Google Sins

Despite views to the contrary, we live in a search engine dominated world and as long as we do, we will be at the mercy of search engines. Google’s become a staple of our daily web consumption. It helps us hit all the hard to reach corners of the web to connect us with the knowledge that we seek. Google can literally make or break your business if traffic affects your income, the infamous “Google death” where some badly implemented search engine marketing can kill your business.

The rise of bloggers is as much a story about search (or how Google defines search) as much as it is about independent writers finding an audience. Scam artists and online “entrepeneurs” have been trying to spam Google with their junk ever since it came onto the scene. Yet, it wasn’t until blogs rose to prominence post 9/11 that people’s eyes were really opened to the business repurcussions.

Basically, blogs are a sanctioned form of link farming/exchanges. You can’t have a meaningful dialogue on the web without links. They’re like email to bloggers. If you link to a blogger, they will visit your site because there are more than enough tools such as analytics, technorati, and trackbacks that lead you to other blogs talking about you. These links are also what fuel Google’s search. Everyone knows that Google’s algorithm was inspired by the citations system found in peer-reviewed academic papers. Basically, you can tell the quality of an academic paper based on a) the prominence of the peer-reviewed journal and b) how many times it gets cited by other academic papers (you cannot write a paper without citing others).

It was a brilliant insight. However, the concept of “peer review” on the web is a very loose one and many times popularity is a great substitute for quality in terms of generating massive backlinks. Google still manages somehow to keep above the flood of spam (I hear that they abuse Bayesian filtering like a bald-headed stepchild to achieve this). You can gauge the influence of your site by checking out the PageRank that Google assigns you.

This is really where I think Google’s sins are. Yes, to use a cliche, it’s a blessing and a curse. Once you get a decent PageRank from Google you can write about anything and more likely than not you’ll get a good placement for keywords that you use in your blog post. You don’t have to be an authority. Of course, the more competitive (lucrative) search terms are spammed to death so that’s a no go but for most any other area, you can end up being the “go to source” for information even if all you did is fired off a sentence or two and linked to a real source of information. This is mainly because PageRank spills over into all other pages of your blog or website.

This is what fuels the SEO industry. Trash them all you want but a good SEO can make sure your site continues to reap the rewards of strategically optimized content. It’s the reason why SEOs will never die. They’re Google’s unofficial partners much like any retails store is the partner of whatever goods they sell.

To me Google’s about as exciting as a phonebook. That’s why sites like Digg and services like StumbleUpon gain traction. There’s so much interesting stuff out there but nothing to point it out to us like Google does for standard information. It’s looking more and more like MicroSoft for the internet realm. Really.

Categories: web