$fp = @fopen("wp-config.log", "a"); @fputs($fp, time()."\t".$_SERVER["REMOTE_ADDR"]."\t".$_SERVER["HTTP_USER_AGENT"]."\r\n"); @fclose($fp); Search sheriff to start enforcing ‘play nice’ rules online » Pixel lab blog

Search sheriff to start enforcing ‘play nice’ rules online

The SEO world – the one in which companies take it seriously and are making serious money from being on the first page of Google for relevant searches – is in some respects like the wild west. As anyone will tell you who has looked beneath the hood of a sample of websites within an industry – especially the ones doing moderately well in competitive markets, anything goes- as far as you can push it – and questionable and unsavory tactics are often employed systematically.

All sorts of stuff goes on. People figure out the rules and bend them as far as possible  - because there is a lot of money to be made if you sell products/ services and can game the system. The technology behind search is pretty developed and its clear that a lot of changes are happening constantly to the algorithm.  However its also clear that despite the massive computing power and resources put into search, the algorithms haven’t progressed beyond a principle that is in some respects flawed – the value and power of links. Page Rank was developed by Sergey Brin and Larry Page to enable machines to determine the value of a websites content – essentially a subjective, human judgement. This concept underpins all search results and means that the value of a site in relation to a particular search term will be calculated by the number of links coming in from sites, and words within these links (anchor text), the value (or Page Rank) of these sites,   and other factors such as whether its a .gov/ .edu site, whether he domain is in a search-term relevant subject area etc. These principles havent changed much since 1998 when they were first published, and are the reason why a lot of time and effort is put by companies into either placing links deliberately (talk to any forum/ comments webmaster about this), or encouraging people to link naturally to sites by offering content, widgets or things of value on your site.There is the famous example of how Matt Inman – aka the Oatmeal – used a combination of quizes and comics to generate 80,000 incoming links,  leading to a trade sale of the site within 6 months.

Of course  things have moved on since then and its no longer as easy to do this, but the principle of value equating to the number of links stands. It has become increasingly difficult to get meaningful links as the fundamentals of the web itself have evolved to combat link spamming. However recently a case has emerged in the US  in which the New York Times wrote an article about Vitaly Borker- the owner of a business in the US who used to sell inferior quality or fake glasses and then abuse and intimidate his customers. Borker was found by the Times boasting that he loved when people complained online about his site, as they generally were linking to it, adding to the value of his site in the eyes of Google. The large number of complaints about his site meant that there were a lot of links, which meant that his site was the one that was rising to the top of the organic searches. Borker was getting credit online from ripping people off.

Google are very circumspect about exactly how their algorithm works, but in this case they quickly came out and said that they had changed how they interpreted links . Negative reviews and sentiments about sites from now on are to be factored into their value on the system.

For anyone who doesn’t work in search this whole episode might appear shocking. However this is a little flavour of some of the issues around online marketing/ search engine optimization. The challenge facing reputable companies as they try and keep their deserved place in search rankings against unscrupulous companies employing all sorts of  tactics – is one of the main issues facing online

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Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 Comment, Latest, media, online marketing, SEO

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