Google Slips SOAP Away From SEM

    December 20, 2006
    WebProNews Staff

Google stopped issuing keys for its SOAP Search API in early December, in favor of promoting its Ajax Search API for developers who want access to Google results. Or is it?

Transparency into Google might be better described as a frosted glass block that’s been licked by a dog on a cold morning. Consider the terse statement attached to the SOAP page at Google disclosing the change:

As of December 5, 2006, we are no longer issuing new API keys for the SOAP Search API. Developers with existing SOAP Search API keys will not be affected.

Depending on your application, the AJAX Search API may be a better choice for you instead. It tends to be better suited for search-based web applications and supports additional features like Video, News, Maps, and Blog search results.

For developers who are already using the SOAP Search API, we’ve kept the documentation live on this site.

SOAP had been an API route to Google’s search results, but one that lacked a significant part of Google’s web-based search experience – paid search advertising. The Ajax API is quite different, as Brady Forrest noted on O’Reilly Radar:

The AJAX Search API is great for web applications and users that want to bling their blog, but does not provide the flexibility of the SOAP API. I am surprised that it has not been replaced with a GData API instead. The developer community has been discussing this and do not seem happy with the change.

This was a unilateral move that is going to alienate at least some of the Google dev community and lead to defections to other services. The AJAX Search API is not a replacement for the SOAP API.

The abrupt nature of SOAP’s retirement also surprised Danny Sullivan, now writing at his Search Engine Land blog.

“One of the main issues I have is that Google did this without warning or even a blog post saying, hey, we did this,” he said. Developers probably felt the same way, and one commenter suggested the move may have been made to foil efforts by one group in particular:

One problem for Google might have been that most of the applications which are using it, are variants of SEO services and are very close to commercial offerings.

We talked to Mike Marshall at Fortune Interactive a few months back about their SEMLogic product. With that, Marshall claimed they could know how competitive a client’s pages would be in a search index before ever being crawled.

That sounds like the kind of product that would raise some Googly eyebrows. Instead of losing potential ad views, a low-percentage scenario given Google’s search dominance on the Internet, slamming the door on applications that may give webmasters too much of an edge in improving search placement would be more in line with Google’s emphasis on quality websites.

UPDATE!: A reader in the SEO industry alerted me to a solution to Google’s dropped SOAP, a SOAP gateway that allows applications that use the API to continue working. It works by translating SOAP calls into requests to Google’s web interface, scraping the results, then packaging the data back into SOAP. It’s called EvilAPI and the source code may be downloaded from the site.

Update 2!: Google’s Mark Lucovsky just posted a note about the SOAP API at the Google Code blog; his post just restates the original announcement, including the observation that “the AJAX Search API does not provide server-side access to search results,” which was the whole point of the criticism of the abrupt SOAP shutdown.

Update 3!: Mike Marshall from Fortune Interactive touched base to clarify a point about SEMLogic, which I’ve corrected in the text. He emphasized usage of SEMLogic is all about on-page and off-page quality; they have no use for short-term or short cut tactics to help a client rank well with the search engines.

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David Utter is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.