April 23, 2014

The Time Has Come To Regulate TechCrunch

Update: My snarky post has been mentioned on TechDirt

This is a response to one of the most asinine posts I’ve ever seen on Techcrunch calling for transparency and disclosure of search engine algorithms.

The following post was written by a semi-well known blogger. The author has purposely posted his name on the article because he stands behind what he says and isn’t afraid of criticism.

He is starting a discussion on the need for government regulation of Techcrunch due to their extremely asinine views somehow getting picked up and ran with across the blogosphere. There is clearly growing frustration on the constantly deteriorating quality of content being posted to the site.

Imagine if you will all of the world’s venture capitalists were girls in a night club, and that the only way to get into this night club was to get passed the bouncer at the gate. The bouncer is named Techcrunch and he decides who’s “cool” and who isn’t – only his standards of cool are way off and often are just based on who you know. The bouncer knows nothing of actually succeeding in the market, but relies on his friends to tell him what works best and what doesn’t.

In a world like this, friends of the bouncer would have an unfair advantage getting the girls. Sure, you could hope to meet a girl at work, but that’s not very likely – they’ve all already met girls at the club. That’s how today’s tech startup world is. Those lucky enough to have contacts and get talked about on Techcrunch have an unfair advantage. We need government regulation so that every startup and business receives equal coverage on Techcrunch.

Do companies pay to get coverage on Techcrunch? It needs to be disclosed. What about those who donate crap in order to get mentions. We need transparency here. Do anonymous posters and guest contributors get paid? How much? What companies do these contributors work for? What do they stand to gain by posting their articles?


Alright, enough of this crap, let’s look at the actual post and why the author is an idiot.

Let’s ignore the glaring fact that an anonymous writer is calling for transparency and disclosure for a minute. Let’s also ignore that Mr Anonymous probably works for a company that has a lot to gain of Google were forced to reveal its algorithm. Let’s get to the heart of his argument.

Before I dig deeper into your article, I’d simply like to remind you that being listed in, or ranked well on Google isn’t a right.

Also remember, thanks to Pagerank, Google isn’t really ranking websites. WE ALL ARE – whenever we link to another site in our blog posts.

Based on how Google actually works, your LA analogy couldn’t be more off. Search engines don’t “gate access” to anything. From what Google has shared about their algorithm, and how it’s based on links from other sites, they’re simply presenting the websites that are most talked about. A better analogy for you to use would be “imagine if you could only shop at the stores in LA that everybody was talking about.” That wouldn’t be so bad at all. In fact, it would be favorable. Imagine if you could only listen to the songs that everybody else wanted to listen to – you’d have a popular radio station. Do it with websites and you’d have a popular search engine. That’s what Google did. Shame on them for giving users what they want.

You then jump strangely into a rant about “arbitrary accounts” yet fail to provide even one example of an account that was arbitrarily shut down or a website that was arbitrarily removed. The fact is, Google doesn’t arbitrarily shut down accounts or websites. There’s no incentive for them to do so, nor is there a reason. Now, don’t confuse that with shutting down accounts for violating trademark and copyright reasons, posting ads to viruses and trojans, or doing other evil things. It’s also important not to consider sites removed for spamming, or forcing users to download malware. In both of these cases, it’s not in a searcher’s best interest to be shown these sites. If Google returned spammy or malware sites for searches, users would get pissed off. The same is true for misleading trademark ads. If an ad says “microsoft office” and I click it and am shown “open office” I’d be pissed off. It’s not about “arbitrarily banning sites” at all. It’s simply about giving users what they want.

Regulation, is not something users want. I’m not sure how old you are because you didn’t share your information with us, but you clearly don’t remember the past. If you were around in 1995 you would have noticed that search engines like AltaVista were the top dogs – and their algorithms were pretty clear. They simply looked at META tags and the amount of times a keyword appeared on a page. What you may not remember from back then though is how irrelevant many competitive keywords were. Search for a popular musician and all you saw was porn. Search for a new car, and you got porn.

Once spammers knew how the search engines worked they were able to easily rank for highly searched terms. In fact, the main reason Google became number 1 is because it was harder to manipulate its algorithm and rank well. Searchers quickly saw that they were getting better results and jumped ship.

Making algorithms public would actually be a step backwards in terms of progress. I suggest you go read up on the history of search and search engines before pretending to spout off on a topic you clearly know nothing about.

The worst part though, is that many SEOs can tell you The Algorithm Doesn’t Matter. Honestly when it comes to performing effective SEO, it doesn’t matter if H1 is weighted .75 times more than <b> and that the first word in a title is 1.35 times more important than the 3rd word.

You want an algorithm, here it is:
1.) Sites that are useful to visitors will rank high.
2.) Popular sites that are useful to visitors will rank higher.
3.) Sites that don’t offer any value to the web or are irrelevant to the query won’t rank well.
4.) Sites that are harmful or spammy won’t be included in the i ndex.

Seriously, that’s Google’s algorithm in plain English. There’s your disclosure. The weighting factors and code behind it don’t matter – these principles are all you really need to know.


If anything needs to be regulated, it’s news sites who don’t disclose their sources. This type of shit would never fly in the New York Times, WSJ, or any other reputable publication. They surely wouldn’t allow an anonymous article written by a non expert who clearly has something to gain if his position is adopted – and they’d at least take the time to research their claims and provide examples.

About Ryan Jones

Ryan Jones is an SEO from Detroit. By day he works as a manager of SEO & Analytics at SapientNitro where his team performs SEO for Fortune500 clients. By night he's either playing hockey or attempting to take over the world with his own websites - which he would have already succeeded in doing had it not been for those meddling kids and their dog. The views expressed here have not been paid for and belong only to Ryan, not any of his employers or clients. Follow Ryan on Twitter at: @RyanJones, add him on Google+ or visit his personal website: www.RyanMJones.com

Comments

  1. Groove Factory PR says:

    Amusing post and nothing to really add to the diatribe about Techcrunch….but your inability to see how Google has a massively distorted and unfair advantage in the marketplace makes most of the rest of your post hard to take seriously.

    No one of sound mind is asking Google to reveal their search algorithms, but to take the next leap that it doesn’t matter what you do in terms of SEO is simply ridiculous.

    There are PLENTY of examples of spam sites that rank very well….and lots of cool informational blogs and instructional pages that are poorly formatted, have bad URL structures, no metadata or keyword focus – and rank horribly.

    Of course it is clear that all things being equal a site with poor content and not much to offer will return worse results than a site that has useful, relevant content and even basic SEO. But without understanding some SEO and the basic way engines view your site – you are at a SERIOUS DISADVANTAGE.

    Don’t even see how you could possibly argue that point.

  2. Correct. without understanding SEO and the way search engines view your site, you ARE at a serious disadvantage. But that’s not Google’s problem, it’s your problem.

    There’s tons of resources out there for people to learn about SEO and best practices, and anybody who feels compelled to launch a website should also be compelled to learn how to do it properly.

    I don’t recall arguing that it doesn’t matter what you do in SEO. It totally matters what you do.

  3. Groove Factory PR says:

    Fair enough. But claiming that the “algorithm” doesn’t matter isnt at all honest.

    Take the “no follow” tag controversy that Google is in the middle of this summer.

    In 2005 they told everyone that using ‘no follow’ to retain page rank was legitimate….so lots and lots of SEO firms recommended adding no follow to links you didn’t want spiders to follow, specifically all links out from your site. Wikipedia as a practice has every one of their external links tagged as “no follow”

    Now we hear that they have not only reversed this decision and no follow no longer is a good thing….but they tell us that they actually reversed that decision last year, without telling any of us.

    As the behemoth of the search industry and nearly a monopoly by any definition, I see this is a major oversight and problem. if they want to be the big cheese and run a search engine that can make or break so many websites (and companies and people working for those companies) – then then need to be more transparent with their decisions and let people in the SEO world know when they are making changes that have potentially detrimental effects on commerce on the internet.

    So I viomently disagree that the algorithm doesn’t matter….OF COURSE it matters.