Google has always been coy when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO). And understandably so. Google must balance its need for Web sites to be formatted such that they can be properly crawled and indexed with its need to keep people from manipulating the search process.
The result is muddled. Other than basic documentation on its Webmaster Site, Google does not generally comment on specific SEO practices except through its de facto public face of search, Matt Cutts. Matt also offers general guidelines (don't cloak, do create high quality content, etc.) but steers clear of many thornier issues such as "gray hat" SEO practices.
Last week, Google released its Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide. On the surface it seems harmless — a simple guide for Web site owners to follow so they can rank well on Google. But further analysis reveals something more pernicious. What Google is doing is offering Web sites a powerful incentive to strictly adhere to Google's guidelines if they wish to benefit from Google search traffic (and what Web site does not).
However, Google's guidelines do not necessarily yield what's best for Internet users and do not leave much room for innovation around Web site design. For example, Web sites built in Flash or Adobe Flex may not perform well by Google's guidelines, yet they may provide a superior user experience. As a result, technologies that have not been widely adopted (some that we may not even have heard of yet) may be stunted in their growth because Web sites have such a strong incentive not to deviate from Google's basic SEO guidelines.
So what to do? We the community of Internet entrepreneurs must do more to disrupt Google's comfortable market share and force the behemoth to innovate through competition. Only by kicking Google out of its comfortable position atop the search market will the Internet be able to realize its innovative potential.