When it comes to search engine spam, the search engines can be their own worst enemies.
The commercial Web search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN Search, Ask, etc.) are far from perfect. To be effective, most information retrieval systems must strike a balance between precision and recall. Irrelevant results inevitably appear in search engine results. Irrelevant results, sometimes referred to as false positives, are actually a normal occurrence, though I wouldn't base my Web site business on search engine errors.
Which got me thinking. As much as I don't respect businesses that deliberately choose to exploit commercial search engines, these businesses are only partially to blame for the proliferation of search engine spam. Before search engine representatives criticize SEO (define) and SEM (define) experts for exploiting the search engines, -perhaps they should look in the mirror. Search engines are actually part of the problem.
Google AdSense Magnets
I love Google. I use it every day except Saturdays. I use it to search individual Web sites because it delivers far more accurate results than any site search engine. I should have a bumper sticker that says "I (heart) Google."
Yet, Google isn't perfect. The one Google area that drives me crazy is the whole AdSense program. Don't get me wrong, when used appropriately AdSense is a great advertising medium. It's particularly great for businesses that don't have the time or budget to create Web site advertising tools. The reporting and filtering options have also greatly improved.
Nonetheless, the key phrase is "when used appropriately."
Many AdSense sites aren't Web sites that contain legitimate, useful content. Many are garbage. My first thought when I see AdSense on a Web site is, "OK, where's the spam?" Just yesterday, I was viewing a Web site with all of this supposed great travel content and discovered the word "mesothelioma." I wasn't aware mesothelioma had anything to do with travel. Sure enough, the site was part of an extensive link farm (which I promptly turned in to the Google, Yahoo, MSN Search, and Ask spam cops).
What irritated me more than the link farm was the presence of the AdSense ads. What Google sales rep allowed these ads to be displayed on such a substandard Web site? Do Google ad reps monitor the sites that display these ads?
One colleague labels these bogus Web sites "AdSense magnets." I have to agree. Google invites search engine spam because it doesn't filter or monitor these AdSense magnets. If I could make one change to Google, it would be to eliminate all AdSense magnets and train the ad reps to quit inviting search engine spam.
Wishful thinking? Sure. I'm not stupid, nor am I ignorant about AdSense. I know how much income AdSense generates for Google. It's just one of my wishes.
For the record, I've never built, nor will I ever build, an AdSense magnet site.
Other Search Engine Invitations
Though I just criticized my precious Google, I believe it's far more serious than the other commercial search engines when it comes to combating search engine spam. I'm very happy to see Google isn't afraid to ban or penalize big brands for not following its rules and guidelines. Other Web search engines (which shall for now remain nameless) aren't as diligent as I'd like them to be.
I've had many conversations with software engineers from different search engines. Basically, the conversation at two engines concluded with, "We don't want to ban or penalize sites that don't follow all of our rules because many [big-brand] sites contain good content. We don't want to filter out good content from our search results."
OK, name one Web site owner who doesn't think his content is great. If a site's content is so great, why don't people link to the content, conferring on that site outstanding link development? And don't get me started on the deplorable usability of many big-brand sites; great content isn't so great when people have a difficult time using a site.
What are you search engines so afraid of? Your rules and guidelines aren't that difficult to follow. I've followed them since 1995. Anyone who wants guaranteed search engine visibility can go buy ads.
If Web site owners want their sites to appear in your search results, they should follow your rules and guidelines. If people are looking for a big brand's Web site, allow the big brand's site to appear in search results for the brand. If the big-brand site is search engine spam, allow the site to appear for brand-only queries.
Just don't tell people you want them to follow your site's terms and conditions, then turn a blind eye to search engine spam. Quit blaming SEO and SEM experts for low-quality content when you encourage it.
I don't blame commercial Web search engines 100 percent for low-quality content. Site owners have a clear responsibility to create usable, useful Web sites with high-quality content if they want to achieve long-term search engine visibility, qualified traffic, and ROI (define).
But search engine reps should look in the mirror before blaming SEO and SEM experts for low-quality search results (excluding false positives; no one's perfect). I understand that as a database, the Web stinks. It's extremely difficult to effectively gather and organize content online. But don't invite and encourage low-quality content. You might be your own worst enemy.
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Shari Thurow is the founder and SEO director at Omni Marketing Interactive, a full-service search engine marketing, Web, and graphic design firm. Acknowledged as a leading expert on search engine friendly Web sites worldwide, she is the author of the top-selling marketing book, "Search Engine Visibility," published through Peachpit Press. Shari's areas of expertise include site design, search engine optimization, and usability.
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