Tuesday’s NYTimes article about the AOL-Google deal contained a line that has alarmed the SEO world. In addition to the other terms of the arrangement, it reports,
Google also agreed to provide technical assistance to AOL to help explain how to make its pages easier for Google – and other search engines – to find and include in its index of the Web.
Does this mean that Google will be unfairly helping AOL climb the ranks of Google’s natural search listings, violating the impartiality of their unpaid search results? Is it, as many bloggers are saying, blurring the separation of church and state? That does appear to be the case, and unless Google makes clear that AOL and future business partners will not have an unfair advantage in search rankings they will damage their reputation as a provider of accurate search results.
Stuart McDonald explains why this has far-reaching implications in the search world:
Preferencing aol, no matter how they do it, would put a bullet through their [Google’s] brand promise and call their worthiness as the repository of everything into serious question. The $1b is relative chump change; agreeing to an Indecent Proposal would be a colossal price to pay.
If they put a special dog team of Maximizer folks inside AOL’s offices to sprinkle bonus pixie dust that magically moves their unpaid placement from Number 1.752 million to Number 7 — ya, baby, that’s a Big Deal.
But the Search Engine Watch Blog’s Danny Sullivan downplays the controversy:
AOL is also getting SEO advice from Google. What?!!! Secrets on ranking better? No, it sounds more like the SEO advice Google already gives other large companies as part of the sales pitch and support to get them to buy ads. That’s semi-controversial mainly with SEOs who feel the advice Google gives may undercut their oftentimes more detailed and better advice, simply because it comes with Google’s own seal of approval.