Blog Post

The New York Times - The New Internet Police


Again this weekend, the New York Times took a big shot at Google (see the piece here). Similar to the piece about J C Penney back in February, the New York Times set out to expose how large companies are manipulating the Google search results to obtain better business results. This time the target was "Mother's Day Flowers." Specifically, the New York Times investigated several top florists and analyzed their backlink profiles. In some cases, they believe, there was heavy link buying activity. I read the article with interest, but probably slightly less excitement than I did back in February. And there are a few notable differences this time around.

This time Google is shrugging

Google's official response is: "We know and have already discounted any suspect links." This is a VERY different response from the J C Penney incident. Back in February, Matt Cutts said "we'll look into it immediately" (paraphrasing) and a few days later J C Penney's website was wacked hard in the SERPs. Not so this time around. Why? Well, it could be that Google really doesn't see much cause for alarm here. Or, it could be that Google is not happy that the New York Times has appointed themselves as the Internet Police.

Why is the New York Times so interested in SEO?

I found myself asking this question as I read: Does someone at the New York Times have a vendetta against the Internet? With Google in particular? Well, the obvious answer would be "YES" when you think about it. The Internet has pretty much decimated the New York Times' business model. Their revenues have been steadily declining as readers have shown a strong preference for electronically delivered news. With the rise of Google as the dominant search engine, they are the most likely target. Taking a decidedly democratic view on how to arrange the Internet (i.e., 1 link = 1 vote), Google's democratization of information dissemination stands in stark contrast to the old newspaper model where reporters and editors decide what is written.

Is quality higher with Google's approach?

I can see where the New York Times is bitter towards the search engines. And as a result, they have a vested interest in finding extreme examples in Google's search results to expose the relative quality difference between an algorithmic-driven search engine world vs the old-school editor-driven newspaper model. Exceptions can always be found. I'm sure I could go back through the New York Times and find some fairly embarrassing examples or poor reporting. But life is not about exceptions. And business is even less so. Business is about revenues and expenses, trends and fads, and averages. In the end, no matter how you sugarcoat it, better products survive (all things being equal). Adam Smith taught us this. And Google's approach to organizing and presenting the world's information seems to be beating the New York Time's approach. No - It's not perfect. But taken on the whole, I prefer the conveniences of the Internet (including the utility of Google) to the old-school New York Times world. The rest of the world clearly agrees with me. With over 80% of the daily search traffic there is a heavy preference for Google over Bing and Yahoo. One can hardly argue this is the result of Google's user interface, which is painfully void of any redeeming qualities. No. The user experience is actually quite poor, except that it is simply the most useful tool on the Internet for finding what you want quickly. The value lies in the data. Even with the imperfections that the New York Time's continually points out, Google is the best at what they do and nobody (and I mean nobody) has even come close.