Naughty or nice? The need for an ethical search algorithm

Naughty or nice? The need for an ethical search algorithm

Summary: Online businesses are trying to shut down competitors by using unethical business practices -- because they can, thanks to Google

TOPICS: Google

Here's a case study of a web site being prepared for launch and how a competitor managed to get it flagged as a scam site -- before it was even launched. It's shocking and it's a direct result of Google's algorithm changes.

From SEOBook: "A case study in being PRE negatively seo'ed."

Enter, an idea I had wanted to do for some time, where people list a car and it gets sent to a network of dealers who bid on it from a secure area. A simple idea but FAR from simple to implement.


Satisfied I had ticked all the boxes from hours of Matt Cutts video’s and Google guidelines documents, I went to work... I was enjoying building what I had hoped would be a useful site and kicked myself for not having done so sooner. I also thanked Google mentally for being smart enough now to reward better sites.

But after four months of work, testing, and signing up car dealers, and still before the full launch, the web site owner Robert Prime, checked to see what links there were to the site. To his horror he found 13,208 sites had used a link to his site using the anchor text "Buy My Car Scam."

...this was absolutely devastating to see.

A worried competitor had obviously decided I was a threat and to nip my site in the bud with Google and attack it before it had even fully started. The live launch date was scheduled for January 7th, 2013!

... I was faced with death by Google rankings ... before it had any rankings... my site being cited as a scam across the Internet before it launched!

Foremski's Take: Negative search engine optimization was rare until Google changed its algorithm over the past two years and started paying attention to the quality of the links to any web site.

It has led to a huge erasure of hyperlinks as web sites try to clean up large networks of their backlinks on sites that Google has ranked low.

But it has also added masses of new hyperlinks designed to tarnish the reputation of a competitor and to flag it within Google as a potential scam or spam site.

When competitors gain by using this tactic what is the response of an ethical business? Does it have to do the same because that's what the mechanics of Google's algorithm dictates? Ethics through algorithm or dictated by conscience?

How can businesses behave ethically if Google only responds to unethical behavior by others, such as labeling a competitor a scam?

The Google algorithm is more than a collection of numerical values -- it also ethical and moral values built in that can't be easily seen. The rise in negative SEO shows how the design of the algorithm encourages unethical business practices.

Can Google design an algorithm that rewards ethical businesses? Companies competing to be more ethical than each other would be a very good thing to see.

If Google can do one then it can do the other, imho.


Topic: Google

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  • thoughts

    Well, first of all, a legit company should be able to do an ad campaign as well, to get some exposure without relying on search engine rankings.

    Second of all - this is probably a reason as a consumer to look at the Better Business Bureau on occasion rather than relying completely on search rankings.

    Sad to see that people will stoop so low as to do stuff like this to a legit company. Frankly, Google should remove the competitor's own listings for a while for pulling a stunt like this.
    • so it is "pay or it is worse"

      Unfortunately, not every website is business, and even for business - not every one has funds for promotion campaign that will negate such possible treatment (which is very cheap to perform). And in the end, it is customers who lose, because all "positives" and "negatives" are going to be deprived of any sense.

      Even worse for private and non-profit websites. Be you a researcher, a professional, a person of art - a "friend" can mix your online image with s... easily. What then a person should do, pay for an ad campaign too?
  • You Get What You Pay For

    So you have to do some actual work in order to build up a positive reputation, you can't just collect it by ticking a few boxes and passing Go. Why does that come as a big surprise? Set up a shortcut, and watch as it instantly gets clogged with fools.
  • So, what do you propose?

    Google has, to its credit, consistently sought to devise search engine algorithms that can't be gamed. Negative SEO is an interesting side effect that Google is going to have to fix, but how? All I can think of is that the algorithm will sometimes have to ask a human to investigate.

    We should take this as a reminder that it's *very* difficult to write a set of rules that don't eve r encourage perverse behavior.
    John L. Ries