Google Hell

There was a recent story in Forbes about "Google Hell."

Basically, in the course of indexing the world wide web, Google deems certain pages to be low quality or bogus. These pages are then put on to the "supplemental index," or, more colorfully, "Google Hell." Pages in Google Hell are ranked very low-- and once you get into Google Hell, you tend to stay there for a while.

It's easy to understand why Google created the supplemental index. They did it to improve the quality of their search engine. We've all seen the hordes of fake sites, containing nothing but links to other sites-- usually sites pushing questionable or illegal products. Google probably felt that they had to create Google Hell in order to avoid getting bogged down by these armies of bogus sites.

Of course, from the merchants' perspective, things are quite different. Each individual merchant needs Google much more than Google needs him. There is no question about who holds the cards in this relationship. Just as being located along a major highway can make or break a restaurant, being on the first page of results for "diamonds" can make or break an online store.

Search engine rankings are so important to companies that a whole business has sprung up called "search engine optimization." SEO consultants try to find ways to boost the search engine rankings of sites, using techniques such as improving site layout and generating positive "buzz" for the site. There is also a darker side to SEO. Some consultants set up spam sites with thousands of links to their clients. These sites are unsightly and of no use to viewers.

Of course, from Google or Yahoo's perspective, SEO is always bad. They would rather have the sites ranked according to how useful they are to viewers, not according to how much the site spent on SEO. And none of the money for SEO goes to the search engines themselves. So the search engines and the SEOs are playing a game where each tries to outsmart the other. Sometimes, when SEOs get too aggressive, they end up getting their clients into Google Hell by using techniques Google considers to be spammer tactics.

This also raises the question: if you are an unscrupulous businessman, why not pay some SEOs to get your competitors into Google Hell? If all it takes is just some links from spam sites to the victim, it would seem like a no-brainer. I guess this is just another part of the arms race between SEO'ers and search engine'ers.

I find this story interesting because it highlights the gap between people's expectations and reality.
People think that search engines are impartial librarians showing people a representative sample of the results that exist on the web. But in fact, the search engines have no such obligation. There is no law saying that Yahoo, or Google, or Microsoft, or any other company, cannot ask for cash in return for good search engine placements. Or even edit results for political reasons.

There be no law upon the high internets. Yarr.

The only protection we have as consumers is some vague promises, and the deeply-felt desire of companies to avoid controversy. That, and the fact that there is more than one search engine to choose from. I suppose that will just have to do for now.


At 5:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you need to talk more about stuff that matters, like WoW, Dr.Who, Blockus, and Worms

At 2:03 AM, Blogger RareCactus said...

There's already a website about "stuff that matters," and I usually avoid it. And plus-- I made a post about WoW, not that I ever played it.


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