PageRank was broken from the start. The concept they were going after may still well exist though if they can get enough users of their search history tool. While other search engines still seem relatively easy to spam Google may be trying to measure web wide trust scores using much more than just raw linkage data.
Google need not stomp SEO techniques out, they only need to:
make the costs of SEO high enough that it is cheaper to build legitimate business models and brands than it is to build a business off of manipulating search results
Some people will be untouchable. They will know enough about social engineering and database programming to where they will still spam Google all day long. I am sure Google realizes that, but they want to continually increase costs to where that is an exceptionally small pool.
As SEO gets harder Google makes more money from ads. As they make more money from ads they can spend more into making SEO harder.
Now if only they could share more data with advertisers to help make click fraud easier to detect. Google bought Urchin. Why not buy, create, or offer something like Who's Clicking Who. Surely Google has the market data and it will not increase costs much to give advertisers more options and more data.
A search company which makes tons of profit organizing data should recognize that by making advertising transparent and making more ad information available they will create a more efficient market which creates more profits. The advertising community would likely police themselves if you gave them enough data and responded to feedback.
Google Inc. (GOOG.O: Quote, Profile, Research) on Wednesday debuted a test service called My Search History that analysts said is a move closer to personalized search, which is widely considered the Holy Grail for the Web search leader and its rivals. source
to use My Search History you must register at Google Accounts and maintain an active account. Ask Jeeves have had a search history tool for a while now and Yahoo! has My Yahoo! for various personalization effects, although Yahoo! seems more focused on providing news and blog feeds and the like. I think Yahoo! is betting on the abundance of information making subscribing to channels much more appealing than searching the web. I believe Yahoo! also allows you to subscribe to Yahoo! News feeds by keyword phrase.
Personalized search allows engines to better understand users to improve search quality and ad targeting. Whoever is branded as the best market solution on that front is going to make a bucket of cash, because keeping your search history and learning the user raises the barrier to switching search providers.
It makes it hard for another search service to be as relevant if you have tons of personal information already locked in a competing service. This data will be hard to export to other systems as well, as importing huge hunks of data will also allow marketers to import large volumes of spam.
I just briefly tested Google's service. It is fairly slick. You can quickly sign in or out and it adds minimal clutter to the Google home page.
From the link in the upper right corner you are brought to a new page. It shows a calender which color codes your search volume on the right side. The left side shows your searches for that day and the results you clicked on. The my history results that you click on also show up in the Google one box area when you search for similar terms using the regular search results.
Some privacy advocates would likely go nuts with this offering. It is all opt in though. I encourage everyone to sign in, search for seo, scroll past the Japanese stuff, and click on my listing.
Presumably some searchers may be able to build up a search history.
As they build it up it could build Google's trust in that user, which in turn could potentially allow Google to use that user feedback to verify search result relevancy.
I would not doubt this to do a bit more of globalizing SEO. Paying people in third world countries to randomly click certain sites. I am already building a search history today as a prospective SEO tool.
I just got an update email from Leslie Rhode of OptiLink...
A few days ago, Google began to employ a "spyware detector" that will in some cases block OptiLink through the use of a cookie and a human visible "ransom note".
The use of Google from "normal" browsers is not effected -- it is only specialized programs such as OptiLink that are targeted by Google's change with the result that OptiLink can be blocked
from Google for two or more hours.
While this is not a terrible problem as no lasting impact has been found, I am not comfortable with Google being able to discover the use of OptiLink no mattter how "gentle" the counter-measures
So, OptiLink's Goolge interface has been REMOVED pending a solution to this problem. This has been done for your safety, and for the safety of all other OptiLink users.
Rest assured that this problem will be solved and Google access restored as soon as possible, but in the meantime, you should use the Yahoo and MSN interfaces for your Google ranking analysis.
I am a bit curious if Google is going too far with all of their recent anti-SEO moves. I can't even count how many times I have read that search relevancy is similar at Yahoo! and Google. Webmasters have undoubtedly helped to build Google's brand.
With the extensive filtering that Google does on its linking information, the loss of the Google interface in many cases is not that important.
In general, you can do your linking analysis using the Yahoo or MSN link databases and safely assume that Google has these links as well, but are simply not showing them. The exception to this rule is of course the "banned domain" which appears to be a uniquely Google concept.
Google does provide useless linkage data. Some of the other engines, especially Yahoo!, provide useful linkage data.
The connectivity measurement (or PageRank) that Google shows in it's toolbar is outdated. July of last year I talked to a Yahoo! Search employee and asked why they were not making a reliable Yahoo! connectivty measurement available?
A large part of how Google gained their brand was by creating concepts that were somewhat easy to explain, like PageRank. Why not force them to keep that data updated or take that market position from them by providing across the board better tools that are easier to explain? This also could help Yahoo! gain a much larger installed toolbar base, which may allow them to
gain market share
collect more market data
improve relevancy algorithms
MSN has also been significantly more supportive of the SEO industry than Google, even allowing people to subscribe to search results via RSS.
I understand running automated systems add to system load time and has associated costs, but could that cost be a cheap form of marketing your high margin search service over competing services?
On many fronts I do like Google as a company, but I think their idealism is at least as much of a hindrance as it is a strength.
Leslie also had the following to say in his update:
My Thoughts on the Future
It is certainly well known that Google does not look with favor upon SEO tools in general, and most especially tools that make use of its interfaces, so some sort of reaction is not totally unexpected.
OptiLink has been in very active use and continuous development since May 22, 2002, and has been on Google's "short list" since the moment they called me (true story) just 10 days after it was announced.
Tivo: TiVo is in talks with Google and Yahoo over a possible deal aimed at bridging television and the web. The deal would likely be exclusive, which means whoever partners with Tivo may get stuck overpaying if a bidding war ensues.
Interview: Of me. I could have answered a couple questions better. Interviewing people is an exceptionally easy way to build links.
It is fairly rare that marketers turn down an interview opportunity if you approach them nicely.
I think when people talk about ethics in business they are concerned about someone cutting into their profits or threatening their profits. It has nothing to do with human rights or suffering (which is wrong). Either way, business people will continue to talk about ethics all day - even while they own sweat shops - because sweat shops have very little to do with ethics.
That comment was the foundation for a quick article I just jotted down. Please leave comments and hate mail below. :)
The Spamford Daily:
I realize that many sites sell links to help pay for their costs, but you would think the college that owns the PageRank patent would be a bit courteous of their search buddies. You would be wrong!
I think a friend said they sell the links directly, charging like $300 per link per month selling to ANYone. Currently I believe the site has about 80 links on it. This T shirt shows it :)
In my opinion the entire Stanford online news is a bunch of SE spammers. I have even mentioned this before here in another thread, where the Stanford news was promoting viagra, debt consolidation, payday loans, credit cards and online casinos.
I even wrote the Dean's Office at Stanford to ask them if they were aware of the activities of their online news, I never got a response. Odd way for the holder of the google patents to behave in my opinion.
It really makes you appreciate some of the things search engines have to balance / deal with when those who own some of their patents will sell a link to anyone with $300.
Not sure if that was part of the problem for them, or if they were behind it, but if they were they really need to get a grip on the whole risk vs reward concept.
SEO Inc also rented a ton of links and may have hit a filter there. I think they were probably more aggressive at link renting than any other SEO site, and if you are risky with that eventually it eventually catches up with you.
Surely a bad deal for SEO Inc as they likely will now get to pay $15 a click for search engine optimization, a term which Google itself is also advertising on.
[update: NickW noticed that SEO Inc has a new forum and the CEO said they were not behind (and know nothing about) the link spam emails.]
Why do Sites Rank for "Search Engine Optimization?"
I look at the search results in this space a good bit, as a hobby and to see how creative others are as much as anything else, but these are some of the reason I think the top ranking sites are ranking where they are:
by just being old. Some still see significant benefit from ranking there a long time ago (that whole filthy linking rich thing).
some of them provide bonus link to me stuff that some .edu sites love to point links at. like "submit your site to 1,000,000 engines for free". There generally is no value to it, but it is an effective link building technique.
some of them created link to me type stuff that other consultants or SEO nubs might link to. like the Bruce Clay code of ethics. For a while when I was all new I linked into that.
SEO Chat rents links from some sites but they also get a ton of support by having a good number of seo tools and a community that also links back at their site.
Jill Whalen's High Rankings has one of the stronger brands in SEO and lots of friends who link at her. Writes articles for other sites and has a large number of subscribers to her newseltter. She also is known as "the content seo" or "the seo content writer" which of course helps her get a bunch of links from people who agree or disagree with that position.
A few sites on the first page, and more as you get down into the second and third pages you see a few more sites that really ring the bell for things like:
Wired is an amazingly respected authoritative site.
There is an SEO organization site. Bound to get many links from it's supporters.
Google's official SEO guidance.
Lots of reciprocal link trading.
Renting a ton of links.
Placing links to the SEO firm on clients sites.
Is there Value in Ranking for Search Engine Optimization?
I tend to think that there is too much competition to justify the opportunity cost of actively trying to rank for that term in Google. You need to get a good amount of linkage data and build up over an extended period of time. Significant investment both in time and money.
If you are close to ranking for it then it might be worth trying to capture it if it has little additional cost, but many sites that optimize for highly competitive generic terms end up getting filtered out of the search results in the process.
The whole concept of optimization is to get the most bang for your buck and if your site gets filtered out from ranking for the more targeted terms because you were trying to rank for such a generic term then that cuts deep into the return on investment numbers.
Additionally many people are inclined to want to beat down an SEO firm when they are down. I saw a decent number of hate threads about SEO Guy and my site when our sites were filtered most likely based on link text and run of site links. Of course now that my site quickly ranks again those people are silent waiting for their next turn to attack.
In any case I hope SEO Inc comes back soon. If an SEO site does not rank for an extended period of time eventually that can start cutting into brand value.
Affiliate marketing, profit share partnerships, selling services on a per click basis, and personal branding seem to be the best ways to build profitable SEO service business models.
When most of the market is hype and hucksters its hard to be properly compensated without a strong brand. Since the services are invisible until the results show and most clients do not undersand the process brand in SEO is HUGE! Brand is probably the top reason I have done well so far.
On a related note:
I like the Google search results for SEO. 20 of the top 30 ranking sites are not in English. < goes off to learn Japanese to rank better :) >
With AdSense they can also track the referrals which gives them another way to understand percent of market share and who your leading referals are if you display AdSense ads on your site.
their ad code shows:
google_referrer_url = document.referrer;
Google could likely use this data for their AdSense SmartPricing, fraud detection, and might even use it as an additional quality check on linkage data and sites.
If you link to a site participating in AdSense and nobody ever follows the link does that mean the link, page, or site could potentially have little to no value to humans?
If you have links from a ton of sites all using the same AdSense account could that be suspicious? If thousands of sites link to you and none of them dispay AdSense could that be suspicious?
It seems as though Google is trying to financially incentivize various webmasters in the concept of building its web of trust. Maybe it is part of the reason they don't mind having shoddy sites in AdSense, as it helps them track relationships?
Danny Sullivan also wrote an article (sub req) about how some large advertisers get additional SEO support from search engines.
Google is known to tell some large advertisers that it is OK to do things that are against their official webmaster guidelines.
If you selectively boost some sites it has the same net effect of manually penalizing or filtering others, which goes counter to that "democratic nature of the web" "we don't manually..." "don't be evil b/s."