever but unfortunately there is no one to police them to ensure that happens and I am certainly not comfortable with Google policing itself. That said, Google seems largely un-intimidated by anyone these days so I figure they will do whatever they want to in the end. However unlikely, Google could even hold on to Performics and try to ensure the world that the SEO company is a far, unconnected arm of the wider corporation. But that would not be a very smart move since the potential damage done would not be worth the benefit of having (comparatively) a trickle of profit from Performics.
When all is said and done, I have little doubt Google will sell off Performics as soon as possible in order to stem any bleeding of Google’s hard earned reputation for quality search results. Whatever the result, Google’s final decision on the fate of Performics will give some insight into their current level of brazenness. For the moment, however, I bet the conversations between Performics and Google are extremely tight-lipped while the big decisions are being made.