Marcus Aurelius was a Roman Emperor, Stoic philosopher and author. His following utterance is one that should be kept close to the hearts of every company that wants to be listed on Google. 'Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there.'
Now, I know you might switch off when you read the next sentence, but I urge you, press on. Search engine optimisation is important.
Geek? No. Business.
Google and other search engines display two basic types of results: the 'natural rankings' - a list of results generated by sending software 'spiders' out on to the web and indexing the contents of billions of websites - and 'paid listings' - the results displayed at the top and down the right-hand side that people bid to place their ad in.
SEO is important for two really good reasons. First, it makes you money. Second, it saves you money. Now who doesn't think this is important?
Well, apparently, the biggest firms in the US, who, according to a report by SEO firm Conductor published last month, 'suck at search'.
According to the research, 72% of the Fortune 500 companies have very low or non-existent visibility for their most advertised keywords - the ones they spend money on, but haven't bothered to optimise their SEO performance against. Between them, this is costing hundreds of millions of dollars in wasted spend on paid search advertising, and much more in missed business.
SEO makes money because between 60% and 80% of clicks in Google are on the natural results; so getting this right is important. It saves money because the better you perform in the natural rankings, the less it costs to compete in the paid results - because Google takes the quality score of your site into account when deciding how much it charges you to bid for position.
For those who rely on search as a key business driver, then, where they appear in these results is vital.
Hence the start last week of an investigation by the European Commission into whether Google manipulates its results to the detriment of competitors. Foundem, a price-comparison site that competes with Google's own shopping product, joined Microsoft-owned Ciao and French search site eJustice in alleging their sites were penalised by Google, making them almost invisible in search.
Google has always manually intervened in the rankings, either to remove offensive material or to punish companies that used result-rigging methods of which it disapproved.
Foundem et al's allegation is new, however. They are claiming Google did this because they competed with it, and was thus abusing a dominant position.
So, did it? The evidence suggests that on this occasion, Google is not guilty.
First, Foundem's own SEO stinks. It breaks several basic 'rules', with 475 links on the home page (you shouldn't have more than 100), hidden links (contravening Google's published guidelines), content that doesn't match the page title - the list goes on.
Second, Google has always focused intensely on the user experience - quality of search results come first. So when it has manipulated the rankings in the past, this has been to improve the quality of the results, not rig them; to do so would not be in character.
Last, search in Google for the term 'search engine'. Google comes third. So, even for its primary product, it is not rigging the results.
Google is a formidable business, and in a dominant position. Foundem, however, should take Marcus Aurelius' advice and look unto itself before blaming others for its own failure.
Andrew Walmsley is co-founder of i-level
30 SECONDS ON ... Marcus Aurelius and Stoicism
- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus was born Marcus Annius Verus in 121AD. Following the death of his father, Marcus was adopted by his grandfather, taken under the wing of Emperor Hadrian, then later adopted by Hadrian's successor, Antoninus Pius.
- He succeeded Antoninus in 161, becoming joint emperor with Lucius Verus; after Lucius' death in 169, Marcus became sole ruler until naming his son, Commodus, co-emperor in 177. He died in 180, in what is now Vienna.
- Marcus Aurelius had a reputation as a philosopher king. His Meditations, a series of 12 books of thoughts addressed to himself, was written while he was on campaign between 170 and 180.
- Zeno, founder of Stoicism, was born in Cyprus and lived between 350BC and 250BC. His school of philosophy got its name from its location in Athens, in a colonnade called the Painted Porch, or Stoa. The Stoics aspired to the suppression of all emotion, but the name has evolved to become a synonym for stubborn endurance.