Google representatives often make statements like make sites that are good for users, but they don't tell you what specifically they are looking for to determine the quality of a site because if they did people would exploit it. When Google is using code speak to prevent people from reverse engineering organic search results then perhaps the ends justify the means, but recently it appears that Google has been looking at usage data and signs of trust which may relate to organic search and applying some of those to Google AdWords.
As Google obfuscates the field of SEO with bland double speak, and uses organic search signals as a sign of quality in PPC they are increasing the value of those who take the time to understand what Google is ACTUALLY looking at. They want an informational bias in organic results and a commercial bias in AdWords, but invariably Google is looking to separate signal from noise in organic results and AdWords.
Given how crafty us optimizers are, Google believes a healthy dose of misinformation is key to making that happen. Given how arrogant Google is and how much they believe in the raw power of data you wouldn't think they would need to do that with AdWords.
As Google owns a growing segment of the attention stream, uses vague guidelines that are selectively applied, and make backdoor deals with large publishers they are killing off many business models in aims of improving quality (also known as profit). How much leverage has Google accumulated? The NYT said that ~ 22% of their website visitors come from search engines. Think of how old some of the old media companies are and how long they have built their brands, and they are already that dependant on search. Think of how new web video is, and that there are already reports of it eroding television viewership.
As the web grows the increasing competition and increasing scope of the link graph means that content creators have to keep getting more innovative and give more away to be remarkable, gain mindshare, and build a brand.
Creators are not publishers, and putting the power to publish directly into their hands does not make them publishers. It makes them artists with printing presses. This matters because creative people crave attention in a way publishers do not. Prior to the internet, this didn't make much difference. The expense of publishing and distributing printed material is too great for it to be given away freely and in unlimited quantities -- even vanity press books come with a price tag. Now, however, a single individual can serve an audience in the hundreds of thousands, as a hobby, with nary a publisher in sight.
That is why I feel so strongly that most standards are arbitrary. As long as you reach to your market with passion eventually your market will find you. I am living proof that armatures don't need publishers. As everything moves toward free, attention, trust, and brand will be the only things that makes you a non-commodity. And as long as Google keeps separating signal from noise, and technology keeps making it easier to participate on the web, publishers are going to need to start adding value if they are going to stay relevant.
So sure, Google is right when they say you need to add value, but many businesses operate under the false pretense that they are not going to get marginalized.
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