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A letter to the Googles, From (Mini) Me
Written by Ian Lurie
Wednesday, 10 November 2010 14:01

Dear Google, I'm a fanboy. I admit it. A skeptical fanboy, but a fanboy nonetheless. You've got some smart cookies over there. So why do you let so many sites get away with murder?

I spend all my time with clients counseling good practices, link growth through great content, focus on quality not quantity, blah blah blah. I'm like Matt Cutts' Mini Me. Then you let someone with a pile of spammy links and a site that looks like it was optimized in 2000 climb to #1.

No problem, I tell the client. They'll get theirs. Google will catch up with them. And a month passes. Two months. Three... Nothing. Nada. So, guys, throw me some love? It's kind of, you know, embarrassing.

Here are some random examples that make me question my faith in you, justice and liberty for all data. You don't need to slam 'em. Just explain to me how they got where they are, and why they aren't getting slapped around:

 

Example 1: Mahalo

Aaron Wall's pointed it out. Danny Sullivan tied Matt Cutts up in knots with it at SMX in 2008. Mahalo shows an endless list of ads and scraped search results with zero added value if you search on, say 'bicycle racing'. If you search for a more popular topic - say, 'facebook login' - you get a page that talks about everything Facebook except logins. Mahalo changed the article title, page title tag and a few other headings on the page to optimize for 'Facebook login'.

Mahalo Spam

It's like slapping a Porsche sticker on a Pinto and hoping you get away with it. Of course, Mahalo does. So, Google, if your number 1 priority is relevance and happy users, why would you ever rank this site? For anything? More to the point: If I built a site that used these kinds of strategies, you'd ban me so fast the universe would forget I ever existed. Moving on...

 

Example 2: Vitamin C Foundation

A 'foundation' web site that's a unique non-profit, insofar as they're dedicated to selling you their unique Vitamin C formula. They rank #4 for 'Vitamin C' on Google.There's spam, and then there's fraud. This web site skirts the far edge of both, suggesting, without actually saying, that:
  • Vitamin C will fight cancer and shrink tumors.
  • Vitamin C prevents diabetes.
  • Vitamin C prevents some ailments in smokers.

Then they link to PRNewswire press releases as their medical evidence. I didn't even look at their link profile or site setup. I'm not even going to give a nofollow link to their all-bold-text web site.

Vitamin C SERP

How the hell did you give this site a top 5 ranking, beating sites like WebMD and Ohio State?! Quality content, my ass. Next...

 

Example 3: Search for 'speed up my computer'

I dare ya. The top 10 is stuffed with sites that use forum spam, comment spam and articles scraped/plagiarized from each other. It's like Peyton Place, only with adware. Many of them contain ambiguous conditions, like the 'free download' that ends up being a 'one time payment' that turns out to be a subscription. Some of them have 23 pages of complaints against them, too.

Speed up my PC

Lousy link profiles. Lousy onsite SEO. Duplicate content. And tons of complaints. Soooooo, you're ranking them top 10 because... Yeah. I dunno either.

 

I'm not asking for perfection

I know there are a lot of web sites out there. I know most of them are utter crap. But Google, could you maybe clean up the top 15 or so? Or at least the top 5, so I don't feel like swallowing my tongue every time I look at the rankings?

Thanks, Ian

Ian Lurie -

Ian Lurie is Chief Marketing Curmudgeon and President at Portent, an internet marketing company he started in 1995. Portent is a full-service internet marketing company whose services include SEO, SEM and strategic consulting. He started practicing SEO in 1997 and has been addicted ever since. Ian rants and raves, with a little teaching mixed in, on his internet marketing blog, Conversation Marketing. He recently co-published the Web Marketing for Dummies All In One Desk Reference. In it, he wrote the sections on SEO, blogging, social media and web analytics.

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Last Updated on Monday, 15 November 2010 14:27
 

Comments  

 
0 #1 Corey McNeil 2010-11-10 17:08
Ian, you are right on the money.

We are conditioned from birth that the guys who wear the white hats win in the end. I am beginning to loose faith in that ideology at least on the this front.

Our clients come to us and give us money with faith and understanding that we know what we are doing. The irony is that we ourselves have bought into this idea that we understand what is going on.

We are supposed to trust that Google has the users interests as their motives. You know....serve "relevant" data.

The problem is they have positioned themselves so deeply in our culture it would be like trying the metric system all over if we attempted a conversion to another search engine.

These are well documented examples that we are being served a big fat red herring with a side of potatoes when we're told...play by the rules....great content, focus on quality not quantity.
Quote
 
 
0 #2 Ron Stauffer, Jr 2010-11-11 23:40
I'll put a large John Hancock signature here as well. I second everything in this letter.

I've wondered why it seems nobody talks about this. There are several garbage sites that do extremely well in the SERP, and I too have had embarrassing moments when clients ask "uhh, why is this spammy, junk-filled crapsite doing better than mine?"

This is a big part of my irritation with the "SEO industry." There are far too many unanswered questions, and most information out there is bad. As it's been pointed out here, why is Google rewarding a site that's worthless to users? www.experts-exchange.com is a great example. Matt has addressed this one by saying "teeeeeeeeeeechn ically, they're not breaking our TOS" but the net result is that it's extremely unhelpful to users. Probably 90% of users would never think to scroll *all the way down* to the very bottom of the extremely long page to view the solution to a problem. Most people would do what the site owners want you to do: sign up for a paid account so you can "view" the answer. This doesn't pass any "good faith effort" test, and is certainly misleading.

www.answers.com does this often as well. It frequently shows up for search terms phrased as a question, but the page you land on only repeats the question and has no answer anywhere…. even when other sites DO have the answers.

That's the inherent problem with the nebulous "SEO industry"… it's just the opinion of one "expert" pitted against another. There's often no way to get the "official" answers for specifics, and even when Matt Cutts answers them on one of his videos, he's sometimes wrong.
Quote
 
 
+1 #3 simon 2010-11-12 13:43
google's algorithm addiction to links is still stronger than it seems. Check out also the SERP of "http" "www" and "http://www" to see more interesting fails :)
Quote
 
 
0 #4 Searchbrat 2010-11-16 13:17
I think it's harsh to pick a few cases from the entire search landscape and say Google is failing. For the most part Google do a pretty good job.

I also think a lot depends on the search being done. For me, each search could have a different profile and that may determine how the SERPs look like. For example "speed up my computer" is a spammy area. You will always find spammy sites in spammy searches because they all use the same kind of tactics.

That being said, recently it appears Google's quality signals have slipped. This was brought up at PubCon and Matt Cutts seemed to suggest it was a resource issue that has been resolved now, so you can expect some Google moves over the coming months.

Oh, on the above, I completely agree with Mahalo, that site is thrash. :lol:
Quote
 

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