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Google has a spam problem. We can quibble and debate about the severity of the problem, or the nature of it, but it exists (and it always has). And its been in the news quite a bit lately. The problem has been covered by the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and the SEO industry on a weekly basis. Google even has a team dedicated to finding spam and keeping it out of search results, the search quality team.

Why does Google have a spam issue?

Money. Plain and simple. The profit motive. Cash. Greenbacks.

There is a LOT of money to be made by understanding the Google algorithm. Create great content and acquire authoritative links to your pages and you’re on your way toward ranking in the top few search results for your keywords, which can literally mean millions of dollars in sales for your business. (There is WAY more to solid SEO than those two statements, but for the non-SEO’s reading this its an overly simplistic view of “SEO”).

One of the main reasons most SEOs focus their optimization efforts and understanding on Google is search market share. Just look at this graph from ComScore that examined the December 2010 market share of search engines on a year over year basis. (You can click the graphic to download the entire white-paper yourself – its a terrific resource)

Even looking at Yahoo and Microsoft in combination (since Bing powers Yahoo search results) you can see there’s a huge gap between #1 and #2.

I would argue that at this point a significant portion of Google’s problem is directly related to its success. Because Google controls such a significant portion of the search market, they go about their day with a target painted on their back. If you operate and sell product or services via a web site there are few things (if any) as lucrative as being #1 for your specific key word (or better yet a set of keywords) on Google’s organic results.

There is little doubt that one of the main reasons Google is attracts so much attention from internet marketers is because of its size. In fact, I believe it is THE problem. I would argue the root of the problem is Google’s size, and the problem manifests itself by SEOs and companies trying to game Google’s system. What if Google stopped looking at spammers and spam as the problem, and instead looked inward to find out why spammers targeted them?

What if you could address the root of the problem instead of the manifestation of the problem?

I mean think about this for just a minute. When a patient has an underlying medical condition that is manifesting itself outwardly via a variety of symptoms, it’s a generally accepted practice to treat the underlying medical condition, and not focus on the outward expression of that condition. Right? You do watch “House” don’t you? One of the most successful TV shows in history – whereby a team of great doctors insult one another for an hour while desperately searching for the proper underlying medical diagnosis – so they can stop treating the symptoms!

So, let’s play doctor for a minute and solve the Google spam problem once and for all. I admire the quality team’s efforts at combating spam, I really do. But they’re tilting at windmills. Every time an algorithmic fix is devised and implemented, all it takes is time for the SEO community to better understand the signals, regroup and revise their efforts.It’s like a problem that keeps coming back because the underlying infection has not been treated.

I now what you’re thinking. “All right smartypants! How would you fix the spam issue, then?”

I’m so glad you asked.

I would cut Google into three distinct search engines, run by three different algorithms. I would ask each algorithm to deliver the best results possible but to do so in different ways with different teams improving each algorithm. I would then direct users randomly to one of the three different engines. Here’s just a few of the outcomes I imagine would flow from such a system.

  • The incentive for gaming the system would be significantly reduced. No one search algorithm would control 66% of the market. Instead you’d have 4 algorithms (3 Google and 1 Microsoft) each with ~ 20-30% of the market. In short, being #1 in Google would no longer be such an incentive.
  • You may inadvertently increase the impetus to game Bing, because of the certainty provided that if you acquired #1 ranking in that one system – the new “leader”.
  • It would take some time, but I believe SEOs would be more likely to focus on quality over spammy quantity because the “quick hit” win (getting to #1 in Google) doesn’t buy you as much.

So there you have it. My plan to save the most successful company in history. In the end, it boils down to this:

Remove the incentive to game the system, and the gaming will end

Be sure to stop by next week, when we’ll work together to solve the federal budget deficit.  ;)

Seriously though….What do you think? As an intellectual exercise? Would this solve the spam problem? Why or why not? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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Sean McGinnis

Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct
Sean McGinnis is Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct. He is also a (digital strategist, blogger, consultant ) and public speaker. You can find Sean on