Belgium and Google: A Messy Waffle

July 18, 2011

I saw this headline: “Belgian Newspapers Claim Retaliation By Google After Copyright Victory” and I was nervous clicking on the link. SEO news services make me nervous. The idea of any “retaliation” story makes me think of long lists of words on a watch list somewhere.

I clicked on the link, and the story seemed okay, just a bit thin on substantive details. Quoting the Associated Press is in and of itself is reason for concern.

Here’s the main idea:

Publishers in Belgium did not want their content indexed by Google. (That strikes me as less than informed, but forget the knowledge value angle.) So publishers get the fluid legal system to notify the Google. Shortly thereafter, some Belgium publishers note that their content is tough to find at the top of a Google results list. Bottomline line: Some folks believe Google is jiggling the results to make some Belgian content familiar with the tedium of clicking through lots of pages to find the desired hit.

My view is that accusations are definitely good for “real” news outfits like the publisher of the retaliation story. I also think that considerable care must be taken before yip yapping about why a particular results list does not show what one wants, expects, believes, or hopes will appear.

Google has lots of people working on the search system. I once believed that these teams were coordinated and working like a well oiled robot arm assembling nuclear fuel rods. Now I know that the method is more like “get it working”. Good enough is going to earn a search wizard an A from the Google system.


Messy waffles. Image source:

If there is a difference between publishers’ expectations and what is in a particular result list, I suggest several things:

First, get a trained and expert online searcher to run queries in a methodical manner to verify what is and what is not “findable.” Keep in mind that 99.9 percent of the people who claim to be search experts are not. If you don’t believe me, give Ulla de Stricker a buzz. You can also try Anne Mintz, former director of the Forbes Magazine information center. You can also ping Marydee Ojala, editor of online. Folks, trust me. These individuals are certifiable online search experts and can get the information needed to put some data behind the hot air. Data needed.

Second, explore the question: “Did some legal entity notify Google to take a specific action related to a particular publication or type of content?” If so, maybe the Google has a 20 year old just doing what someone in the legal department instructed. No big deal but the modification may be unknown to those who are complaining that a $25 billion outfit is annoyed. My experience: Google may not know where Belgium is and may not be aware that legal notices have simply been observed as part of a routine process. Information needed.

Third, what’s the big deal? If Belgian publishers want traffic to their sites, there are ways to get it. For example, here’s a list of actions these folks can take:

  • Join Google+ and use that platform to communicate about important content and provide links to that content
  • Generate content that is picked up, commented upon, and widely circulated. The result will be tweets and maybe a story in Pulse, the iPad “no search needed” app.
  • Forget Google. The content should be preened and shaped to make Exalead and Yandex drool. Once these systems consume the Belgian content, I will be one of my fresh Harrod’s Creek worms, that other systems will react to that frequently clicked, hot information. (Yep, kiddies, most search teams look at what’s hot and what’s not and then factor that content into their own thinking about helping their customers tuned in.)

Notice that none of these suggestions is search engine optimization. The idea is to write information that has magnetism. Anti magnetic content which has legal eagle feathers all over it may be a problem in and of itself. Forget Google. There may be editorial, language, or credibility issues which different algorithms try their best to discern. Work needed.

But that’s a lot of research and investigation. Isn’t it more fun to use the word “retaliation”, get some clicks, and shovel money down the craws of legal eagles? Back to the goose pond. Quiet, sane, and peaceful there. Not exactly a Robert Frost pasture spring, but close enough.

Stephen E Arnold, July 18, 2011

A freebie and I won’t even mention my new monograph which is not indexed by Google, and I don’t really care.


2 Responses to “Belgium and Google: A Messy Waffle”

  1. Marydee Ojala on July 20th, 2011 1:06 pm

    Thanks, Steve. I deeply appreciate being placed in the stellar company of Ulla and Anne, rock stars of the information world. For your readers, I’d suggest coming to WebSearch University ( in Washington DC the beginning of October for 2 days of intensive learning about web search. Not SEO, just worthwhile information from search experts about how to become more proficient with searching the web. Note to all Belgians: Retaliation will not be taught.

  2. Similar Sites on July 20th, 2011 3:46 pm

    what a comparison. Belgia probably would be mad about this title…

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