Real World Marketing: Even Colleges Spam for Top Rankings

I have recently read up on the US News & World Report college rankings, and to what great lengths some colleges go to manipulate the results and improve their rankings. Rankings are very powerful because they are a signal of social acceptance and appear unbiased. Every important ranking system that displays results to those being ranked ends up influencing those it measures.

From a marketer's perspective the idea of the authority system influencing the network has 4 big marketing ideas contained inside it:

  • The Ranker is God: If you are one of the first to create a ranking system and spread it quickly then it will be hard for others to compete with you. Some of those who rank well will lend their brand credibility and reach to help push and validate your rankings.

  • God is Not Fair: If a ranking system is unjust and you are one of the most vocal opponents of it then you can quickly gain a lot of authority and exposure.
  • Everyone Spams God: Even if people say they do not support spamming, that is probably public relations spin to help push their brand. See the prior two points for how that works.
  • God Changes Her Mind: If you watch how the various parties play off of each other that should lend key insights into how the authority systems will change going forward, which keep you ahead of the competition. For example, how will Google's acquisition of Feedburner change how they measure blogs, or how does the Chicago Tribune's freelance blog network effect Google's heavy reliance on domain authority score (and trust of links from authoritative sites)?

What is considered good marketing offline is often referred to as spam online. If anyone finds the classification as being a spammer offensive or inaccurate, don't forget that Google recently recommended health care companies spam the public, by plastering ads all over the web:

Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.

It is only considered spam if Google isn't getting a cut of the profit.

Published: July 29, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing


July 29, 2007 - 4:45am

Colleges spam? I had no idea such a staid niche would also try to influence rankings.

July 29, 2007 - 5:14am

Hi Aaron,

Great post. People outside of the search space assume that Google / Yahoo etc are omnipotent benevolent deities that rank people based on karma or some other positive attribute. If people realised that a large chunk of the SERPs is a content/links based arms race then the whiff of marketing and manipulation would reduce the trust people have in the natural results.

July 29, 2007 - 6:06am


your inference about college rankings is correct. How much do you think is google ranking correct for that matter?

The other thing how much effect is the feedburner acquisition going to have on blogs?

July 29, 2007 - 9:02am

Hi Aaron,

I have a question, couldn't find better place to contact you other then posting a comment?


do you know if the "id" weighs anything at all, or helps?

Ryan Caines
August 6, 2007 - 9:00pm

is a domain name the same as a .edu domain in terms of the power of the incoming link?

I dont think the uk uses .edu ?

August 6, 2007 - 9:29pm

Yes. In the UK the is the same thing as a .edu is in the US.

July 29, 2007 - 4:50pm

I dont know. Even though there are wrong things about it, we need the rankings to determine who is better and where to go... We can't just go to every school and see for ourselves...

This is the same thing as we need hotel rankings and employer rankings.

July 29, 2007 - 6:39pm

Well said - at first, I thought you meant google spamming. But I agree, deans et al do fly out to meet with the judges to discuss previous years ranking + what they are doing now. Seen it. Good insight!

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