Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Google and Link Spam

Posting to NGC4LIB

"Google’s Jaw-Dropping Sponsored Post Campaign For Chrome" (Search Engine Land, Jan. 2, 2012) http://searchengineland.com/googles-jaw-dropping-sponsored-post-campaign-for-chrome-106348

This article talks about how Google paid a company to add links to pages on their sites that point to a specific advertisement about Google Chrome. The author of this article says:
"The campaign [...] probably had instructions that just said people should write about whatever they want, positive or negative, with the only requirement being that the Chrome video be included as part of their post." 
The actual problem is that the people who added the paid links to their post did not add a "rel=nofollow" attribute to the links, which prevents the Google search engine from counting it in their page ranking algorithm. This is one of the ways that Google attempts to get rid of "link spam", i.e. to prevent companies from paying people to increase the number of links to their sites, which in turn will raise their ranking in a Google search result. J.C. Penney was punished severely for doing this with their "dresses" campaign (links are in the article).

The question was: would Google in essence, punish itself for the same transgression?

(By the way, unfortunately, the posting the author mentions appears to have been withdrawn, but you can still see it in Google's cache: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:PJ0ghB4GsTUJ:www.humphriesnation.com/2011/12/27/google-chrome/. It's curious that the link the author points out in his screen clip "Ah, <link>Google Chrome</link>. Where would our online life be without it?" is actually *not* a link in the cached version at least, but this is beside the point)

In a posting by the same fellow the next day http://searchengineland.com/google-chrome-page-will-have-pagerank-reduced-due-to-sponsored-posts-106551, it turned out that Google actually had punished itself, lowering their own sites' results for the words, "chrome" "google chrome" and "browser".

The reason I am discussing this is because if library catalogers did something similar to our records, by punishing what we deemed bad books and articles--well, the very idea is simply outrageous! Any cataloger who did something similar should be fired on the spot. But Google can do this on its own, with no review and little chance for appeal. This shows how much things have changed.

Also, after looking at the ad for Google, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFLP7HD1s7k, which talks about how Google helped a little flour store in Vermont by making their goods available to everybody in the world, which is quite heartwarming, I cannot keep myself from wondering what would happen if this little flour business somehow did something that made Google mad and the little store was punished. What would happen to all those extra goods in their stockroom? What would happen to the people who worked and their families? And the entire community? To me, this video is actually not about the store, but about the frightening power of Google, who could shut all that off in a second if they suddenly didn't like you. That kind of power approaches the literal meaning of the term, "awe inspiring".

Besides, the needs of the person searching are left out in this "test of powers," as one commenter wrote: http://searchengineland.com/google-chrome-page-will-have-pagerank-reduced-due-to-sponsored-posts-106551#comment-21590
"Those of you calling for a ranking penalty, stop and think for a minute.
Would it really make sense for a chrome page to NOT rank for “google chrome”
That would do nothing but confuse and irritate searchers who are actually looking for the product by name. Remember searchers? Their interests always come first – regardless of anything else.
“Google Chrome” isn’t an ambiguous term. like “Dresses” of JC Penney fame. Banning it all together would create a negative search experience for the people who are actually looking for the browser.
Lowering the pagerank will probably prevent it from ranking for terms like “browser” – and that’s an adequate penalty."
This person has the view of the librarian, in my opinion, actually thinking about the poor person doing the search and looking at the results. Rewards for "good behavior" and punishments for "being bad" are dangerous, from the librarian's point of view.

Does this mean that Google should not be doing this? Google is a private business and can do whatever they want, but there needs to be a librarian's viewpoint as well.

There is a lot of work out there for librarians, if they choose to take it.

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