Post-IPO SEO: Optimizing For A Public Google

    May 3, 2004

Google finally announced their IPO after months of rumor and suspense leaving the world hungry for news about Google. But what will Google’s status as a public company mean to the practice of optimizing your website for Google?

Optimizing Along Google's New Path...
Optimizing Along Google’s New Path…

I started my investigations by reading John Battelle’s take on the letter Larry Page wrote to potential shareholders, the “Owner’s Manual.” Battelle thinks the letter “borders on hubris,” with its insistence that Google is best run by its founders rather than by the investors.

If Wall Street reacts to this hubris by not investing (not likely) we may (even less likely) see some decline in relevance and maintenance of the serps as Page and Brin spend their days in gin-soaked despair. This dark Google phase would not likely last long, but it would give Yahoo a brief but crucial period to drop Site Match and become the new leader in purely organic search results.

My biggest concern before reading Page’s letter was that Google would lose their innovative culture. Page addressed these concerns in the Owner’s Manual, saying, “we will not shy away from high-risk, high-reward projects because of short term earnings pressure.”

And as far as future innovation is concerned, “do not be surprised if we place smaller bets in areas that seem very speculative or even strange.”

It also appears unlikely that Google will ever accept pay for placement within their search results. Though Page didn’t specifically state that they wouldn’t, he did make some statements about the current state of their serps: “our search results are the best we know how to produce. They are unbiased and objective, and we do not accept payment for them or for inclusion or more frequent updating.”

Their dual class voting structure, “is common in the media business,” which is interesting, especially in regards to Greg Jarboe’s concept of search as media. Google views itself as a media company, at least in regards to retaining control of the decision making the way that The New York Times and the Washington Post do. This will also contribute to their insistence on purely algorithmic search results.

Fathom, an SEO moderator from WebProWorld, believes the IPO may have a positive effect on the SEO industry as a whole.

“Google is the Internet darling of most Internet professionals, but is generally a virtual unknown to the greater business population and by proxy so is SEO/SEM. On a daily basis I meet with people that would never use Google or care less about “search relevancy” as (for one example) MSN is immediately available the moment that open their browser. Hard to compete against ‘being oblivious to technology trends and alternative marketing media.'”

Andy Beal agreed. “I can only see positive benefits for SEO companies, coming from the Google IPO. With a $2.7b war chest, Google will be able to significantly step-up their own marketing efforts and increase the awareness and importance of search among businesses. As these businesses enter the search marketing arena for the first time, they will need the assistance of reputable SEO/SEM companies to assist them in getting the most out of their campaign.”

However, Fathom pointed out that “more visibility to SEO through Google IPO leads to more newly developed SEOs looking to cash in.”

Newcomers seeking fast cash in the SEO industry may diminish trust, and may lead to some sort of professional SEO certification.

So what will Google’s status as a public company mean to the optimizer?

We can assume an increased penalization of high-risk seo techniques. Google mentioned index spammers as one of the potential hazards of investing in their company. In an effort to protect their algorithmically pristine results Google may become increasingly sensitive to high-risk techniques.

Microsoft and Yahoo are two other potential investing hazards. Google cited them as their main competitors. I’ve said this before, and so has GoogleGuy, a Google employee – check out the competition and get listed there. I’ve heard anecdotal reports of Google accounting for 80 percent of a site’s traffic (while comScore gives Google a more modest 35 percent). This may not continue as Yahoo and, eventually, Microsoft increase their share of the search market.

AOL too is liable to launch its own search engine, further dividing the search world. The increased attention on search that Google’s IPO will create will drive more money into new search engines. Watch for more Wall Street driven search IPOs in the coming months.

What this means is that you need to watch the search market closely – there’s no telling who’s going to come up from the wings and become the next Google.

Battelle (who apparently read the entire S1) also mentioned that Google only has the exclusive license to PageRank until 2011. After that Stanford can license it out to anyone they please, which could eventually affect SEO.

Danny Sullivan charted Google’s financial data, offering some interesting insights as well as a detailed, easy to read account of what Google revealed.

Garrett French is the editor of iEntry’s eBusiness channel. You can talk to him directly at WebProWorld, the eBusiness Community Forum.