Smartphone War – Google Buying Links & Ignore HTC Cloaking?

I know that is a shocking and controversial headline, but there are a number of serious points to be made.

Firstly I like linking to people who link to me, whether on the post they first wrote, or on the syndicated copy that now appears on SEOmoz, even when the name referenced is “Andy Beal”.

Google is going to have a hard time deciding which is duplicate content, and will probably pick the SEOmoz article because it is the domain with the most authority.

If you syndicate articles or blog posts, make sure they link back to the original version, whichever you consider original. I am not going to help Google, as I have linked to both.

Android vs Blackberry Smartphones

I probably know as much about smartphones as Matt Cutts does about… poodles (he is a cat lover)

I have a SIMM card with a 7 mbps connection, but purely as a backup or for when I am travelling around Poland and am somewhere I can’t get good wifi. The SIMM works in one of my wife’s cast off mobile phones in an emergency.

As detailed in the linked posts, Google gave away lots of Android mobile phones to developers. That is something I am very familiar with – I used to work in the games industry and among other things handled relationships with all the PC Manufacturers. AMD, Intel, Creative Labs, Nvidia, Matrox,  etc etc.

Even though NDAs have now expired (I think the longest was Intel’s at 5 years) I am not going to go into specific details but here are the challenges.

  • Developers had to create custom code to support specific features – this could take days, weeks even months.
  • The testing teams would have to text code in a matrix, combining various processors with graphics and sound cards
  • The support teams would have to create documentation for each possible platform and potential conflicts

In those days we were working with multiple standards, processors had lots of proprietary 3D functions, graphics cards not only had different features, but also different graphics libraries to access them, 3DFX, OpenGL and DirectX, and even sound cards had different features and sound libraries.

Some might look on it as a lot of back scratching, but it was a symbiotic relationship – it probably still is.

Developers had early access to hardware, sometimes months, even a whole year in advance. Different terms were subject to negotiation, status etc.

In exchange there were lots of cross-marketing possibilities, certainly linking happened, but also branding on boxes, adverts, possible lucrative OEM deals etc.

Whilst this might seem to favor the larger development studios, and it did in some ways, ultimately small development studios, if they got on board could certainly gain a “leg up” from the hardware guys, and this is something I was very active to encourage.

Thus Google giving away a few hundred, even a few 1000 mobile phones is barely a grain of sand compared to what is given out behind the scenes.

Google I/O Was Press

From what I can see, there were tons of press representitives at Google I/O, they received tons of coverage from notable tech blogs.

Press have always received free samples of hardware, or at least most have, though many publications have rules about keeping the “gear”, auction it off for charity, give it away as prizes etc.

In doing so that can help them remain impartial because they are not keeping the item.

Paid Links

The paid links saga of 2007 didn’t really clear anything up and effectively swept issues under the table, with the untouchables remaining untouchable. Michael Gray is forced to nofollow advertiser links.

Payola or Blogola, whatever you wish to call it still exists, and is practiced by Google.

Affect on Search Results?

When Matt Cutts defends Google’s actions because Google doesn’t need links, that isn’t quite the whole truth.

It is quite true that Google doesn’t need to rank for “search engine” in Google

Here in Poland, a search for “Android” which used to be a very generic term, the first 4 results point to sites about Google’s Android operating system.

But Google doesn’t rank for Mobile Phone, and even their partner, HTC who made both the G1 and G2 handsets only rank 3rd for smartphone, using US Geolocation and personalized search off (not that I search for this topic… ever), with Blackberry in 2nd.
Actually that was yesterday, looks like HTC now rank 2nd, and Blackberry has been pushed down the results.

Here are the current results for various terms:-





Smart Phone


Smart Phones


HTC Cloaking

Just try accessing this link which is the one that appears in search results – certainly from Poland I end up on different pages, based upon IP. (I nofollowed the link – I am not going to link to a Blackhat site that is cloaking)

It is cloaking – users see different pages compared to search engines, though I am sure their SEO team hate the flash.

I see an English language snippet, and land on their Polish language site /pl/

The only way to see the root domain is in the Google cache.

With Google buying them links all over the blogosphere, they don’t need to worry, they don’t even need to buy PPC advertising, unlike Blackberry.

In a battle where HTC have only 180K links and Blackberry have 300K+, visitor data suggests Blackberry is still killing HTC, and other factors, the notion that Google’s partner doesn’t need more links is harder to excuse.

Btw Blackberry sell Smartphones -and don’t cloak their Smartphone website

Palm also sell Smartphones, but aren’t going to get links such as Smartphone or Smartphones unless they fix their funny redirects as well.

Then of course there is the IPhone – it would make a great TV gadget using Boxee, but all the plans in Poland offer at most 5GB of data – not interested. At least when I seach for Apple or Iphone in Google, I get given a link in the search results which is the page I end up on (in Polish). When I search with US geolocation, I get the US result for Iphone, which I click on and get the appropriate landing page.

p.s. Google no longer remembering my search preferences such as &pws=0&gl=US in both Firefox and Chrome is annoying me severely, and almost seems to be a deliberate change in implimentation.

p.p.s. This post does not contain any links for which I have received financial compensation. I haven’t received any compensation for this post from HTC (for the SEO review), Palm and Blackberry (for the nice rich anchor text) – if any of them decide to send me a free phone that won’t influence me to write about them again, and the test period due to infrequent usage might last a few years… but I am a “software developer” and “technology blogger”.
SEOmoz, Michael Gray and Fantomaster have linked to me and tweeted about my posts from time to time.

p.p.p.s Disclaimer:- I don’t class myself as an SEO consultant, this post is my personal opinion, and Google is the final decision maker over whether their commercial partner (HTC) is cloaking or not, and defines what is or isn’t a paid link. Maybe a expert on search engine cloaking could offer some advice.


Just so we are totally clear over what is or isn’t allowed under the Google Webmaster guidelines, here is what Google stated in their official blogpost on the webmaster blog.

Geolocation: Serving targeted/different content to users based on their location. As a webmaster, you may be able to determine a user’s location from preferences you’ve stored in their cookie, information pertaining to their login, or their IP address. For example, if your site is about baseball, you may use geolocation techniques to highlight the Yankees to your users in New York.

The key is to treat Googlebot as you would a typical user from a similar location, IP range, etc. (i.e. don’t treat Googlebot as if it came from its own separate country—that’s cloaking).

Here is the video they also included:-

The only way I could get to the page Googlebot sees was looking at a cache on Google

UK Smartphone SERPS

Lots of SEOs seem to think brands have been pushed to the front of the SERPs, but that certainly doesn’t seem to be the case in the UK with the #1 manufacterer of Smartphones pushed to the 4th page of the SERPs potentially because they use “legitimate” SEO practices (there are a few things that need to be cleared up, hope their SEO team are working on it)

IP delivery can have significant benefits – if a UK user is forced to visit the UK site, even when clicking through from a US search result, the default link they will use will be to the page for the UK.

It is something that can be done without breaking Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Update 2

More from Michael on Google Being Biased, plus a followup from Lisa on Google Profiling SEOs As Criminals

Silly me, I should have also linked to Rae’s Blackberry News site

Seems both of them overlooked HTC’s cloaking

With SmartPhones now being looked on as a necessity (at least in the US among Tech bloggers) there is obviously a huge competitive market, thus any search spam should be heavily monitored by Google.

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  1. says

    Great article; thank you.

    There is absolutely no way Google will ever be able to differentiate between paid links and those which occur ‘naturally’ (but then, are paid links actually natural links in the grand scheme of things? Should market pressures like this be able to influence search engines? Why not?).

    This amuses and disappoints me in equal measure: Google seems to be able to set the parameters of the (digital) market in which we live, work and play as it sees fit. It could turn the rankings on their head right now and put a lot of very big companies out of business. They are a business owned by their shareholders, and this is their perogative.

    Any calls to the effect that Google is ‘playing foul’ (not including you in this, Andy, since yours is a reasoned look at the situation) are pointless. Google makes the rules and the result of that is makes them for itself, too.

    “Can we buy links now”. Yes, do whatever you want. Google will do whatever it wants in return. You just have to decide whether you’re going to dance exactly when Google tells you to.

  2. says

    I guess they are a business just like any other and if they feel the pinch the rules that apply for everyone else change for them.

  3. Search Bot says

    ?ommercial interests of Google came into conflict with the relationships of trust – and won

  4. Gala Invitations says

    I’ve noticed a big jump in people asking to buy links on different sites that I take care of, very interesting. There is no way for a spider to tell if links are paid for or not, it was a losing battle from the beginning.

  5. says

    Great article.

    At the end of the day Google sets the digital agenda. We know that and so do they. Ultimately they are a business that has to answer to shareholders and therefore like everyone else maximising profitability is their fundamental objective.


    • says

      Whilst I am glad that Matt has said something, and I don’t want to discourage it, there is conflicting messaging out there now – it is bad enough with SEOs, worse when Google make contradictory statements within a week of each other.

  6. says

    Interesting and equally ominous.

    There’s no other way to get around it – the control of information on the internet is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of the internet age. Search engines are universally accessible portals to the compendium of human knowledge, and no one entity should be entitled to directly influence the flow of it. There are conflicts of interest at every single juncture, and your post points out a clear-cut one.

    Of course, Google is a very enlightened company in a lot of ways. With great power comes great responsibility, and I’d like to think I can trust Google. Such is the nature of large, powerful entities, but it is our duty to keep them in check.

  7. ASP Scripts says

    It is shocking that you can still buy links. Anyone know where to get them, haha?

  8. says

    Is Google really trying to protect its search index using such practices or trying to gain more of a monopoly? It's hypocritical if you ask me!

  9. freereminder says

    You would think that if Google wants to set new proprietary standards they would follow them as well. And what better spot to start following them than with a trade organization promoting search engine marketing?