Google admits that employees change index rankings

Google admits that employees change index rankings

Summary: Google has long maintained that its algorithm is unbiased but the FT has revealed that Google staff can change the rankings...

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Richard Waters in an article at FT.com (Subscription required):

Groups magnify chances of Google hits

Companies with a high page rank are in a strong position to move into new markets. By “pointing” to this new information from their existing sites they can pass on some of their existing search engine aura, guaranteeing them more prominence.

This helps companies such as AOL and Yahoo as they move into the low-cost content business, says Mr Bonnie. “They can use their Google page rank to make sure their content floats to the top,” he says.

Google’s Mr Singhal calls this the problem of “brand recognition”: where companies whose standing is based on their success in one area use this to “venture out into another class of information which they may not be as rich at”. Google uses human raters to assess the quality of individual sites in order to counter this effect, he adds.

I've known about this for several years but wasn't able to get anyone from Google on the record. These Google employees have the power to promote or even completely erase a site from the Google index.

This admission is potentially a very large problem for Google because it has maintained that its index rankings are unbiased and are computed from a natural pecking order derived from how other sites find a specific site important.

The Google algorithm is a mathematical expression drawing on the PageRank patented method (named after Larry Page, co-founder). It counts how many links to a web site come from other web sites and determines the importance of that web site for millions of search terms. These rankings are worth huge amounts of money to many web sites and changes in rankings can put companies out of business.

Google is currently being sued by several companies claiming bias in Google results.

Scott Cleland, whose blog "The Precursor" has been critical of Google, writes:

"... this first-ever disclosure by Google that "human raters" manually discriminate in the "quality scores" that determine a website's supposed neutral and unbiased search ranking, exposes a rats nest of conflicts of interest that Google has in its "black box" business model."

He says that antitrust authorities are bound to ask key questions such as:

"If links are a factor in determining the rank of content, and Google's advertising revenue is derived from sites' search rankings, how does Google ensure the human raters of the SDB are not influenced to reward Google-owned content or Google partners' content that Google revenue shares with?"

It's a huge can of worms.


Topics: Google, Browser, Software Development

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57 comments
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  • Google sucks

    that's why I use Bing. The only Google algorithm that works is the one that steals your personal data. What a bunch of thieves and liars.
    iPad-awan
    • Blind

      @iPad-awan You honestly think that Google is more likely to unfairly rank web pages than Microsoft?!?! If this is the case, you are completely blind.
      tyrewebdesign
      • I see exactly what I get

        @tyrewebdesign
        and don't get with Bing. They're not pulling the wool over my eyes by telling me they're not evil.
        iPad-awan
    • Bing maps beats Google maps hands down.

      @iPad-awan

      But search is still lagging. I am using Bing a bit more but still find Google's overall search better.

      The bigger question is: Did anyone every really thing Google's search was "unbiased?"
      Bruizer
      • Okay

        @Bruizer
        Fair enough.
        iPad-awan
      • Just CAN

        @Bruizer <br>Anyway, Google didn't admit that employees change index rankings, they admitted that employees have the power to change index. So they are only saying the database of Google Search CAN be manually altered. It's normal, any admin has normally the power to changes almost everything in any enterprise, but doing it is another story!
        nelsoon
    • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

      @iPad-awan
      I guess the fact that Apple has a record of every Facetime call doesn't bother you for some reason, then.
      Droid101
    • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

      Google's "algorithm" faces the eternal struggle between those who make armor, and those who make armor-piercing shells. No matter what Google does to make its algorithm unbiased and fair, someone somewhere will figure out a way to game it. Humans easily see patterns that defy algorithmic detection. There will be humans "refining" the results and keeping an eye on the robots for the foreseeable future.
      Robert Hahn
    • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

      @iPad-awan Google has a whole department trying to get proper reasonable results, because there are so many idiots who try and trick the search engine. They have to adjust it
      Everq
  • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

    "..do no evil..."
    Ha!
    pinecone69
    • you don't get it!

      @pinecone69
      Google enhanced the rankings using unbiased human knowledge.
      Linux Geek
      • What!???????????????????????????????????

        @Linux Geek
        ?
        iPad-awan
      • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

        @Linux Geek LOL - you should run for office, because that was a very empty suit statement.
        ItsTheBottomLine
  • Ooops They Did It Again...

    Silly Google. Always up to something. Who's that man behind the curtain?! Why, it's just little Jimmy Smith in accounting who has been secretly changing Google rankings for years. And we wondered how he could afford a Maybach on his 30K a year salary.
    jpr75_z
  • We've suspected this for some time now...

    We've been seeing our (related) sites being dropped from and then reinstated into the Google search results for about 3 or 4 years now, for no apparent reason. The change usually occurs near the beginning of the month and sometimes around mid-month. We have come to the conclusion that Google has been manually altering our search rankings. Of course, Google neither confirmed nor denied it when we asked them why it appeared to be happening to us. They simply congratulated us on our "Google-attractiveness" and wished us well for the future. Gratifying to us, but not particularly helpful, to say the least.
    info@...
    • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

      @info@... Google make modifications to their algorithms daily. Their spiders are constantly crawling the web, and the number of inbound links etc are always changing. It is normal for your ranking to frequently go up and down.
      tyrewebdesign
      • But info@ isn't seeing

        @tyrewebdesign: He/she sees his rating "dropped" then "reinstate", which to me means something far more radical than day-to-day variation. Plus, he/she probably has a pretty good handle on the incoming links. Besides, when asked, Google didn't give the answer that you did. So, why didn't they?
        kellycarter
  • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

    Hi, my name is Matt Cutts and I'm a software engineer and the head of the webspam team at Google. Tom, I believe you're reaching an incorrect conclusion from the sentence "Google uses human raters to assess the quality of individual sites in order to counter this effect" if you believe evaluation raters can change Google's search rankings. Our evaluation team only rates search quality changes; those raters don't have the ability to change Google's search results. Google has actually been remarkably open about how our evaluation team works. See a very detailed piece here, for example: http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/techbeat/archives/2009/10/googles_scott_huffman_many_more_search_features_coming.html

    My team (webspam) does take action on spam in Google's web index, but we've disclosed that quite clearly for the last 7-8 years in our quality guidelines.
    MattCutts
    • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

      @MattCutts, I believe that even a non relevant site will Rank high. Also if we search for 2010 along with keyword the result will be shown for 2008 and 2009 most of the time, is the search engine relevant? Or we should assume it to be relevant
      Garaj
      • RE: Google Admits That Employees Can Change Index Rankings

        @Garaj I believe the earth is flat, the sun is the centre of the universe and people believe whatever crap they want to believe!

        The issue you are trying to raise is just as ridiculous as your belief. Relevancy is searching for [Orange Shirts] brings up not just orange shirts but orange t-shirts, orange hoodies, orange tops, etc.

        If I "only" needed [Orange Shirts], I'm looking for "exactly" what I want, which means searching as ["Orange Shirts"].

        As for your stupid argument of searching 2010 with a keyword, telling us the keyword would have helped! Searching for [2010 movies] works just fine!
        AdeelEjaz