No, I don’t believe that Google is deliberately encouraging spammers. However, they may well be indirectly encouraging spammers to spread their garbage all over the web. How could this be? How could it be that the company which claims their motto as “don’t be evil” is actually supporting spam? Well, it’s not that they’re deliberately encouraging people to spam the web. It’s just that their policies may well encourage it without intending to. Here’s what you need to know:
Google Bowling is Back
First and foremost, the Penguin update is, in my humble opinion, an absolute disaster waiting to happen and which is probably happening even as you read these very words. Around 2005 or so, some black hat SEO genius (I mean that in a derisive way, not in the sense of praising them) realized that they could make their sites rise in the rankings by simply trashing the rankings of their competitors.
How did it work? Simple really – Google was penalizing sites which turned out to have lots and lots of junk links from poor quality website and was either delisting them or dropping them to the bottom of the rankings. So, people would fire up SENuke or any of a dozen other programs which could build thousands upon thousands of junk links all over the web very quickly and they’d use that service to go out build junk links to their competitor’s sites. The idea was that if they eliminate the competition, they should rise up in the rankings.
This insidious practice became known as Google Bowling and Google was forced to simply ignore junk links because there was really no way to know who had built them to begin with. Well now that the Penguin update is once again targeting websites for unnatural link building, I’m quite certain that Google Bowling is back and stronger than ever. Tools have only increased in sophistication and it’s not hard to overwhelm your competitor’s legitimate links with junk links.
The result of course is that Google is encouraging spam. I realize they don’t mean to do so, but unless they have some super secret way that I’m not aware of to figure out who placed which links and thus eliminate the problem of Google bowling (no clue how that would work – even if they could trace the IP address back to the original poster of a link, there is nothing to stop people from spoofing IP addresses).
I have addressed this in the past and I sincerely hope that Matt Cutts is paying attention because this will very quickly get out of hand.
Content Farms Are Still Popular
Do a Google search for a particular subject which is popular and inevitably, eHow will pop up in the top results. Why is this the case when eHow is a known content farm which is little more than spam on steroids? To answer that question, we have to do a bit of guess work. There is no firm answer to the question but I do have my suspicions.
First and foremost, eHow generates millions of dollars of revenue for Google. They use adsense on the site and because they have millions upon millions of articles, the site is able to provide Google with a platform for selling lots and lots of adsense ads. Now, you may be asking: why would Google give them priority?
I thought that adsense heavy sites were getting deinedexed or at least dropped in the rankings? You’d be right to ask that question. To the best of my knowledge, most MFA sites are not doing too well these days. Google after all would rather just keep the revenue from the direct advertising on their own site rather than share it with someone else.
However, I believe that in the case of eHow, Google may deliberately have given them a pass simply because of the sheer scale of the site and the fact that they use Adsense to do their advertising. Of course, I can’t say for certain, but there seems to be no other explanation as to why eHow seems to rank well while I don’t tend to find stuff from other known content farms like Wisegeek nearly as often (even though Wisegeek ostensibly has higher standards than eHow had).
In either case, I’m not sure that this one qualifies as accidentally encouraging spam as much as deliberately encouraging it. Mind you, Google is a business and they need to make business decisions to make the most money that they can.
Demand Studios, which owns eHow (amongst many other sites) is also a business and there is no reason that the two of them couldn’t have a strategic partnership which benefits both of them. It’s not like giving eHow a bit of preferential treatment violates antitrust laws…
Of course, as I said, this is just me guessing…though I do recall reading an article once where someone suggested that the CEO of Demand Studios was pretty cozy with some of the higher ups at Google. Then again, I probably shouldn’t be feeding into the rumor mill, right?
Blog Commenting and Guest Blogging
These are two of the biggest staples of the SEO world when it comes to building backlinks. Also, article marketing (or rather, article directory marketing, as Alexa Smith on the Warrior Forum likes to call it). Alll of these methods of building links are rife with spammers though and they are indirectly encouraged to do this by Google, though in this case, it’s probably Google’s most innocent situation of all.
In essence, everyone knows that you need lots of backlinks to get your website noticed on the web these days. So it’s not surprising at all that Google inadvertently encourages spammers to try their best to get their links onto every possible platform that they are able to find, including the blogs and article directories. And of course, the pervasiveness of the duplicate content myth also helps to push people to engage in spamming because to actually write unique content every time would take too long.
Every other day it seems someone is on the Warrior Forum asking about this or that spinner and saying that they think spinning is wonderful and it’s bound to pay off. Others inevitably will tell the person that they are wasting their time, but it doesn’t matter – there are always going to be people who are convinced that magic shortcuts exist.
Of course, in this particular case, I believe that Google is not doing this deliberately and in fact discourages spammers as much as possible. The Penguin update is in fact one effort to address this pervasive problem on the web and it may well stop people from trying to game the system by creating spam links for their own websites, but this of course then encourages them to try to game the system by trashing competitors.
I suppose in a way, it’s a Kobayashi Maru situation and unfortunately, even Captain Kirk wouldn’t be able to find a way to get around this one by reprogramming the simulator to allow him to win, because we’re talking about real life rather than a simulation. Now if only Spock could come up with a way to program Google’s computers out of this mess…
The Need for Keywords
I am one of those people who generally says, don’t worry about keywords. They generally take care of themselves. However, it is true that when we write for the web, we tend to subconsciously at least keep the whole keyword issue in mind. I mean, let’s face it – we need to find a way to get our stuff noticed and so we tend to target keywords in our writing. When the keywords are not grammatically correct, guess what? We get spam.
I’ve been pretty creative about getting around the keyword problem, including the non grammatically correct keyword. I found for example that it was possible to split a keyword using punctuation and that Google would treat it the same even if you put the keyword into quotes (so for example, if you were to put a keyword into Google like “hotels New York,” you could get an exact match for a sentence like: When it comes to hotels, New York has an abundance of variety.
However, the fact is that this obsession with keywords does tend to encourage spammers even though it’s really not all that necessary anymore. People who are inexperienced in web writing will inevitably think that they need to have a high keyword density in order to rank well online for a particular keyword and can make the life of writers (like me), miserable with their insane demands.
It’s not uncommon for example for demands of 5-6% keyword density with a non grammatically correct keyword to be made.
To give you an idea of what that might look like (and this is a classic example of unintended encouraging of spam by Google), check out this paragraph which is over-pptimized for the keyword “hotels New York, New York:
If you’ve been looking online for hotels, New York, New York then you know that there are lots of choices of hotels. New York, New York is after all known for all the hotels. New York, New York is in fact one of the best known hotel destinations in the world and thus you can find all kinds of hotels. New York, New York really does have it all.
Of course that is an utterly ridiculous paragraph, but if you demand heavy keyword density (5.79% in this case), then that is the kind of spammy gobbledygook that you’ll end up with.
Mostly, It’s Encouraged in Newbies
I think however that the bottom line of all these things is that Google is inadvertently encouraging spam amongst newbies in the world of internet marketing. I mean, let’s face it – most newbs know precious little about what it takes to make a business work online and they know they face very stiff competition and as such, they will often end up spamming because they simply don’t know better.
Of course, this is not at all Google’s fault – they usually try to discourage spamming (with the possible exception of eHow, which as I said, I have suspicions about), however when there are billions of people in this world and everyone and his brother seems to want to find a way to make money online, Google inadvertently encourages spamming on the part of newbies who are looking for the shortcut to the truck backing down their driveway with piles of cash.
Google generally has a vested interest in keep the web clear of spam. Spam heavy search results means that Google is less likely to remain the king of the search engines. They already know that Facebook is taking away many of their customers from looking at Google and Bing, much as I don’t happen to like Microsoft, is also sniping at Google’s heels and becoming an increasingly popular alternative to Google’s search results.
In short, Google is worried about becoming the next Yahoo!, a once proud company which is still hanging on and which frankly still has an awful lot of traffic but which is no longer the crown jewel of the Internet that it once was.
By the way, I happen to have a copy of the dot com edition of Monopoly which came out right around the time that Google was founded. It’s somewhat telling to note that Facebook and Google appear nowehere on the board, but sites like Excite! and Pets.com do appear on the board and are actually rather pricey.
Google doesn’t want to end up being one of those has beens that we read about in Wikipedia when we want to be nostalgic about the old days of the web and so I believe that they will continue to do whatever they can to discourage people from engaging in online spam even though they may well be inadvertently encouraging people to do exactly what they don’t want people to do.