Sites that scam Google could be hazardous to your placement
There have been some infamous stories about companies trying to find a way to the top of the Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) search results. The result is that sometimes the best results don't always appear at the top of the page as they should. Matt Cutts, a Google Search engineer, posted about this very problem last Friday. While he defended Google's track record in this regard, he acknowledged there was a problem, and even laid part of the blame on "content farms."
As a Journalist, I don't have any love lost for content farms like Demand Media and AOL Seed. They tend to look for the cheapest content for lowest pay and highest profit. The way they drive their profits is via keyword laden posts to force the content up the search page, which could explain why Cutts sees this as little more than just another form of veiled content spam.
Regardless, it's up to Google to continue to display the most relevant results. Even as their results page has become more cluttered with ever-increasing types of content from Google's own content to ads, video, images, news and social streams; it seems in an effort to supply us with all of this information Google (and Bing and Yahoo!) are displaying more than we need.
And within all of that data we find another problem, those sites that are rising to the top don't always deserve to be there. Perhaps one of the more infamous cases of this was a site that used bad publicity (going as far as harassment of customers) as a way to get better results in the search engine. They figured any mention of the company name, even complaints on review services, was good publicity because it played the algorithm, and sadly the site owner was right. It worked.
On top of all that, some sites are accusing Google itself of favoring its own content (e.g., maps) over other content that may deserve better placement, at least if it's being placed fairly according to the algorithm. Nobody should be gaming Google--not Google itself and certainly not sleaze bags like the example I referenced from the New York Times article, or even keyword-driven sites like content farms.
Why? Because when you spend a great deal of time and money to design and develop a site, and you have a search engine like Google that controls more than two-thirds of search engine market share, you want to know that you can count on a level playing field when it comes to getting your site at the top of the first page of results.
A number of years ago, Google changed its algorithm and my site was dropped from the Index in the process. I went from several hundred visitors a day to a handful. As I wrote at the time, if you're not listed in Google, it's like you don't exist, and if you're not on the first page, it's a similar dynamic because users rarely look beyond the first page. If sites that don't deserve to be on the first page are pushing down your site in the results, that could be a real problem for you.
Some say that social sites like Twitter, Facebook and Quora are beginning to take over the role we have traditionally expected from the search engine. Sure, I will try to find answers and trusted links in these services, but nothing is going to take the place of a good search engine, whether it's Google, Bing, Yahoo! or another service. When you need an answer quickly, these services fit the bill.
But as content producers, you want to know that when you place your bets, nobody's fixing the game, and Cutts' post was trying to assure everyone that Google's eyes are wide open in this regard, and they are attempting to resolve the issues. Whether that's enough to remove the spammers, scammers and keyword con artists, only time will tell. - Ron