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Is SEO killing search engines, and Google in particular?

In the blue corner… Google! In the red corner… SEO! … aaaaaaand, FIGHT!
Is it just us, or are the results from search engines getting out of control? Often several of the top ten search results will contain websites that seem to have received their position mainly through SEO efforts, not by being truly great resources (at least not great enough to be in the top ten).

One of a thousand examples

Just take a look at the top results on Google for “web hosting.” With a few exceptions, how many of those results are actually so relevant that they should be in the top ten results of over 200 million pages? (The estimated number of results when we performed this search was 233 million web pages.)
For example, of only three web hosting services represented in the top results, Yahoo’s business web hosting is ranked as the most relevant. We also get a few web hosting review sites of varying quality (one of them even claiming the top spot) and the pretty much mandatory, but usually justified, Wikipedia entry.
Again, these are the results related to “web hosting” that Google considers the most relevant of millions and millions of web pages.
There are plenty of other search queries that illustrate the inconsistent quality of search results. Do searches within any industry where there is a high degree of competitiveness (and therefore strong SEO efforts), and you will find a similar mix of results.

SEO vs. search quality

We’re not the only ones who have been annoyed by the inconsistent and sometimes completely irrelevant search results you can get from Google and search engines in general and how that is affected by SEO. For example, last year technology columnist John C. Dvorak wrote a rather angry article for PC Magazine with the not-so-subtle title Why Google Must Die, which he started like this:

It’s called SEO—search engine optimization—and it’s pretty much all anyone working with Web sites ever talks about nowadays. You may think it consists of ways to trick the search engines, Google in particular, into giving you higher than usual page rankings. But in fact, it centers around the idea that Google sucks so much that companies think they need to use SEO to get the results they deserve.

When you think about it, this whole thing is basically a variation of the classic problem of the chicken and the egg:
Do we need SEO because search engines aren’t reliable enough in the first place, or is SEO making search engines unreliable?
What is the main problem here?
We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Any SEO experts out there who care to give us their perspective on this?

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