Michael Martinez over at SEO Theory recently posted an interesting article on contract law, terms of service, and how they apply to the web. It’s worth a read and raises some interesting points, but my main beef is the loosely stated complaint about Webmaster Guidelines, specifically those of everyone’s favorite search engine. This complaint, and variations on it, have been bouncing around the SEO/M and Affiliate communities for a while now and I’ve heard more than enough whining on the subject. Frankly stated, it seems they don’t like the fact that they actually need to work in order to keep their spam profitable on the search engine result pages.

Google, as with most other search engines, is a business. In order to actually remain in business, contrary to popular belief on the web, they need to make a profit. In most web business models profit is proportional to the number of users. So far, at least in my opinion, all of this is web business 101. Google has its number of users for one reason, as of now it’s arguably the easiest and most accurate search engine available. Google will retain its users as long as it remains the easiest and most accurate search engine available.

Easy is something that Google has down pat, you can’t get much easier than a single input and a button, accurate is where it gets interesting. In order to remain accurate Google needs to be unmanipulatable. Their algorithm needs to return the most relevant and authoritative content possible, and that means excluding spam. If you’re not publishing the most relevant and useful content out there you don’t deserve to be listed, let alone rank on the first page.

For better or for worse, the bulk of SEO exists to manipulate the search engines, and if you think otherwise you’re seriously deluding yourself. Don’t get me wrong, I believe SEO is absolutely necessary, if you don’t at least try to be listed in the search engines there’s a pretty good chance your site will never be found. However, SEO is only the start, it’s the framework to build your content upon. Good SEO establishes a solid base for accessibility, findability, and information architecture, which is a good thing. Good SEO, however, is not magic. If you do it the Google-approved “right” way it will probably take a decently long time to get a specific ranking, but once you have it, it should be pretty difficult to lose. Taking a shortcut and ignoring the webmaster guidelines may prove useful and in some cases successful, but comes with the underlying risk of being delisted altogether.

Basically, what I’m saying is that SEO, be it black hat or white hat is a gamble. It’s a simple question of risk versus reward, and relies very heavily on your business model. If your business model is to make a quick buck over a short-term, by all means, go black hat, but don’t complain when you’re discovered and your profit dries up. However, if your business model is to make a long-term name for yourself or your business, go white hat, take your time producing quality, relevant content, and rely on Google to keep the spam from appearing ahead of you in the SERPs.

Either way, Google will continue doing what they do, producing to the best of their ability the most relevant SERPs for a given query, and they’ll change their algorithm whenever necessary to make it happen. Instead of complaining about the Webmaster Guidelines, thank Google for them, without them you’d be shooting in the dark. Instead of complaining about quality guidelines, thank Google for them, the higher the consistent quality of the ads and results Google displays the greater the chance they’ll be clicked on.

Complaining about and attempting to change Google’s practices on these points will not help you in the long run. Take a second and think about this. If Google lowers its quality control standards to appease the SEO’s and affiliate marketers, Google becomes less useful to the end user. If Google becomes less useful, less end users will actually use it. If less end users actually use Google, you have less potential customers, and like it or not your profits are going to be less as well.