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Google is the undisputed king of search. Of that there can be no doubt. With billions and billions in revenue the Google algorithm is the undisputed jewel of the Internet. However, recently there have been a number of articles which have portrayed Google search results as less reliable and more filled with spam than ever before. Recently, Google spam king Matt Cutts blogged that despite the perceptions to the contrary, internal data shows Google results are better than ever.

Nevertheless, the perceptions of spam problems persist. Ironically, in my view, Google is directly responsible for a good bit of the spam that peppers its search results, but not in the way you might think.

The evolution of Google

Google entered the search game with search engine results that were more reliable than  search engines that preceded it. Most search engines that pre-dated Google relied more heavily on the content and HTML code contained within the page. Because authors and publishers have so much control over the HTML on a page, those search results were more easily gamed. The main reason Google search results were superior to others at the time was Google’s reliance on off-site search engine factors, primarily links.

Google’s page rank formula took the concept of information retrieval and brought her into the realm of the search engine. By relying on the patterns associated with citations, Google was able to more easily and readily find relevant and meaningful documents across the Internet and elevate them toward the top of the search result. This resulted in search results with far less spam than competitors. Initially, Google’s growth was driven by a combination of word of mouth and lightning fast search results that were more relevant to users.

Google was happy to be the little search engine that could until it incorporated a monetization scheme that revolutionized the web. Google AdWords is Google’s pay per click program which was initially served up only against Google search engine results pages. Later, AdWords were expanded to other partner search engines. To be sure, the AdWords served on Google properties and partner search engines are, to this day, a significant revenue engine for Google. However a boost to Google earnings was driven by the expansion of the AdWords program into third-party sites. Commonly referred to as the AdSense network, Google allows third-party publishers to monetize their blogs and other web properties through placement of Google ads. For every ad that is clicked on, Google splits the ad revenue with the publisher of the page where the AdSense ad appears. In Q1 2010, AdSense accounted for a little over $2 Billion (30% of total Google revenue).

A perfect storm

For as long as there have been search engines, there has been search engine spam. Whether you agree with Matt Cutts’ view that spam is down or whether you buy the argument that search engine spam is up, there can be no doubt that spam exists. In my view there are primarily three reasons for this:

  1. Google’s growth has created an incentive for search engine spam unlike any that existed previously; the bigger the game, the bigger the reward for gaming.
  2. The creation and expansion of AdSense has eased the ability for bloggers and others to monetize their spammy ways; to be sure there are other ways to monetize spam, but no method is as easy to implement as AdSense.
  3. As a result of the two points above – the SEO community and others have become more business-like in deconstructing the Google algorithm which allows for easier gaming and more spam.

I hope to look at each of these more in depth in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, I thinking about the spamalicious ecosystem in this way has led me to the following conclusion:

When I see a blog with AdSense ads on it, my immediate reaction is to turn and run. Ironically, AdSense, a core Google product has come to symbolize the very thing Google despises (and indeed penalizes webmasters for linking to) - a bad neighborhood.

By no means am I suggesting Google is fully and completely responsible for the spam in their system. Neither do I believe controlling spam at Google is an easy task – far from it. I imagine it to be an immensely difficult one. I mean no matter what spam new signal Google would choose to throw into the algorithm to combat spam – you can imagine a motivated community of spammers would find a way to beat it over time.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Google’s success is driving part of this problem? Is AdSense the primary means of monetization of the spam community? At what point (if ever) will the spam problem become so great that users actually change search behavior?

Featured image courtesy of hello turkey toe licensed via Creative Commons.


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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