Google Bombs Aren’t So Scary

It sounds frightening. Google “bombs” are going off. In other words, Web sites are influencing Google’s search results by controlling what they link to and what they say in their links, according to Corante’s Microcontent News site.

Of course, Google has always worked this way. What people link to and what they say in their links are major determinants of how Google organizes its search results. Links can even be the predominant factor, in some cases.

The classic Google bomb, if we’re going to use that word, occurred way back at the end of 1999, when it was discovered that a search for “more evil than satan himself” brought up the Microsoft Web site. At the end of 2000, we had the “Liv Tyler nude” incident, along with the more notorious search for an insulting slur that brought up the official George W. Bush campaign Web site.

In all these cases, what people linked to helped influence the results that came up in Google. Moreover, link analysis was probably more important than usual in determining these results because few pages in the results set likely had much link value (i.e., other pages linking to them). In this situation, even a few links can boost a page. Of course, that’s not considering more traditional measures, such as the words on the pages themselves.

In other words, if you have 1,000 pages all relevant textually for “liv tyler nude,” then the one page that’s actually developed links to it will probably get the edge over the others. If you understand this, you won’t be surprised to read about people manipulating links to get their friends to come up tops for “Talentless Hack” in Google or about a journalist getting ranked tops for his name.

The story goes on to ponder whether Google will succumb to future bombs, especially “money bombs” in which people try to manipulate Google to make money. Anyone in the search engine marketing industry will probably be having a good chuckle over this. Attempts to manipulate Google through links for the purpose of financial gain have been going on for ages. People have created entire networks of interlinked Web sites in attempts to influence Google.

Google combats these attempts by identifying what it considers “artificial” link structures and adjusting or eliminating their influence in the rankings. Google has also recently taken action against reciprocal link pages, link “farms,” and guest books, downplaying their importance in its link analysis algorithms. And there’s no doubt that Google will take action against Weblogs, if those Weblogs are seen as manipulating results in a way that doesn’t correspond with user expectations.

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