A member of the search community alleged in a tweet that her client was explicitly told by Google that spending more on pay per click (PPC) advertising would improve their organic search rankings.
The accusation was shocking to many in the Twitter thread because Google has long insisted there is no direct impact on organic rankings from using their advertising.
Google’s Policy on Advertising and Search
Google has long maintained that there is a firewall between the paid side and the organic side and that both sides do not communicate.
Startling Solicitation From Google Alleged
Because Google has maintained this separation between the paid and organic sides of Google one search marketer expressed shock on Twitter after a client was solicited from Google’s PPC sales to increase their spending in order to increase their rankings.
“Shakedown” of a Google Ads Customer?
The word “shakedown” has several meanings, including extortion. Extortion means making someone pay for something by force of a threat. It’s a word that connotes corruption.
Fittingly, the word shakedown conjures the imagery of holding someone upside down by the heels and shaking their money out of their pockets.
“I’m not sure yet how to process the fact that Google just did a shakedown of one of our clients. In essence, they were told to spend more on paid ads in order to improve organic search *for their brand name.*”
“for a long time, those of us active in SEO knew that Google would do this, but Google always denied it.
It really hit differently to see them say it out loud.”
Person Insists this is Not a Misunderstanding
Naturally (and reasonably), some asked if it were possible that this was a miscommunication.
Could it have been a misunderstood version of ‘if you increase brand exposure through advertising, more people may do brand search and improve your results there too’?
— Ammon Johns♞ (@Ammon_Johns) January 7, 2021
The answer from the person reporting the alleged incident was no, they reported that this was not a miscommunication.
They said that the alleged solicitation from the Google salesperson was unambiguous. They said that the Google Ads salesperson had explicitly linked improvement of organic rankings to an increase in ad spending.
This wasn’t just something that was alleged to have been communicated orally either. The person recounting the alleged incident said that the Google salesperson had put it in writing in an email.
“Fortunately, our client forwarded the email with a “holy cow I can’t believe they put it in writing. What do you think?”
We have sophisticated and smart clients.”
“I need to ask you to trust me when I say it was blatant quid pro quo. I prefer not to be more specific in public right now while I wait to see if this is news or not.”
Google’s Danny Sullivan Intervenes
Perhaps nobody was more concerned than Danny Sullivan.
He stopped into the discussion to tweet a response:
“Ad spend will not increase your SEO. At all. And if you want to DM me the info, I’ll follow up with the @GoogleAds team to track down why this got said. Because it should never be said, because it absolutely doesn’t work that way.”
Someone responded that PPC shouldn’t leverage organic to sell more ads.
Glad you’ve clarified Danny, but really this must be addressed. Can’t be allowed to be used as leverage to sell ads, especially now when businesses simply don’t have the money to spend
— Dara McGann (@darasRantings) January 7, 2021
Google’s Danny Sullivan confirmed that he had already taken action.
“It will be addressed. I’ve already send some emails about it now. I’m guessing that maybe the rep was referencing some studies I recall that sometimes, users might click more on either ads or unpaid search results when both are present. Which is NOT a way to boost SEO ranking…”
In answer to someone else, Danny replied:
It’s very easy to solve. If any of our ad reps are saying that, I would expect they’ll get a very firm reminder they should never say that. I also expect they’ve already been told to never say something like that, as all Googlers are told.
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) January 7, 2021
The discussion ended quietly with the original poster confirming that Danny had contacted her.
to folks following this, I have confirmed Danny has reached out via DM. Beyond that I must maintain client confidentiality.
— Melinda Byerley (@MJB_SF) January 7, 2021
Google PPC and Organic Search Separation
Google was originally an ad free service. This helped Google gain popularity because the other search engines were larded over with banner ads, making search a poor user experience.
So when Google finally introduced advertising they pledged that the advertising side would never influence the organic search rankings.
While over the years Google’s been accused of coordinating with the paid search side to show poor search results in order to encourage more ad clicks, those were generally ideas from the fringe corners of search marketing, baseless conspiracy theories.
The majority of people in that Twitter discussion appeared to believe that the alleged incident was not a normal event. Read the Twitter discussion here.
Roger Montti is a search marketer with 20 years experience.
I offer site audits and link building strategies.