How Google fails at SEO, and why it doesn’t matter

The search engine’s objective is utility, not page views, and it is structured and functions accordingly.

Google’s homepage is simply dreadful in terms of search engine optimization.

In a search for “search engine”—and there are about 6 million such requests each month—Google appears way down the list on the second page of results. Alta Vista (the king of search engines in the mid-1990s) appears third overall. Google, it would seem, is doing a lot wrong.

SEO experts tell their clients that Google loves content. Well, not on its own homepage it doesn’t. Last time I counted there were 39 words on the entire page, and the phrase “search engine” is not there. It gets worse. If you look at the title tag for the Google homepage, it says “Google.” That’s all. Just “Google.” That has got to be one of the worst title tags ever written.

In the SEO world, Yahoo has a much better homepage. It has hundreds of popular words and more than a hundred links. Search engines just love Yahoo. So, why is Google so appalling at search engine optimization? It doesn’t need it, you might say. It’s Google. Yes, but Google wasn’t always a giant. It was started by two students, and from the very beginning it had a really simple homepage.

So why is Google so successful? Because it understands one very important rule: Bringing people through your website—to help people complete their desired tasks—is more important than bringing people to it.

In an age of social media, happy customers tell other customers. Happy customers are more likely to link to you.

Jill Whalen is one of the most sensible people on the subject of search marketing. In a recent article, she talked about the horrible practice of writing “SEO articles.” She contends there is a widespread belief that “writing keyword-stuffed articles is somehow an SEO requirement. They don’t know why they might need these articles—only that, for whatever reason, the Google gods want them. So they write articles that nobody would be interested in reading, but which are stuffed chock-full of the keywords for which they would like Google to show their site. And then they wonder why it’s not happening for them.”

Whalen goes on to explain why writing purely for search engines is such a bad idea: “If you were looking to buy Product Part A, which page would you rather find in Google? The one with the product part information, the price, choice of color/size, information on how to purchase it, and an ‘add to shopping cart’ button? Or the one that tells you the history of said product part?”

Always optimize for the searcher (the customer), not for the search engine.

Gerry McGovern is the founder and CEO of Customer Carewords and New Thinking e-mail newsletter. Contact Gerry at

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