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Latest
By: Bob Sakayama
2011-05-07 16:33:19
This post is a follow on to Enterprise Search Manipulation, which discusses problems Google has with enforcement actions against major players like JCPenney.

Like the JCP fiasco, once again Google proves that it is incompetent with regard to enforcing its own guidelines with respect to the buying of links to push rank.

For the second time this year, the NY Times calls Google out for being unable to detect black hat techniques associated with the purchasing of PR. This time, it's not just one company, but the top 4 businesses (measured by their search results) showing up for searches for "Mother's Day Flowers" - search for "Trying to Game Google on 'Mother's Day Flowers'" to read the article without triggering the paywall/registration. The article is here. Relevant excerpts:

Internet marketing experts say Teleflora, FTD, 1800Flowers.com and ProFlowers are trying to elevate their Web sites in search results with a strategy that violates Google's guidelines.

The flower companies deny it. But all four have links on Web sites that are riddled with paid links, many of which include phrases like "mothers day flowers," "mothers day arrangements" and "cheap mothers day flowers." Anyone who clicks on those backlinks, as they are known, gets sent to the floral retailer who paid for them.

The links have now been evaluated by several independent experts (including us) and the article sites several examples that demonstrate the links were paid for.

Google denies that these websites were advantaged by their link buys, and further claims their automation is robust enough to detect and discount paid links - something we know to be false.

On Wednesday, The New York Times sent Google representatives a list of roughly 6,000 links to the flower companies that were built in the last month. After Google's spam team studied the list, a company spokesman, Jake Hubert, sent this statement:

"None of the links shared by The New York Times had a significant impact on our rankings, due to automated systems we have in place to assess the relevance of links. As always, we investigate spam reports and take corrective action where appropriate."

In essence, Google said that these companies tried to game its algorithm, but for the most part, their efforts failed.

We doubt the claim that the links were fully discounted, but because of the nontransparent nature of Google's algorithm, no independent entity can confirm these claims. And although we can confirm the paid links exist in each case, there is so far no consequence for the clearly black hat strategy employed by these players:

Google is not saying whether it plans to demote any of the companies, but as of late Friday, it had not. A search of "mothers day flowers" had Proflowers at No. 1, 1800Flowers at No. 2, Teleflora at No. 3 and FTD at No. 4.

Once again, important questions are raised concerning not only Google's ability to enforce their own guidelines, but also the fairness of the existing search results. We know for a fact that the top of the most competitive search results is very often populated by sites using black hat techniques, especially the use of paid links. Knowing this, it becomes impossible to advise clients to always stay within Google's guidelines - because those that do will be disadvantaged by those who don't.

And while we know that Google can impose harsh consequences for those who step outside their guidelines, we also know that these consequences are not dealt out consistently. In both this and the previous article on JCP, the Times leads readers to believe that JCP suffered a penalty as a result of their link buys. This is untrue. Google only removed their ill gotten gains - and did not impose the kind of penalty we see when smaller businesses get caught doing the same thing. A real penalty would have made JCP unfindable even for their trademark.

And there's clearly a quality of too big to fail present here. Google's own reputation would probably suffer if they had to penalize the 4 top players in any business, since searches that did not include them would appear to be much less relevant, and their absence would be very noticeable even to the novice searcher.

Now that violators have so much to gain and so little to lose, gaming Google has become a mainstream activity not just for the large players. It's an astounding failure on Google's part to have put us in this position where their rules are not able to be consistently enforced, because the consequence is that bad behavior is being encouraged. The model has shifted in a perverse way to actually favor black hat strategies.

The fact that the discovery of questionable ranking strategies have to be revealed by a newspaper, rather than by Google's automation only compounds the failure. And the unconfirmable denials of Google's enforcement team that these obvious paid links have no bearing on ranks is truly laughable. Does anyone still believe they would all be doing this if it didn't work? The top 4 national flower websites are laughing all the way to the bank.

The real story here is the fact that the big boys are all flaunting Google's guidelines with impunity, and that tells us that Google has lost the war on paid links.

Blog_id: 32 | Posted: 2011-05-07 16:33:19 | Views (7,928) | Comments (0)  
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