How Does the Algorithm View Your Website?

Great article in the NYT over the weekend about an ad arbitrage directory named Sourcetool, which Google punted from the AdWords program. A couple quotes:

When I pressed Mr. Fox about Sourcetool, he refused to tell me why the algorithm had problems with the site. When I asked him why the site was in the algorithm’s good graces but Sourcetool’s wasn’t, he wouldn’t tell me that, either. All I got were platitudes about the user experience. It wasn’t long before I was almost as exasperated as Mr. Savage. How can you adapt your business model to Google’s specs if Google won’t tell you what the specs are?

  • sells links (yes they have editors, but when they were interviewed about a year ago by Aviva Directory they only had 6 editors managing 65,000+ categories...many of the listings not only included aggressive anchor text, but also allowed the use of up to 5 spammy sub-links with each listing)
  • used nofollow on many of the free editorial links (while passing link juice out on the paid links)...this was corrected after we gave them a proper roasting on Threadwatch :)
  • uses a funky ajax set up to hide content in a pop up (but makes it accessible to the Google crawler)
  • scrapes Google search results as "web listings" and in some cases Google ranks these pages! (Google is ranking a Google search result surrounded with Google AdSense ads, branded as

Any one of those 4 would be enough to kill most websites, but because of's large scale, strong domain name, and brand they can do things that most webmasters can not. They are given the benefit of the doubt because Google can not clean up all arbitrage without hurting their own revenues - and Google's job it easier if they have to police a few thousand companies rather than millions of individuals.

Google also told me that it never made judgments of what was “good” and “bad” because it was all in the hands of the algorithm. But that turns out not to be completely true. Mr. Savage shared with me an e-mail message from a Google account executive to someone at another company who had run into the same kind of landing page problem as Sourcetool. The Google account executive wrote back to say that she had looked at the site and found that “there seems to be a wealth of valuable information on the site.” Consequently, her team overruled the algorithm.

Want to learn what the algorithm thinks? Read Google's remote quality rater documents. They tell you what Google wants and how the algorithm really works.

Algorithms (and under-waged third world employees labeled as the algorithm) often make mistakes. If a mistake is made when Google passes judgement against your site, is your site good enough to recover? If your site was deleted from the Google index would anyone other than you notice and care?

Published: September 13, 2008 by Aaron Wall in google


On Stage Lighting
September 14, 2008 - 8:53am

This and other examples of Google double standards (arbitrage is ok for the chosen few) are the reason that "black hat" is making a comeback in the minds of the SEO agnostics.

The fallacy that if the little guys played by all the rules one day they would reach the promised land, is just a way of stopping the peasants from building weapons and storming the castle.

There is no benign Google, smiling down on the righteous. When the ban hammer comes it could smite any of us and lay waste to our tiny hovels.

Ok, done that metaphor to death. But before I go, is it just me or is black hat becoming "less unacceptable" to the web middle class?

Andrew Johnson
September 14, 2008 - 8:12pm

I don't think this is an example of a double standard. Tomorrow Google could decide they don't like and hit it hard. Don't forget what happened to last year.

I ran into some PPC to PPC arbitrage last week running with Google's feed. You can only do that stuff so long and stay friendly with Google. ( is doing it too)

September 15, 2008 - 6:04am

I wonder what makes Google decide enough is enough though. Sites far more benign have been whacked and surely they know both what is spending and earning.

September 15, 2008 - 12:17am

I'm amused by the nofollow to the 'great article'. Guessing it's in response to their blackhole-esque behaviour?

September 15, 2008 - 6:03am

Yeah...if they want to hoard link juice then on principal I should not send them any.

michael webster
September 16, 2008 - 3:10am

What is important about this, from a legal point of view, is that Google may be stifling competition with the use of Quality Score Ranking and how it decides arbitrarily to overrule itself for business purposes.

Terry Van Horne
September 20, 2008 - 1:37am

Aaron, to expect Google to treat a "partner" like everyone else is IMO, giving Google the benefit of the doubt. A state that is neither supported by SE actions or the reality of Universal Monetization commonly known as Universal search. I go on the premis it's "just the way she goes" all SEs prop up and feed partners into the results. That's how they stretch millions of $'s in revenue into Billions.

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