Google & SEO’s: The Symbiotic and Parasitic Relationship. Who’s Who?

October 13, 2009:

parasite_wikipedia symbiosis_wikipedia
The Parasite

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Symbiotic Creatures Playing Nice

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Note for geeks and sticklers:  While parasites can have a mutually beneficial relationship (mutualism) with their host, I am questioning whether or not there is a parasitic relationship (parasitism) where the host does not benefit.

I’ve been in the SEO trenches since 2000.  Not as long as many, but long enough to form an opinion.

I’ve pretty consistently felt that SEO practitioners who follow best practices, and don’t spend time gaming the system for short-term gains, have helped organize the Internet.  This goes for SEO consultants, in-house SEO practitioners, business owners, etc.

But, we have provided this organization and structure based on the rules of the game that Google has established.

Google says “unique, quality page titles” and  “great meta descriptions”, and we do it.  Google indicates that content should be both unique and valuable, and we create content that users actually will read (often enough).  Google indicates that cross-linking between pages within a site builds thematic relationships, and we cross-link.  Google says that inbound links should be from trusted, authoritative, and relevant sites, we find ways to build those relationships.

What’s the end result?

Relevant categorization of Web sites and a higher number of usable/valuable Web pages.

Google monetizes this organization.  SEO’s monetize the work needed to achieve these results.  Companies monetize the search results they garner.

There is a SYMBIOTIC relationship between search professionals and Google.  Each helps the other achieve their goals.

But, does Google develop/maintain a PARASITIC relationship with SEO’s?  Possibly.  I believe that the following is unstated, but implied – “Do the work we ask for and we will make money from your efforts.”

Do search professionals act as parasites in relation to Google?  Sure.  “We make money from the power you [Google] exert on the Internet.”

But, SEO-consulting revenue is spread across the market very broadly, and that money pales in comparison to Google’s $21 Billion in 2008 revenue.  SEMPO’s annual The State of Search Engine Marketing (2008) estimates that $1.4 Billion was spent on organic SEO efforts (organic SEO is what’s relevant in this discussion, although one could argue that paid search guidelines from Google AdWords also help organize information in search results).

In talking about this blog post with my partner, Derek Edmond, he brought up an excellent point – SEO practitioners that find loopholes in Google’s algorithms live off of Google’s power as the most-popular search engine.  I won’t call this category of SEO’s “black hat”, because there are too many sticking points in that definition.  It’s enough to say that when loopholes are exploited, there are two outcomes:

1) These SEO practitioners make money

2) Google finds ways to tighten up their algorithms, and continues to enhance the quality of its search results

In a sense this is a mutualistic parasitic relationship between the two – loophole-exploiting SEO’s feed off of the host, and the host gets stronger through a self-defense mechanism.

Bottom Line

There is a definite symbiotic relationship between SEO practitioners and Google.

It’s hard to argue against Google being the host in this relationship.  But, it feels completely uncomfortable to label SEO’s as parasites.  There is such a negative connotation to this label.  However, there is no denying that the SEO community “feeds” off of Google.

Perhaps it makes the label more palatable when you consider that SEO’s provide incredible benefits to Google.  And, Google has brought considerable benefits to the public at large.  So, by extension, SEO’s enhance those benefits for the searching public.

(In writing this post, I gave up on the notion that Google is the parasite.  I’d be interested in your thoughts.)

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  • http://bontemedical.com Anthony Zelinko

    I find the Symbiotic and Parasitic Relationship between the parties very interesting. If someone would step back a bit and view from 10,000 feet they might see a resemblance to a living organism.
    Let’s explore this further. Google has not been on the landscape very long but has established the defacto protocol that E-commerce uses daily and other companies try to exploit and or copy. On the other side companies try to stay within the boundries of what Google establishes.
    This is akin to an organism that thrives on it’s nutrient rich surroundings but if you remove the nutrient sources the organism will die. Just as in Nature Google will never jeopardize it’s food source and continue to grow, acting as a Host so others can feast on.

  • http://www.komarketingassociates.com/ Andy Komack

    @Anthony – Thank you so much for this contribution! I was hoping that more of a dialog would take place based on this post, but I must have missed something in sparking the conversation.

    Great analogy about nutrient-rich food source and removing that from the relationship.

  • http://www.TheSEOChampion.com Search Engine Marketing Minneapolis

    For long term success in business, all relationships must be mutually benifitial. This is true in all cases and in all industries. If The SEO pro or Google lost out in the exchange, one of the two would be gone.

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