Knol and SEO: Google Insider Trading?
Authors retain copyright, and Google makes no money directly for the postings, though authors can choose to display AdSense ads on their content pages. Google serves those ads and shares in their revenue. This is not an insignificant part of the Knol strategy.
By asking whether Google will artificially elevate Knol content on its search engine results pages [SERPs], the Times is, I believe, asking the wrong question.
Google doesn’t need to employ illegally anti-competitive means. Knol content likely has the advantage of perfectly legal, perfectly legit, perfect SEO. Because who could possibly know SEO better than Google programmers and engineers?
For the uninitiated: Search Engine Optimization is the art/science of enhancing content [and the sites that carry it] to make that content appear higher on search results pages. Some people are SEO wizards, whose long experience, wily intelligence, subtle understandings of code and ability to read Brother Google’s head-fakes give them the ability to make just about any content, including total crap, pop up really high on SERPs. We mortals follow half-a-dozen best practices and muddle through. [Here’s an independently authored Knol [!] on how Google’s page rank system appears to work. Here’s another Knol on SEO generally.]
But here’s the problem: Google keeps its algorithm secret, so people on the outside never really know for sure what Brother Google’s search bots are sniffing for. That’s why SEO experts exist. If Google’s search algorithms were transparent, we’d all know the deal. SEO experts would be neither necessary nor well-paid.
From the Times piece:
Google has always said it will never compromise the objectivity of its search results. And it says it treats Knol pages like any other pages on the Web. “When you see Knol pages rank high, they are there because they have earned their position,” said Gabriel Stricker, a spokesman for Google.
Yes, but Google doesn’t have to compromise the objectivity of its search results to make Knol content rocket to the top.
If we generously accept the claim that the Knol pages have “earned” their way high onto the SERPs–that Google has, in the name of fairness and despite powerful economic motivations, heroically resisted the temptation to tap its internal knowledge of how Google’s algorithms reward and punish web pages when building its platform–then we are entitled to know how the Knol pages have done so well via conventional SEO.
But the Mountain View mothership is eerily silent about how it is indexing and making Knol content discoverable. Here’s an answer from an author of Knol’s Help pages to a user question:
“Q: . . .What factors affect whether a page appears [on SERPs] or not?
I cannot answer these questions, only to say that we are dedicated to making the search experiences for readers and authors better, over time.”
As discussions among SEO folk are revealing, some Knol entries are showing up inexplicably high on SERPs already. The Times story reports that a buttermilk pancake recipe published as a Knol is appearing higher on SERPs than a Martha Stewart Living page that publishes a similar recipe.
If this is not due to some internal knowledge of Google’s algorithms, the only explanation could be super-duper-ultraly-awesome-galactic-class search engine optimization practices by Google based on publicly available information which the greatest minds in SEO otherwise have not discovered.
For instance: SEO experts coach that links to a site’s content from other credible web pages are the most important factor driving SERP rankings. Yet some Knol entries that have been up for two or three weeks and appear to have just a few inlinks are scoring higher than similar Wikipedia entries–or content from well-established publishers whose content is richly inlinked and appears on pages with what’s known in the trade as “high URL equity.”
Yet Google won’t explain this oddity other than to say it’s not cheating. It won’t comment any more than that.
So. Let’s think for a minute about how Knol is pulling this off if it’s not using inside knowledge. . . .Ah: Maybe Google has hired brilliant SEO experts from the outside to make Knol entries rise high on SERPs so quickly. After all, that’s what the rest of us have to do.
So, Brother Google: If you won’t produce an explanation, at least produce an invoice that shows you’ve hired that outside SEO firm. I have to say, whoever is doing SEO on Knol content is doing a damn good job.