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When Google Can't Figure Out Its Own Webspam Rules, Perhaps It Needs To Rethink The Rules

from the too-confusing-for-itself dept

Last week we, like many other publishers, saw Google's Matt Cutts post a "reminder" that Google's PageRank system punishes sites that sell "links" or "advertorial pages" that pass along an impact on PageRank. After reading it, it actually sent us in a bit of a scramble, because while we're pretty careful about these things, and have no desire to help others boost their PageRank, we suddenly got worried that even some of our fully disclosed and clearly labelled advertising/sponsorship partnerships might technically run afoul of the rule. After reading through a bunch of documentation, we're pretty confident that we're in the clear, but not entirely sure.

Apparently, we're not the only ones. Among those who have been found to be violating Google's stated polices is Google itself. SearchEngineLand has a pretty detailed expose of a variety of ways in which Google appears to violate their stated rules, and also notes that its own site might also accidentally violate the rules in a few places. At that point, you have to wonder if the rules themselves really make sense.

I'm sure that the rules are intended for all the right reasons: no one wants someone to pay to impact search results. But blanket statements about some of these things can get pretty tricky, pretty fast. Google, for its part, insists that it is reviewing its own violations, and the webspam team won't treat its own divisions any different than anyone else. And, in fact, we've seen Google punish itself for similar violations in the past. But the bigger issue is that rather than just showing that it doesn't have a double standard for itself, wouldn't it be better to realize that perhaps the rules aren't as clear cut as some would want them to be, and that perhaps there are better ways to tackle this particular problem?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Out of the Bob, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:13pm

    Alright Mike, fess up. How much did Google pay you to write this article!?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:31pm

    Ha, I get it, this is the post where Masnick pretends he can't pick up the phone and talk to someone at Google. Like, any time he wants.

    Thoroughly convincing!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 9:44pm

    Weird

    If Google has an algorithm that can guess that particular links are paid rather than natural, why don't they just have it treat those links as "nofollow" automatically rather than penalize the site containing them?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
    icon
    techinabox (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 10:45pm

    Re: Weird

    As far as I understand it it is not to penalize ads but things like web rings and link lists where a site is nothing but links to other sites and no content. Which is why this appears to be so fine a line.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:01pm

    Re: Weird

    I understand your point, but there is no reason that Google shouldn't do both (as long as the guidelines are clear, of course).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:10pm

    Re:

    Yeah, it's called 'customer support', lots of companies have it, though usually it's handled via email these days.

    Also, can you lot at least try and come up with some new material occasionally, instead of the same old bull every time? I know creativity isn't exactly your forte, but come on, you're not exactly constrained by logic or reality, so you've got plenty to choose from when making claims and accusations.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2013 @ 11:41pm

    But the bigger issue is that rather than just showing that it doesn't have a double standard for itself, wouldn't it be better to realize that perhaps the rules aren't as clear cut as some would want them to be, and that perhaps there are better ways to tackle this particular problem?

    I'm with you on the fact that the rules should probably be reviewed/explained better. However, I'm also glad that they are looking into potential violations rather than fixing themselves without penalty, then penalizing others for what they were doing....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:05am

    Re:

    You are joking but I can see the trolls reading your comment in awe: "Oh my god, how did he manage to post such an insightful comment so fast?"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:06am

    Re: Re:

    No, really, Google customer service sucks. Still, he had to attack Mike regardless of how insane he sounded, right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 3:39am

    Google has become a ridiculous entity run by friggin' morons! they need to step up to the plate and start making it clear what their intentions are as far as the internet is concerned. is it for itself only? is it for the entertainment industries that it keeps pandering for? is it for customers and their rights? is it a waste of time?

    i think the latter covers the lot!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
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    Robert (profile), Feb 26th, 2013 @ 6:20am

    Fencing with Google

    Mike, no matter how hard you try we know the truth!

    You can't hide that you're on the fence with Barbara Streisand, not answering our questions, waiting to see the effect Google's pirated ad sites on profits maximization, $100 million per site. That's $40 billion dollars, 96% of which used to go to the Entertainment Industry!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Minimum wage shill, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 8:15am

    Re: Re:

    I would like to know, no wonder the other shills get the big bucks and I'm here looking for a shilling job somewhere.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 9:44am

    Re: Re: Weird

    I understand your point, but there is no reason that Google shouldn't do both


    Well, except that doing only the "nofollow" thing has the benefit of making linkspam nonbeneficial to the recipients of the links without catching possibly-innocent site operators in the crossfire.

    (as long as the guidelines are clear, of course)


    The problem there being that the guidelines are not clear and, moreover, Google explicitly refuses to make them clear, citing concerns that if the exact criteria for their deciding which links are linkspammy were to be published, linkspammers would use that information to linkspam without being detected by Google.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 12:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Weird

    Right, but your approach means site owners should be able to use whatever scammy/spammy SEO they want and avoid any repercussions because Google would just algorithmically ignore it to avoid false positives.

    That is silly.

    As for your other point, I agree that the guidelines should be made more clear, so...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Androgynous Cowherd, Feb 26th, 2013 @ 8:42pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Weird

    Site owners using spammy SEOs aren't getting penalized. Rather, the link-farm pages used by such SEOs are, while regular sites sometimes get caught in the crossfire.

    Google can't penalize the spammily-linked-to sites directly, beyond making spammy links not count towards PageRank; if it did, then anyone could bury a competitor in the search rankings by setting up spammy linkfarm pages linking to it and making sure they came to googlebot's attention.

    Making spammy links (however identified) not count towards the linked site's PageRank is actually the only thing Google can do that minimizes harm to those not acting in bad faith, while still minimizing the effectiveness of the tactics of those that are acting in bad faith.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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