Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Do you remember when AltaVista dominated the search landscape? In the early days, before the value of search traffic was well understood, it worked well. A large index of Websites returning results based on simple relevance was a great early solution. Then came the spammers. They learned to stuff keywords onto Web pages to trick the AltaVista engine. Pretty soon, the quality of search results decreased, with a far higher percentage of spam content appearing amongst legitimate results. In short, they built a better mouse.
Google’s founders created a revolution in search when they developed a solution to this problem with the concept of page rank. They scored every page in their Web index for authority, where the authority of each Web page was defined by how many other Web pages (especially other pages with relevant content) pointed to the one being scored. Google then considered not just the relevance of potential search results, but also the authority of pages when creating search results. Their solution was so much better than relevance-based results alone, that, well, we now “google” things instead of “altavistaing” them.
Cue the better mice. This month, negative commentary about the quality of Demand Media’s content and the buzz about JC Penney’s search agency doing “black hat link building” show two methods of trying to outsmart the Google mousetrap. Both the practice of creating valueless content and the artificial link-building methods employed by JC Penney’s agency degrade the consumer’s search experience and run counter to Google’s mission.
As the world’s premiere search engine, Google has a clear mission – to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Google has rules in place that prohibit the gaming of its system and has professed strict punishment will be enacted against brands/individuals that violate them. Regardless of how they are “punished,” ultimately JC Penney, and any brand that seeks to cheat the system, are fighting a losing battle. As the public’s eyes are being opened to the gaming of search, the method of “winning” at search is changing – and brands looking to phone it in are about to be left behind.
Meet the newest mouse trap. Google’s news this week that users of the Chrome browser will be able to block specific URLs from search results is the death knell that should be ringing in the ears of those seeking to siphon search traffic without creating consumer value. Whether you’re creating a proliferation of content that does not provide the information consumers seek, or you’re artificially influencing how your content ranks in search via corrupt links, you are running counter to Google’s mission.
Public outcry against these methods that compromise search results has been fierce, and Google is, once again, responding to protect its customers and maintain the quality of its service in the marketplace.
For brand marketers, it will become more important than ever to earn money the old-fashioned way – by creating value. The way to do this online is to create legitimate value for the consumer by creating good content. Give people good information and make it easy for Google (and all search engines) to find that good information. When you start with this simple premise, you support Google’s mission instead of undermining it. And when you do so, each new mousetrap Google develops should benefit you, as it brings a swift end to others’ mousing around.